Contrary to [German Admiral Erich] Raeder’s expectations, neither America’s military leaders nor the President altered the Europe-first cornerstone of the Victory Program. “That’s because it was sound strategy,” says General Wedemeyer, who went on to plan Operation Overlord, better known as D-day.
But for a few weeks the big leak developed yet a third life in Germany. The German army — as distinct from the Führer — greeted the Tribune’s revelations as a gift from on high. Its offensive against Moscow and Leningrad was faltering in the freezing Russian winter. The generals seized on the Roosevelt war plan to reinforce a suggestion they had already made to Hitler: to pull back to carefully selected defensive positions and give them time to regroup and reinforce their decimated divisions.
In his book Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, Col. Walter Warlimont, the deputy chief of the general staff, revealed how little information the generals had on the United States, which made Rainbow Five all the more important to them. He told of receiving a phone call from Jodl in Berlin on December 11, 1941.
Much of the British spy story is fabrication, but it suggests, in a murky way, who may have engineered the leak.
‘You have heard that the Führer has just declared war on America?’ Jodl asked.
‘Yes and we couldn’t be more surprised,’ Warlimont replied.
‘The staff must now examine where the United States is most likely to employ the bulk of her forces initially, the Far East or Europe. We cannot take further decisions until that has been clarified.’
‘Agreed,’ Warlimont said. ‘But so far we have never even considered a war against the United States and so have no data on which to base this examination.’
‘See what you can do,’ Jodl said. ‘When we get back tomorrow we will talk about this in more detail.’ ”
On December 14 the OKW staff submitted to Hitler a study of the “Anglo-Saxon war plans which became known through publication in the Washington Times Herald.” The analysts concluded that to frustrate the Allies’ objectives, Germany should choose a “favorable defensive position” and terminate the Russian campaign. Next Hitler should integrate the Iberian Peninsula, Sweden, and France within the “European fortress” and begin building an “Atlantic wall” of impregnable defenses along the European coast. The “objective of greatest value” should be the “clearing of all British and Allied forces out of the Mediterranean and the Axis occupation of the whole of the northern coast of Africa and the Suez Canal.”
Admiral Raeder and Reich Marshal Göring joined in this recommendation in the most emphatic fashion. They told Hitler that in 1942 Germany and Italy would have “their last opportunity to seize and hold control of the whole Mediterranean area and of the Near and Middle East.” It was an opportunity that “will probably never come again.” To everyone’s delight Hitler agreed to these proposals. On December 16 the German Army’s supreme command issued Directive No. 39, calling for the cessation of offensive operations against Russia and a withdrawal to a winter line.
Between the time he approved these orders and their release by the supreme command, Hitler had returned to the Russian front, where he was astonished and enraged to find his armies reeling back under assaults from Russian armies whose existence his intelligence officers had failed to detect. When Directive No. 39 reached him, he flew into a rage and summoned Col. Gen. Franz Halder, the chief of staff of the German Army, and Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander in chief, and hysterically berated them. He declared that a “general withdrawal is out of the question” and insisted that Leningrad, Moscow, and the Don Basin had to be included in any permanent defensive line. On December 19 he fired Brauchitsch and took over command of the army.
If Hitler had stuck with his original decision and acted to frustrate the objectives of the Victory Program, he could have freed a hundred divisions from the eastern front for a Mediterranean offensive. Against this force the Allies, including the Americans, could not have mustered more than twenty divisions. Germany’s best general, Erwin Rommel, was already in Egypt, demonstrating with a relatively puny force what he could accomplish against the British and Australians.
There is little doubt that Hitler could have turned the Mediterranean into a German lake and frustrated the Allied plan to seize Africa and attack Europe from the south. The catastrophic German defeat at Stalingrad would never have occurred, and the Allied attempt to invade Europe at any point, particularly across the English Channel, would have been much more costly.
In 1955 the historian and former intelligence officer Cap. Tracy B. Kittredge reviewed these probabilities in an article in Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute . From the evidence he presented one can conclude that the leak of Rainbow Five almost lost World War II. This may be overstating the case. But captured documents make it clear that some of the best brains in the German army and navy tried to use the information to alter the course of the war and that only Hitler’s stubborn fury thwarted them.