Paperback version of Zero Night now available in all good bookshops and at Amazon
Nominated for the 2015 Kirkus Prize for Non-Fiction
The Sea Devils
Operation Struggle and the Last Great Raid of World War Two
“The author of Zero Night with another tale of Second World War derring-do.” The Bookseller
Hear Mark discussing the book on BBC Essex: Tony Fisher Show
July 1945. Eighteen daring young British, Australian and New Zealand special forces from the top-secret underwater warfare unit known as The Sea Devils prepare to undertake three simultaneous and incredibly risky missions against the Japanese. Using four brilliantly conceived XE-craft midget submarines, the raiders will creep deep behind Japanese lines to sink two huge warships and sever two vitally important undersea communications cables. If any of the Sea Devils are captured they can expect a gruesome execution.
Mark Felton expertly tells the incredible tale – the last great Allied raid of the war – of how this band of young men living on raw courage, nerves and adrenalin repeatedly combat Japanese defences, oxygen poisoning and calamitous submarine disasters to pull off a brilliant display of ingenuity, courage and sheer guts, on missions that earn the last Victoria Crosses of World War Two and ensure final victory over Japan.
Hear an audio clip from The Sea Devils: Audio Download
The Obersalzberg is a small mountain that lies just outside the pretty Alpine town of Berchtesgaden on the Bavarian-Austrian border. From 1933 to 1945 Adolf Hitler owned a house on the mountain called the Berghof. Over several years, Hitler’s loyal subordinate Martin Bormann gradually took over the Obersalzberg area, evicting its farmers and pulling down the original properties. In their place was created a carefully guarded Nazi village, where senior members of the regime had alpine chalets built close to their Führer. The site also included barracks accommodation for Hitler’s SS guards, service buildings, hotels for important guests, garages for the leaders’ huge armoured Mercedes limousines, tea houses (including the famous Eagle’s Nest), a kindergarten, cinema and a massive greenhouse to supply Hitler’s vegetarian dietary requirements.
As the war progressed, Hitler divided his time between his Eastern Front headquarters at Rastenburg, known as the Wolf’s Lair, the Reichs Chancellery in Berlin and the Obersalzberg. Eva Braun, the Führer’s mistress, lived almost exclusively at Obersalzberg throughout the war, until leaving for the Berlin Bunker. In April 1945, the Royal Air Force launched a devastating raid on the Obersalzberg, probably because, with its miles of bunkers and air raid shelters, it could have been used as part of the ‘Alpine Redoubt’, the semi-mythical last stand in the Alps planned by the SS. The British Lancasters devastated the Obersalzberg, damaging or destroying many of the Nazi properties. As Allied ground forces closed in on the village in early May 1945, the SS set fire to Hitler’s house and withdrew. In 1952, the shell of the Berghof was blown up by the Bavarian Government in an attempt to erase all traces of Hitler from the mountain. Today, extensive ruins of many important Nazi buildings remain scattered across the site, including some traces of the Berghof. A few buildings remain untouched by war and have survived the wrecking ball.
Berchtesgaden Station, built to accommodate Hitler’s private train, the Führersonderzug, which was ironically named ‘Amerika‘ (later ‘Brandenburg‘), and the huge numbers of German civilians who wanted to visit the Berghof.
Closeup of the main entrance to Berchtesgaden Station. A huge swastika flag originally hung from the wrought iron flag pole on the left. Hitler had a separate private entrance/exit further along the building.
The main waiting room (above & below) inside Berchtesgaden Station, with its Nazi-era clock and wall murals.
A famous war mural in Berchtesgaden town centre. The same view (below) on 4 May 1945, when US forces captured the town:
The Gutshof, an experimental farm built by Martin Bormann close to Hitler’s private house. Today its a golf course club house.
Only the foundation remains today of the main SS guardhouse that originally blocked the main road up from Berchtesgaden (see image below). Beyond the wooden gatehouse was Hitler’s house, on a rise on the right.
Mark pictured amid the ruins of Hitler’s house, the Berghof. Today, only the house’s massive rear retaining wall remains intact. Hitler purchased the original property, Haus Wachenfels, in 1933 using royalties from Mein Kampf. Renamed ‘Berghof’, it was extensively rebuilt and enlarged (see below).
Another shot of Mark by the Berghof’s east wing retaining wall. The site is rapidly returning to nature having been planted with trees
One of the few remaining metal features extant at the Berghof, located on the Adjutancy side of the building. This shaft gave access to communications and electrical cables that ran from the house up and through the hill behind.
The remains of the driveway that ran in front of the Berghof is visible in this photograph. A flight of steps on the left led up to the house’s entrance. See below for an original photograph looking down the steps to the same drive:
Looking up the Berghof steps to the house’s main entrance. Note the large armoured Mercedes-Benz limousine to bring visitors from either Berchtesgaden Station or Salzburg Airport.
The Hotel zum Türken, adjacent to the Berghof, which housed 19 of Hitler’s RSD bodyguards when he was on the Obersalzberg as well as a telephone exchange. It is now a private hotel.
The Hotel zum Türken taken from the entrance to the Berghof’s drive. On the left of the road opposite the Hotel is the ruin of the Unterwurflehen, the Obersalzberg administration building. A path runs from here to the Mooslahnerkopf Tea House.
The extensive SS bunkers beneath the Hotel zum Türken. These connect to Hitler and Eva Braun’s air raid shelter that still exists beneath the Berghof ruins, but it is not open to the public.
Machine gun positions guarding a passageway beneath the Hotel zum Türken.
Some parts of the bunkers beneath the Hotel zum Türken look almost unchanged from World War II.
Three wood lined cells are located on the first subterranean level beneath the Hotel zum Türken where the RSD could hold suspects caught within the forbidden ‘Führer Security Zone’, or perhaps SS men or other employees for disciplinary reasons. The cells are charred in places by the fire that resulted from the RAF bombing in 1945.
Shrapnel damage from an American bazooka round that was fired into the bunker beneath the Hotel zum Türken in 1945.
Mark outside the entrance to Hitler’s private bunker beneath the ruins of the Berghof. Beyond the bricks is a long, curving white corridor with a series of rooms on the right, including those for Hitler, Eva Braun and Hitler’s physician, the corpulent and repulsive Dr. Theodor Morell. Apart from the retaining walls above ground and the driveway wall, this is the only part of Hitler’s house still surviving – though frustratingly closed to inspection!
The remains of the drive that once swept up to the front of the Berghof. Today, only a short section of wall survives on the left, and a few patches of the original surface among the trees that have been planted all over the site.
A similar view during Hitler’s time (below). The driveway wall can be seen in both images.
A closer view of the drive’s retaining wall, its large stone blocks still in position.
The retaining wall to the Adjutancy wing of the Berghof, where Hitler’s many military adjutants and aides were accommodated.
The present day view out through Hitler’s giant picture window at the Berghof, now long since destroyed. The Berghof site has had many tons of rubble from the demolished Platterhof Hotel dumped over it. But the bunkers beneath the house remain intact, though inaccessible.
The same view through the window during the war (below):
In the photograph above of the interior of the Berghof, the picture window would have been to the right, in front of the desk.
The back retaining wall of the Berghof, directly behind the main part of Hitler’s house. Around the corner on the left, where the wall slopes down, was the Adjutancy wing.
The bomb-damaged Berghof on 4 May 1945, when US forces arrived to claim possession. The building was still smoking after the SS guard unit set fire to the house before retreating.
The rather creepy path through the forest that Hitler walked every day that he was in residence at the Berghof to the Mooslahnerkopf tea house. The entrance to the original path has been made deliberately difficult to locate today by the Bavarian Government, but leads to the intact viewing area opposite the tea house ruins that has featured in so many photographs of Hitler. The woods are dark and gloomy, and it appears that few people come here today.
(Below) Hitler and Heinrich Himmler walking the same one kilometre path from the Berghof in the winter of 1943:
To the left of the path is the small hillock atop which stood the Mooslahnerkopf Tea House, with the famous lookout and its wooden railing to the right.
The Mooslahnerkopf overlook taken from atop the ruins of Hitler’s favourite tea house. The same view (below) during the war:
Built in 1937, only the foundations of the Mooslahnerkopf Teahouse remain today.
For a more detailed article and more photographs then and now of the Mooslahnerkopf visit Hitler’s Tea House
The Göring Adjutanter, the building that once housed Hitler’s senior Luftwaffe adjutant, General der Flieger Karl Bodenschatz and his staff. Now a private home, this building survived the fate of Hermann Göring’s house next door, which was pulled down in 1952. It gives a good impression of what many of the other properties in the area would have looked like during the war.
Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring’s house in ruins after the RAF bombing of the Obersalzberg, April 1945.
Mark inside Martin Bormann’s complex of bunkers beneath the Hoher Göll Guesthouse, now the Obersalzberg Dokumentation. The Hoher Göll is just around the corner from the Berghof and was used to house visiting dignitaries. Today, only the ground floor survives with a modern upper floor, as well as the extensive bunkers that link in with the old Platterhof Hotel complex’s massive subterranean world.
This large chamber beneath the Platterhof Hotel housed electrical generators that powered the utility systems for the bunker complexes.
A huge safe lies face down on the floor of an office in the Bormann bunker complex. The hole in the back was made by Allied troops trying to open it in 1945 using a bazooka! The rooms, like this, that run off a massive central corridor, were designed to be used by Nazi Party officials housed in the Hoher Göll Guesthouse above. It would have formed a last-ditch Nazi HQ.
Remains of the driveway that led to Martin Bormann’s House.
The entrance to the bunker system, opposite the Hotel zum Türken, for the Obersalzberg anti-aircraft defence and communications centre. It connects to the Hotel zum Türken, Berghof and Bormann Haus bunker systems.
The Hotel zum Türken with its intact SS guard post that controlled access to the Berghof, located behind and to the left of the Hotel. Originally, there was a wooden gate extending across the road on the right of the picture, blocking access to the Berghof, which stood just around the corner on the left.
The same view (below) when the SS were in residence:
SS gatehouse (with modern roof) that used to guard one of the entrances into Sperrkreis 1, the innermost security zone around the Berghof and other top Nazis’ houses. The road leads up Kehlstein Mountain to the Diplomatic Reception House, more commonly known by its nickname of “The Eagle’s Nest”.
All that remains of the main Platterhof Hotel today is the long wall on the left. The area is now used as a bus station for the Eagle’s Nest (pictured on Kehlstein Mountain above). The path towards the photographer leads to the former Hoher Göll Guesthouse (now the Obersalzberg Dokumentation) and then the Berghof.
The former Hoher Göll Guesthouse today, with its top floors chopped off and converted into the Dokumentation Obersalzberg. (Photo: www.mapio.cz)
The Hoher Göll Guesthouse during the war, with SS sentry post guarding the path that ran past it round the corner to the Berghof. The Guesthouse was used to house senior visiting dignitaries, and latterly was taken over by Martin Bormann as offices. It survived the 1945 air raid intact, though was later extensively looted.
One of many bomb craters that litter the Obersalzberg site dating from the 25 April 1945 air raid by RAF Lancasters. The size of each gave a great indication of the damage that they must have caused. This one photographed by Mark adjacent to the Unterwurflehen Administration Building.
Mark pictured with a Lancaster at the RAF Museum, Hendon. The 25 April 1945 raid on the Obersalzberg was massive, consisting of 359 of these huge bombers, the same number used to flatten the city of Kiel ten days previously. The British were making sure that the Obersalzberg complex would be completely denied to Hitler and the SS.
Another deep, water-filled bomb crater from the 1945 raid, close to the path that Hitler would walk to the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus.
Tin roofing material that I discovered piled on the ruins of the Unterwurflehen Administration Building just across from the Berghof. This building, located between Martin Bormann’s House and the Berghof, was headquarters for the administration of the Obersalzberg Complex. SS-Sturmbannführer Spahn lived here with his staff. Extensive brick ruins were visible, as well as pipework and the remains of a formal garden. A huge bomb crater was immediately adjacent from the 1945 air raid.
The site of the SS-Kaserne, the large barracks complex that housed Hitler’s guard troops on the Obersalzberg. The building has been completely erased, including the underground rifle range, the grounds now forming part of the new Intercontinental Hotel complex.
Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest sits high above the Obersalzberg on Kehlstein Mountain.
The Eagle’s Nest photographed from the summit of adjacent Jenner Mountain. Eva Braun was a frequent visitor to the building, and it was here in 1944 that her sister Gretl married Hitler’s SS liaison Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein.
British Special Operations Executive (SOE) conducted detailed planning and training concerning assassinating Hitler on the Obersalzberg. The plan was to parachute in two highly-trained snipers, one British and one a German-speaking Pole, who would hide up in a safe house in Salzburg. The pair, disguised as German mountain troops, would then infiltrate the security perimeter around the Berghof and shoot Hitler dead during his daily walk to the Mooslahnerkopf Tea House. Hitler left the Berghof for the last time in July 1944, before the operation was ready to be launched.
The pair were to be armed with Mauser 98K rifles fitted with telescopic sights, and each man would carry modified 7.65mm silenced Luger 08 pistols (above). The pistol in the photographed is the only known surviving weapon from Operation Foxley and I photographed it at the excellent Combined Military Services Museum in Maldon, Essex.
For more information about fascinating private world of Adolf Hitler, please see Mark’s recent book:
Copyright Mark Felton, 2015, all rights reserved