The following is a fictionalized account of Hitler’s escape from Berlin in 1945. It is based on eyewitness testimony from several sources, all corroborated independently. As you’ll soon see, Ian Fleming was more than just the author of the James Bond series. His vivid stories were all born from accurate truth.
The River Spree at Lake Muggelsee, Berlin, 2 May 1945
“Status of Operation Winnie the Pooh.” Major Desmond Morton spoke slowly into a portable radio, as he sat under his umbrella on the bank of the River Spree. An onlooker may have mistaken the man for a proper gentleman on holiday.
“At rendezvous point one. Launch and aircraft are in sight, made fast to a small buoy near the bank just behind me on the lake, sir.”
“And Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit?”
“By my clock, sir, they should be here in about 15 minutes. Oh, by the way, sir, and what about our dear Anthony Blount?”
“The bastard’s a confirmed double agent. We’ll take care of him, unless he escapes to Russia, of course.”
“That explains why he never attended training with us for Operation James Bond.”
“Be off now, will you please.” Morton sniffed and peered into his opera glasses.
“Yes, sir. Out here.”
Commander Ian Fleming sat under a thick section of forest on the bank of the River Spree where it entered Lake Muggelsee at its northwestern edge. It was only 200 feet to the other side of the river, where he could see a row of darkened houses. To his left he could have easily seen half a mile up the dark river—in daylight. With only a sliver of crescent moon to illuminate the evening scene, Fleming was operating in the dark, save his red-lens lamp.
Three hours later, as he fought to stay awake, he heard the unmistakable whine of a single-engine plane. Fleming rose from his perch and walked to the very edge of the river. Looking into the western sky, he saw the outline of the aircraft, flying at about 500 feet. It approached him in a fast descent, then did a hard left bank before landing smoothly on the still lake.
Uncovering the launch, Fleming then motored out toward the center of the lake, about a quarter mile, where the Junkers Ju-52 on pontoons was motoring in his direction. It throttled back to idle and stopped about 100 feet from the launch. Someone opened its left fuselage cargo door, which had a permanent ladder attached to it that ran down to the left pontoon’s rear section. Fleming took care that his Russian uniform was correctly fitted, smiling at himself for being so fastidious in the middle of a deserted lake in total darkness. At the end of the greatest war the world had ever seen.
Fleming had been in the presence of royalty all his adult life, and had even met foreign dignitaries, but he was anxious now. He throttled back and pulled up very slowly to the Junkers, and saw for the first time Britain’s arch-nemesis, Adolf Hitler actual, leaning out of the open hatch. Wearing a stone face, he greeted Hitler with a simple nod of his head, then closely inspected the papers Hitler had given him. Still quite nervous, Fleming put the papers in his breast pocket and helped Hitler climb down to the launch.
Hitler turned back to his mistress: “Eva, be careful!”
Fleming yanked Hitler into his chest. “Keep your voice down to a whisper,” said a clearly irritated Fleming, face growing tighter.
Hitler pointed a threatening finger at Fleming but did not meet the Commander eye to eye, instead looking down and away. “Remember whom you are addressing, Commander Fleming.”
The British operative steeled his nerves and put out a hand to Braun, who was wearing soiled coveralls that were several sizes too large for her petite frame.
She touched his arm, giving it a delicate yet firm squeeze. “Thank you, Commander. I know how difficult this must be for you. We appreciate everything you are doing, now and in the future. I wish we could have met under different circumstances,” Braun said, clearly grateful and seemingly cheery.
“Eva, please shut up!” Hitler barked, as he took her camera from her.
Fleming sat Braun down then put his hand on Hitler’s chest and pushed him down into the rear bench, and pointed a finger at his nose, touching it ever so lightly. “Sir, right now you are in my care. You will do as I say, when I say it, and you will not respond except in the affirmative. Is that clear, sir?”
Adolf Hitler placed Braun’s camera on his lap, wiped his forehead with both hands, sweeping back his jet-black hair. Still not meeting Fleming’s eyes, he whispered, “I do apologize, Commander. You can only imagine what we have been through these past 24 hours.”
At that, Fleming clenched his teeth and moved to the center console, and engaged the forward gear of the launch, thinking of the bitter irony of Hitler’s words: You can only imagine what we have been through these past 24 hours.
He steered the launch to the left and headed for shore. In less than a minute, he ran the launch aground on a small rocky beach, and jumped out to tie it off to a nearby tree.
As Hitler and Braun climbed over the transom and onto the shore, Fleming took out a small satchel of explosive charges, pulled several detonator pins and tossed it under the console.
“Let’s move out smartly, shall we,” Fleming said.
Hitler was struggling to walk in the oversized coveralls and carrying his backpack and Eva’s camera and bags. Braun looked back at her lover and smiled like a child, pulled up her pant legs and sprinted to a small clearing 100 yards ahead, just to the west.
“Eva!” Hitler yelled again, turning quickly to Fleming and with a wave of his hand acknowledging his violating noise discipline.
Fleming walked past Hitler, bumping his right shoulder, and caught up with Braun, who was just climbing into the waiting British Westland Lysander IIIA. The pilot, Hugh Beresford Verity, had extended a waiting hand to Braun, who smiled and greeted him enthusiastically. Verity had been assigned the duty only 20 hours before by his commander of 161 Squadron at Tempsford in central England. He had flown over the channel and across the mountains in a convoluted flight pattern to avoid planespotters and antiaircraft fire, landed in the field and then waited a very uneasy 15 hours for the two VIPs.
Even after the harrowing experience, “Hugh, at your service, madam. You must be famished,” Verity said to Braun.
“Yes, we both are.”
“No worries, madam. We have a small a la carte dinner for you back there in the thermos. I believe it’s still hot. There’s also water in the canteens,” he said to her.
Veteran Nazi pilot Hanna Reitsch ran to Hitler and helped him walk the remaining 30 yards. Almost a foot shorter than Hitler, Reitsch was a very strong woman who had mastered every high-performance aircraft in the Nazi arsenal, often being the first test pilot to fly new aircraft.
“My Fuhrer, are you well?” she asked.
“That Eva is like a child. So much like a little girl. She has no discipline. What am I to do?”
“Sir, my personal observation is simple: she is in shock and is handling things quite well. After all, my Fuhrer, she just escaped from the devil-claws of the Russian army, and performed heroic actions reserved only for military operators of very high skill.”
Hitler shifted Braun’s bags to his other hand and patted Reitsch on her shoulder.
“We’ll be in the air soon, my Fuhrer.”
“How long to Spain?” he asked.
“If all is well, my Fuhrer, we should be there by early tomorrow morning. We only have one refueling stop, which is our greatest danger.”
“Do we expect to encounter the enemy, my dear?” Hitler asked.
“My Fuhrer, I ask this respectfully: given our present circumstances, to which enemy do you refer?”
Fleming helped Hitler inside the cramped space of the Lysander, then closed the door to the aircraft. He waved at Verity and turned and jogged to Reitsch’s waiting Junkers Ju-52.
Both aircraft were fully fueled and awaiting final word from Fleming, who was talking on a portable radio. “Yes, sir, Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit are in the hole safely, sir.”
“Excellent. Proceed to your next destination. Oh, and do see that Mr. Rabbit is shown the utmost respect, will you?” said Major Morton.
“And Mrs. Rabbit, sir?”
“Oh, don’t be obstreperous, Fleming. Off with you. Out here.”
Both aircraft were already lined up toward the north. Reitsch waved to Verity who throttled high and soon lifted off from the grassy field, climbing and turning to the west. Reitsch soon followed, just as a bright-orange BOOM! climbed up to meet her aircraft.
“Dear god, what was—” she yelled.
Fleming smiled to himself, knowing the charges had just destroyed all traces of the launch on the shore below. He organized items in his backpack in the rear compartment, pulling out a map of the route.
As she continued to climb, he strapped himself into the right-hand seat and at his map with a red-lens light.
“Commander, there is no need to consult your map. I know exactly where we are going.” Reitsch made a hard left bank to the south, throwing Fleming’s right shoulder into the side of the aircraft.
“I have orders to respect and protect our packages in the other aircraft, Miss Reitsch, but I don’t recall any orders to extend the same courtesies to you.” Fleming wore his stone face quite well. His eyes bored into her beautiful face and kept his gaze for several minutes as she maneuvered her aircraft within 50 feet of the Lysander.
Since they were on radio silence, Reitsch pulled up abreast and waved a red-lens light at Verity, who quickly responded in kind. They flew together as one, with Reitsch on Verity’s right rear, for the next 400 miles in a straight, low-level course that hugged the mountains and terrain. For the next two and a half hours, not one word was said between Reitsch and Fleming, although she often caught him stealing glances at her, answering him with a polite smile.
In Verity’s Lysander, Eva Braun lay stretched out in the cramped space, while Hitler sat up and, using a red-lens light, read a list of secret instructions given to him by Fleming.
“What are you reading, my love?” Braun sat up to look on.
“These, my dear Eva, are our marching orders for the next year.”
“Where will we be going?”
“First, to Spain. Then onto England for a few weeks, then to America.”
“I’ve always wanted to go there,” she said.
“You know, my darling, so have I.”
“Where shall we live?”
“The instructions don’t say, but I imagine it will be in the capital, Washington, DC where I will assist the Americans with a very delicate project.”
It was nearing three am and the sliver of moon was low on the horizon, providing a raking light across the landscape that clearly delineated the mountains and low-lying areas. Reitsch soon came upon the final landmark, the eastern edge of Lake Boden, less than five miles away, and began to line up the small village of Eichenberg.
In one minute, she saw the bare patches of fields the British forces had prepared for the landing. Making a hard turn to the north, flying half a mile, then banking 180 degrees to the south, she descended and followed Verity in for a bumpy landing on the newly cleared pasture.
Ground crews quickly sprinted out of the woods and fueled both aircraft. No one got out of either plane, and very little was exchanged with the men on the ground until takeoff when Fleming waved a hearty goodbye to the courageous mates, who issued him a snappy salute and victory wave.
Hitler peered out of the right-hand-side window of the Lysander and looked down at the two ground crew members, just ten feet away. Jaws agape, they stared back in shock. Hitler smiled and waved at the men, who offered a nervous wave in return, not certain whether to offer a salute.
Heading southwest, the two aircraft again hugged the mountains and low-lying terrain for an additional 400 uneventful miles, not encountering even a single enemy aircraft, ground battery or soldier. When Fleming mused on this, he wondered how the “enemy” would now be calculated, with Adolf Hitler sitting in the confined space of Her Majesty’s Lysander. Moreover, how would he be seen by his comrades, many of whose fellow soldiers, sailors and pilots had lost their lives to the murderous regime of Fleming’s present charge—Adolf Hitler.
The moon had now set completely and they traveled in near darkness, only a few brave stars daring to light the deep-purple night sky. Reitsch expected to see at least tracer rounds shooting from aircraft or ground-based antiaircraft units at any moment, and her smile soon left her.
“Are you all right, Miss Reitsch?” Fleming asked, genuinely concerned.
She looked askance at her enemy-friend, said, “If things are going to go poorly on missions, they usually do so at the very beginning.” She turned to him. “Or the very end.”
He suddenly smiled and reached out and patted her arm. “Ntwadumela.”
“Pardon me, commander?” She didn’t seem to notice his hand, now on her right thigh. Or she didn’t mind.
“I believe it’s a Zulu name that means, ‘he who greets with fire.’ You were thinking about being greeted by a barrage of fire, yes?”
“How could you possibly know what I was thinking?”
“Because, dear Miss Reitsch, I was having exactly the same horrible nightmare.”
She looked at him again. “Or worse.” She laughed nervously.
“What could possibly be worse than getting hit by a very large bullet?”
“Oh, dear commander, when that very large bullet shoots up one’s ass.”
They both shared a good laugh that was soon broken by the sudden appearance of the dim and scattered lights of Barcelona and her majestic coastline.
“It appears we have come to the end of our journey, Commander Fleming.” Reitsch said, a twinge of regret in her voice.
“Ah, but we will always have Berlin, my dear aviatrix. Always Berlin.”
“But there is Barcelona in the distance, dear Commander Fleming. I hear the Hotel Montecarlo has an excellent wine cellar.”
“My dear Miss Reitsch, are you making a pass at an officer of the British Navy?”
“Commander, if I do not, then I shall wait a hundred years or more for you to do so.”
“Good-oh, girl! Yes, the Hotel Montecarlo beckons, indeed!”