In the last days of the war and only one week prior to Hitler's suicide, Hermann Göring sent a telegram that led to charges that he had committed treason and launched a coup d'etat.
The Göring Telegram triggered the final phase of political and military disintegration of the Third Reich and caused Hitler to strip his hand-picked successor of power and appoint new political successors, Joseph Goebbels and Karl Dönitz.
Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler's political heir Edit
An intimate confidant and dedicated loyalist to Hitler, Hermann Göring was the Reich Marshall of Germany and Adolf Hitler's chosen successor as designated in the secret decree described as a 'testament' that was only revealed in the final days of the war.
On June 29 1941, Hitler wrote his political last will and testament in the form of a secret decree bequeathing to Göring the succession to power over the Reich in case of Hitler’s incapacity, disappearance or abdication.
Inside the Führerbunker Edit
Because of Hitler’s decision to remain in the Bunker in Berlin, Göring chose to construe the situation as a deliberate abdication of power.
Göring's telegram advised Hitler of his decision to succeed to power over the Reich by 2200 on the 23rd of April.
Hitler’s reaction Edit
The Göring Telegram would outrage Hitler and trigger the final chaotic reorganization of his government. Upon its arrival by radiogram from Obersalzberg at 56 minutes past midnight on the 23rd of April, Bormann seized upon it as evidence of 'treason' and Göring's attempt to launch a coup d'etat. While Walther Hewel attempted to justify Göring's action by saying the bunker's communications system could fail at any time and thus sever the command structure, Goebbels reinforced Bormann's argument by agreeing that it smelled of a coup.
According to Albert Speer's account (see below) the Göring Telegram initiated an important crisis in Hitler's psychological breakdown that precipitated the political disintegration of military command and control in the ultimate stage of the destruction of the Third Reich. Upon learning of other communiques between Göring and other officers that referred to his invocation of Hitler's secret testament, Hitler flew into a rage, denounced Göring and stripped him of power. Over the following week, Hitler's depression deepened culminating in his suicide pact with Eva Braun.
The new political succession divided power between Goebbels and Admiral Karl Dönitz, "Commander-in-Chief of the Navy" (Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine) and Grand Admiral (Großadmiral) of the Naval High Command (Oberkommando der Marine) who would become President (Reichspräsident) of Nazi Germany.
Postwar discovery of the Göring Telegram Edit
Upon its reception in the Führerbunker, the Göring Telegram was typed onto a Marinenachrichtendienst (Naval Intelligence) form with a carbon copy and classified, Geheim! (Secret!).
After the Allied advance on Berlin, American officials entered the Führerbunker and liberated papers and documents that were analyzed by historians.
In July 1945, Captain Benjamin M. Bradin entered the Führerbunker and discovered an original carbon copy of the Göring Telegram marked with an 'F' in a group of Hitler's papers that in later years were given to Robert W. Rieke, a Professor of History at The Citadel.
Lord Dacre's translationEdit
The British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Baron Dacre of Glanton, published an early English translation of the Göring Telegram in his book, The Last Days of Hitler.
General Koller today gave me a briefing on the basis of communications given him by Colonel General Jodl and General Christian, according to which you had referred certain decisions to me and emphasized that I, in case negotiations would become necessary, would be in an easier position than you in Berlin. These views were so surprising and serious to me that I felt obligated to assume, in case by 2200 o’clock no answer is forthcoming, that you have lost your freedom of action. I shall then view the conditions of your decree as fulfilled and take action for the wellbeing of Nation and Fatherland. You know what I feel for you in these most difficult hours of my life and I cannot express this in words. God protect you and allow you despite everything to come here as soon as possible.
Your faithful Herman Goring.
Speer's eyewitness account Edit
Albert Speer wrote a detailed account of the Göring Telegram on the disintegrating psychology of Hitler in his book, Inside the Third Reich. The quotation below appears on pages 571-572 of the American edition of Speer's book.
. . . there was a flurry of excitement in the vestibule. A telegram had arrived from Goering, which Bormann hastily brought to Hitler. I trailed informally along after him, chiefly out of curiosity. In the telegram Goering merely asked Hitler whether, in keeping with the decree on succession, he should assume the leadership of the entire Reich if Hitler remained in Fortress Berlin. But Bormann claimed that Goering had launched a coup d’etat; perhaps this was Bormann’s last effort to induce Hitler to fly to Berchtesgaden and take control there. At first, Hitler responded to this news with the same apathy he had shown all day long. But Bormann’s theory was given fresh support when another radio message from Goering arrived. I pocketed a copy which in the general confusion lay unnoticed in the bunker. It read:
To Reich Minister von Ribbentrop
I have asked the Fuehrer to provide me with instructions by 10 p.m. April 23. If by this time it is apparent that the Fuehrer has been deprived of his freedom of action to conduct the affairs of the Reich, his decree of June 29, 1941, becomes effective, according to which I am heir to all his offices as his deputy. [If] by 12 midnight April 23, 1945, you receive no other word either from the Fuehrer directly or from me, you are to come to me at once by air.
(Signed) Goering, Reich Marshal
Here was fresh material for Bormann. ‘Goering is engaged in treason!’ he exclaimed excitedly. ‘He’s already sending telegrams to members of the government and announcing that on the basis of his powers he will assume your office at twelve o’clock tonight, mein Fuhrer.’
Although Hitler remained calm when the first telegram arrived, Bormann now won his game. Hitler immediately stripped Goering of his rights of succession – Bormann himself drafted the radio message – and accused him of treason to Hitler and betrayal of National Socialism. The message to Goering went on to say that Hitler would exempt him from further punishment if the Reich Marshal would promptly resign all his offices for reasons of health.
Bormann had at last managed to rouse Hitler from his lethargy. An outburst of wild fury followed in which feelings of bitterness, helplessness, self-pity, and despair mingled. With flushed face and staring eyes, Hitler ranted as if he had forgotten the presence of his entourage:
I’ve known it all along. I know that Goering is lazy. He let the air force go to pot. He was corrupt. His example made corruption possible in our state. Besides he’s been a drug addict for years. I’ve known it all along.
So Hitler had known all that but had done nothing about it.
And then, with startling abruptness, he lapsed back into his apathy: ‘Well, all right. Let Goering negotiate the surrender. If the war is lost anyhow, it doesn’t matter who does it.’ That sentence expressed contempt for the German people: Goering was still good enough for the purposes of capitulation.
After this crisis, Hitler had reached the end of his strength. He dropped back into the weary tone that had been characteristic of him earlier that day. For years he had overtaxed himself; for years, mustering that immoderate will of his, he had thrust away from himself and others the growing certainty of this end. Now he no longer had the energy to conceal his condition. He was giving up.
Hitler and Braun committed suicide exactly one week after the arrival of the Göring Telegram.