‘The dead are knocking on the doors of Unter den Linden………’
During the last days of the war in Europe – in April 1945 – the story goes that Adolf Hitler had a Reuters teleprinter in his bunker below the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. He also had a radio-set which could receive the BBC. Hitler was said to have learnt while in the bunker that the Russians had entered the city and that Gestopo Chief, Heinrich Himmler, had offered to surrender to the Western Allies. How plausible is this picture?
It was probably true.
The late Seaghan Maynes, doyen of Reuters war correspondents, always said that a copy of his war reports had been found in the bunker. His lead text had said that, “German towns are falling like ninepins before [General George] Patton’s tanks”. Maynes listed a half a dozen captured towns, the names of which had been underlined – presumably in the bunker – in thick blue pencil. A copy of this report had been picked up by another Reuters correspondent, Denis Martin, as he rummaged through scattered debris and documents soon after the bunker’s capture by the Russians. Maynes argued that, during the final few days, Hitler must have been receiving news directly from Reuters via a teleprinter.
Another account came from Soviet Marshal Chuikov, commander of the Soviet troops which captured Berlin. According to this version, Hitler, Goebbels and their aides – by then isolated and unable to gauge the progress of the Russian advance – had been driven to relying on the BBC radio. This would certainly have been how they heard about Himmler’s defection, for on April 28th, Reuters gained a worldwide beat with news of Himmler’s offer of surrender. The dramatic story, duly credited to the news agency, was broadcast by the BBC and was said by Chuikov to have been heard in the bunker. His account is accepted by Ian Kershaw in his authoritative biography of Hitler.
So whether by printer or radio, or by both, Maynes and Chuikov each believed that it was Reuters which had finally convinced Hitler that the game was up. Reuters played a significant part in triggering his death by suicide on the afternoon of 30th April.
Of course, we may wonder frivolously how the Reuters teleprinter subscription was paid – the name ‘A Hitler, Reich Chancellery’ does not feature in any subscription ledger.