The Untersberg – mountain of myth
70 years ago, Adolf Hitler stood on the terrace of his house, the Berghof, above Berchtesgaden in southern Germany, and contemplated this view. The massive Untersberg, directly in front of him, was the mountain in which legend said that the Emperor Charlemagne slept, ready one day to rise again.
And in 1940, Hitler believed that a decision he had just reached would make him greater than Charlemagne, the man who created the German monarchy, greater indeed than any German who had ever lived. Because Hitler – and Hitler alone – had decided that Germany should invade the Soviet Union. With hindsight it seems to have been a catastrophic decision – one that led directly to Germany’s defeat. But that was not how most people saw it at the time. In fact, most German Generals thought that the decision to invade France in May 1940 had been much more risky – and that had brought victory in six weeks.
How much resistance could the Red Army – weakened by Stalin’s purges in the 1930s and broken by failures during the Winter war against Finland a few months before – actually put up? Well, most informed opinion agreed with General Jodl of the German High Command who said the Soviet Union would be ‘proved to be a pig’s bladder; prick it and it will burst.’