The Mechelen incident – orchestrated by Anti-Nazi Generals?

Discussion in '1940' started by PsyWar.Org, Nov 2, 2012.

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  1. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Not my area of expertise but I came across something interesting today.

    According to a Security Service intelligence report the famous plane crash in Belgium in January 1940 which led to the German Case Yellow war plans falling into Belgium hands might have been deliberately organised by General Halder. General Halder was one of the early Anti-Nazi Generals.

    The text from this report only mentions it in passing but does imply Halder had sent the plane on its way with the intention of it crash landing. From what I have read of the incident it has always sounded suspicious to me and thought it perhaps a deliberate deception.



    The report reads:


    For about three years [the anti-Nazi resistances'] activities were considerably reduced by a succession of Military victories on all fronts. It is true that Halder, who was in touch with Beck, worked out a plan with Brauchitsch to delay the attack on France for two years and even arranged for the departure of the famous plane to Belgium with the General Staff's plans for the attack on France. The fact that the Allies undoubtedly had access to these plans captured by the Belgium Military Authorities did not, however, save France.




    An intriguing little quote which comes from someone well placed to know the truth.


    Lee
     
  2. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

  3. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Alliierte Dokumente


    Oberstgeneral Halder Vol 1

    A good start for some additional reading.

    All I've done so far is a fairly basic Google to see if there's been any previous suggestion that Halder had a hand in the 'incident'.
     
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Not convinced if the books I've read are to be believed, but you could argue that the authors are all using the same original souce. That said it does leave the question:

    Why was the captured officer found twice destroying the documents, as hard as it is to believe, the Belgians left him alone with the docs locked in a room at one point, when they checked on him they found him stuffing pages into a stove to burn them.

    On a similiar note I'm sure I've read (can't remember the details) in Spears Assignment to Catastrophe that a senior German officer working in one of the German embassies (possibly Paris) warned the Allies a couple of times of an invasion, the Germans were going to invade but it was delayed due to weather etc and he again warned them around 8th or 9th May I think.
     
  5. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    From the descriptions I've read it does sound like a deliberate plant. But possibly an interesting twist if it was a genuine attempt to warn the Allies about the impending doom rather than attempt at deception.


    It might be Wolfgang von Putlitz you're thinking of, a German diplomat at the Hague. He was supplying information about the invasion of Poland to MI6. He escaped to England in September 1939 and was later used by Sefton Delmer for black propaganda. Although not much use was made of him. After the war he lived in East Germany.
     
  6. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Definately later and about the invasion of the Low Countries. I'll see if I can find more if you are interested.
     
  7. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    It might be worth clarifying that the aircraft actually crashed at Vucht, close to Mechelen aan de Maas / Maasmechelen and just over the border from the stretch of The Netherlands which separates Belgium from Germany.

    The use of the term 'Mechelen' incident has led a number of authors to imply that it crashed close to the city of Mechelen which is in the province of Antwerp, to the north of Brussels and which would imply a serious error of navigation. Mechelen is more commonly referred to in documents of that period by the French name 'Malines'

    There are a couple of nice pictures of the 108 on this site :-

    Belgian Fronts
     
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  8. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    I would say that British Intelligence having its fingers burnt in the Venlo incident in the Autumn of 1939 and losing two valuable members of its organisation, namely Best and Payne,decided to disregard "gift horses" such as this.

    I think they came to the conclusion that any intelligence offered from the German "resistance" was not genuine and represented desception.Overall it was thought that the German miltary structure leadership was wholly in support of Hitler.
     
  9. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Definately later and about the invasion of the Low Countries. I'll see if I can find more if you are interested.


    It must be Bert Sas, the Dutch Military attache in Berlin who was receiving information from an Abwehr contact Hans Oster. He also warned of the attack on Poland but kept changing the date and lost credibility. There was also concern that the information was coming from the Abwehr. Again later when Sas warned about the attack on the Low Countries his information wasn't taken seriously.

    Oster was indeed with other Abwehr agents part of the anti-Nazi military group.
     
  10. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Good point Rich, although I'm using the expression here as it's the common name by which the incident is generally referred. Just as D-day is used to mean Overlord.


    It might be worth clarifying that the aircraft actually crashed at Vucht, close to Mechelen aan de Maas / Maasmechelen and just over the border from the stretch of The Netherlands which separates Belgium from Germany.

    The use of the term 'Mechelen' incident has led a number of authors to imply that it crashed close to the city of Mechelen which is in the province of Antwerp, to the north of Brussels and which would imply a serious error of navigation. Mechelen is more commonly referred to in documents of that period by the French name 'Malines'

    There are a couple of nice pictures of the 108 on this site :-

    Belgian Fronts
     
  11. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    It must be Bert Sas, the Dutch Military attache in Berlin who was receiving information from an Abwehr contact Hans Oster. He also warned of the attack on Poland but kept changing the date and lost credibility. There was also concern that the information was coming from the Abwehr. Again later when Sas warned about the attack on the Low Countries his information was taken seriously.

    Oster was indeed with other Abwehr agents part of the anti-Nazi military group.

    That all rings a bell.
     
  12. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    It was Oberst Hans Oster, German Abwehr. Bert Sas, then captain, had been a Dutch attache in Berlin earlier in the thirties, and had become a good friend of Oster when during the 1936-games in Berlin Oster and Sas were sort of paired. A close friendship grew. Sas eventually left Berlin for other assignments but returned in the 1939 period, when the tension grew. He became a key figure in a very accurate information channel that fed all of the Allies. Sas passed on his intel to the Belgian attache as well as a few others. It was due to the many postponements on the German side that Sas and his informer became victims of increased disbelieve.

    I appreciate that a crash like the Bf-108 crash at Maasmechelen on January 10, 1940 is easily infected with the consiracy theories of many. But I strongly feel that there is not a flinch of evidence, not even a hint that this was a set-up.

    Halder, chief of staf of the army and although critical of Hitler not a resistant person, would (in my book) have never sold out his country. Germany did everything within its power to cover up its offensive plans against the west. Giving a part of the plans away, would have been a huge demasque as to that effort. Besides, Halder had feared a Anglo-French response when Poland was invaded. If plans would be found that Germany had thoroughly developed plans to invade the west, this could have tempted the West to invade Germany. Something that we now know as unrealistic, but the German General Staff were not aware of. They very much feared the military capacity of the old Entente.

    If there was any reason to 'leak' plans it was orchastrated from the top and at least borne by the Abwehr too. Then it would have been a scheme to monitor the Allied response, the radio traffic and moreover, the displacement of units in the anticipation of imminent invasion. That would be the only scheme that (in my book) could count on some degree of believe. After all, Hitler wasn't very happy with the plans that the OKH was putting forward so far, and perhaps it was already decided to alter the strategy. Yet, I strongly believe that the event was like it is recorded, an unfortunate accident.
     
  13. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    I should say a little more about the original quote. It comes from an MI5 evaluation of an interrogation conducted on a member of the German anti-Nazi resistance following his escape to Britain after the 20th July '44 bomb plot. The interrogee gives an overview of the history of the anti-Nazi resistance. The interrogation was conducted in the autumn of 1944.

    However, it is not clear from the evaluation report if this sentence about Halder and the Maasmechelen crash landing is the added commentary of the MI5 evaluator or something said by the German interrogee.

    If it is from the interrogee, of course, that does not mean it is the truth. He could be lying about it or, indeed, he might believe it true but was in fact false information. It is worth noting that the interrogee was certainly frustrated by the lack of activity of the German General Staff to prevent war and to stop Hitler in the 1938/40 period and doesn't appear to have any inclination towards bolstering the reputation of the likes of Halder.

    However, if the assertion is part of the evaluator's commentary, then it implies that ‘British intelligence’, for want of a better expression, believed it to be a valid assertion.

    I admit to not being well versed on the incident but certainly from what I have read of it the whole scenario does sound much like pantomime. OK the pilot getting lost in the fog is very understandable but forgetting his maps and then accidentally shutting down the fuel line to engine. Then on the ground, borrowing matches from a farmer to set light to the documents just as the authorities are turning up, etc. It reads like a comedy of errors.
     
  14. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Yes and no Harry. Of course following Venlo Britain was very cautious about similar provocations and that any random German turning up at a neutral embassy with an offer of peace terms was taken with a huge pinch of salt. But it wasn't until late 1943, if I remember correctly, that all such approaches were to be automatically rebuffed.

    However, contact was still maintained with what has become to be known as the anti-Nazi resistance and indeed information received from German sources was evaluated and sometimes acted upon. For example intelligence from Adwehr officer Ludwig Gehre about the secret weapons programme was a major contributor to the decision to attack Peenemünde.

    I would say that British Intelligence having its fingers burnt in the Venlo incident in the Autumn of 1939 and losing two valuable members of its organisation, namely Best and Payne,decided to disregard "gift horses" such as this.

    I think they came to the conclusion that any intelligence offered from the German "resistance" was not genuine and represented desception.Overall it was thought that the German miltary structure leadership was wholly in support of Hitler.
     
  15. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Where did you get the information that the pilot forgot his maps and shut down the fuel lines in flight?

    It may be good to know that 10 January 1940 was in the midst of severe winter, all snowed in, a massive white pack underneath. Unlike today, no massive convoys of snow-busters on the roads clearing the infrastructure. On the contrary. The ice packed rivers, normally silver lined orientation points to any pilot, were hard to spot. The usual references of landmarks disappeared.

    Unlike sources often suggest, the officer on board, who was a liaison officer of the Airborne Division (cover name 7th Flieger Division) of Kurt Student, only carried a part of the invasion plans and many details that were hardly understandable for outsiders. Would the intention have been to let these plans leak, I consider it much more likely that not a crash landing but a regular emergency landing would have occured. The changes that were taken by the subject crash landing seem to be quite excessive if this was a preplanned thing. Obviously the affaire shall always remain under suspicion, but I fail to see strong leads in this scheme.
     
  16. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Goosemen, re forgotten maps and shut down fuel lines, this is mentioned in 'Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man' by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, page 26 onwards.

    Although on a re-read Sebag-Montefiore does later say something like "if that is indeed what happened", when referring to the switching off of fuel lines. He does make a lot of the mental states of the pilot, Hoenmanns, and Reinberger, e.g. the theatrics of Reinberger's breakdown after he failed to destroy the documents.

    These seem to be the possibilities here:

    1. The crash was a genuine accident;
    2. The crash was engineered as part of a German deception plan;
    3. The crash was engineered by Halder to alert Allies to German intentions;
    4. Either 1 or 2 but Halder lying to ingratiate himself with the anti-Nazi resistance.
    5. Interrogee lied to MI5 to explain away earlier inactivity of anti-Nazi resistance.

    If the captured plans were not understandable that might possibily rule out a deliberate German deception but not necessarily an attempt to warn the Allied nations of an impending attack.

    I think Sebag-Montefiore also says that at the time Britain considered the plans to be a deception, but I can't find that reference now.
     
  17. Rob Stuart

    Rob Stuart Junior Member

    2. The crash was engineered as part of a German deception plan;

    I think this possibility can be ruled out, since the plane was carying the real German plans. If it had been a deception effort they would have planted fake plans.

    Rob
     
  18. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Obviously the event is food for thought for anyone with a suspicous mind. But what we see in books is a copy-paste practise all along. I do appreciate the Sebag book. It is interesting in its style and did contain some fresh thoughts on the France campaign, but - pardon me for saying this - I yet have to read the first British or American author that can produce a relatively flawless book on the Belgian and Dutch theatres. These books tend to lean on popular history when it comes to events like this.

    Major Hönmanns, the pilot on the ocassion, was the base commander of AFB Loddenheide and he had met Major Reinberger, staff officer of 7.Fliegerdivision, only shortly before. All Reinbergers case contained was a part of the airborne operation and some elms of the operation plan for the 6th Army. The Eben-Emael operation was not even part of the contents.

    Loddenheide (near Münster) was situated about half way the Dutch border. It was home to troops of the 22nd Airlanding division, in those days under the wings of 7th Fliegerdivision. Reinberger, who was a liaison officer of the airborne division stationed at 2nd Luftflotte staff, had to travel to Köln (Cologne) where the 22nd Division staff held a study meeting. That was on the very height of where the plane landed, but quite a distance to the west of their targetted airfield. With the exceptionally bad ground conditions (all of NW Europe was snowed-in, rivers frosted), Hönmann offered his comrade officer to fly him across the 150 km distance. Obviously he was confident he could do this, although he wasn't frequently flying being the base commander.

    The two took off around noon, mid-day so to say. According to the generally conceived reports the weather had been quite bright, winter bright even, generally perceived as the best possible flying conditions. But after a while a sudden ground fog took away most of the ground vision. Since the Rhine and Meuse river both flow southwards in the area, the pilot must have overshot the Rhine meandering slightly to the southeast as off Duisberg. Northeastern wind must have drifted them off west and picking up the Meuse in stead of the Rhine. This is a perfectly acceptable scenario. It happened all the time in the pre-radar/pre-GPS era.

    Next the wide spread story goes that lowering down, hedge shaving, Hönmanns must have shut down the fuel-line during some sort of manoeuvre. I personally believe that this is a made up story. I have never found any proof of it. The fact of the matter is that the plane crashed. And this was not a soft landing. The plane was severly damaged.

    The events after are quite well covered by Belgian sources. Indeed the Major Reinberger was found endeavouring to destroy his paperwork all the time. But it were the Belgians acting odd. In stead of tying up or closely monitoring two German officers with their briefcase and paperwork, the Belgians apparently left the Germans quite unattended with these very papers. Reinberger tried to make use of the Belgian sloppyness to burn the papers. His efforts made perfect sense. A directive forbid the transport of any bit of operation plans through the air without explicit authorization for leaking of these plans was exactly what the Germans feared. Besides, Reinberger being a Fallschirmjäger officer, was even under more restraint not to blow his actual task and knowledge. Fallschirmjäger were often contained in their barracks, not to blow the plans for the raids on Eben Emael and later Fortress Holland. It was also known that in Germany numerous executions were taking place during the period November 1939-May 1940 for issues of dereliction of duty. Hitler had ordered a very strict discipline after the Poland campaign. Reinberger, intervening Hitler's directives, must have felt that his life was at stake.

    Reinberger was indeed condemned to death (in absence). When he later returned to Germany, during the war as part of a POW exchange, he was pardonned. That was probably because the event may have set off the Allies, or this was believed so by the Germans. In fact none of the Allies was convinced that genuine plans had been caught, although some precautions were taken.

    As I said before, there are always conspiracies seen in these sort of incidents. But I do not see a single element that gives away a hint of this conspiracy. Usually there are one or two leads. In this instance I don't see them. I am positive that should this affaire - like the Venlo incident for example - have been an Abwehr scheme, that this would have been unveiled at some point. I find that for a conspiracy theory to stand it requires to have some strong leads. But that isn't the case. That is why I am not 'a believer' in this instance.
     
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  19. PsyWar.Org

    PsyWar.Org Archive monkey

    Great information Gooseman. I think you make a very valid point about the way the incident has been retold in various books, Sebag-Montefiore included, and has perhaps been over dramatised thereby unfairly giving the impression of farce.

    Are what's left of the captured plans available in Belgian archives do you know? And out of interest how has it been established exactly what was contained in the original plans carried by Reinberger?

    Regarding the plane crash/forced landing, if it hasn't been proven that Hönmanns accidentally shut down the fuel lines, nevertheless the plane still came down and something must have caused that to happen.

    Ultimately much of the explanation of the sequence of events must come from the personal statements made by Hönmanns and Reinberger.

    I not trying to create a conspiracy theory but I'm just intrigued about the statement regarding Halder's involvement in the incident which either goes unchallenged by MI5 or seems to be their accepted version of what happened. As I said that doesn't mean it is a legitimate explanation of the event but is interesting nonetheless and adds something to the story.
     
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  20. Gooseman

    Gooseman Senior Member

    Two things one has to bear in mind as is comes to suggested Halder's involvement.

    1) The whole affair was involving the airforce (Luftwaffe) and not the Army (Heer). Halder, being chief of army staff, had nothing to do with either the airforce or the Airlanding/Airborne corps which resided under 2nd Luftflotte.

    2) Stealth, covert and subversive operations were basically monopolized by the Abwehr, although the Gestapo/SS had its own little enterprises. The regular Heer was not involved in operations of such kind. Halder would not be able to set a thing like this into motion, is my judgement.

    I think that the remnants of the papers are in French archives, but I am not certain of that. The contents being exposed caused Hitler to throw [edit] the entire Halder invasion plans overboard and demand a 'creative' plan. Eventually he forced Halder to incorporate the emphasis of the Manstein tank-strategy in the invasion plans. That tilted the core of the plan and sort of washed out anything that could have been learnt from the Maas-Mechelen documents. That is at least what can be read in official sources on the main-strategy no.4 on Fall Gelb.

    What actually happened in the confines of the German staff rooms and Hitler's private office we don't know. There may have been an initial panic or just the opposite, overjoyement that the Allies were guessing, which cannot haven gone by unnoted by the German intel (that apparently sort of cracked the French codes). Entirely in line with the German practise (of Auftragstaktik) they saw opportunity in this threat and constructed the plan that eventually caused the Allies to be taken by surprise.

    I guess it is that very bit of the story - the event of the tilted German plan after 01/10/40 - that has put the thought in some peoples mind that determined misleading information had been leaked via the crash incident. My conviction however is that it is the other way round. And since there is plenty of evidence of Hitler's discontent with the first two plans of Halder, the intervention by Hitler doesn't seem to have occured suddenly but rather from a growing discontent with his army planners. It was an opportunity for him to finally intervene. Mind you, it was only after Fall Rot that Hitler took all out control of the Wehrmacht. During the Westfeldzug he was merely watching what his general's were doing from his Felsennest, issuing directives now and then.

    The MI5 intel I cannot weigh. I haven't heart from it, haven't read it. I do know that there are many things that are kept from us. There are still many schemes that we don't know of. That always makes me hesitant to say that something is not true, period. But unlikely is what I find of the deliberate crash theory. Let's put it the other way round: there is no lead of evidence that let's me believe other than the accidental nature of the event ...
     
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