I was hard at work on my new book. As originally envisaged , it was to be a ‘sensible’ alternate history of World War Two. By sensible I mean no Nazi bases on the Moon, Mars, Antarctica or anywhere else. No nuclear attacks on America, no–well no other wacky ideas that you might have come across on the Interweb thingy concerning the Nazis and conspiracy theories.
No, this was to be a story of how a man became disenchanted with his Führer, because his Führer was betraying the ideals that the man had bought into. The man was Heinrich Himmler, the ideals were those of creating a pure Aryan race, of expanding Germany to the East where those of good Aryan stock could farm and produce food for the German Reich, breed sons who would become the new soldiers needed for further conquests and breed daughters who would become the mothers of the generation after that, etc etc. Himmler planned a new religion, based on a mixture of the old Germanic and Nordic religions. This is not alternative history, this is fact. The conquered areas in the East were to become an SS kingdom, with HH as the king, or if not the king then the Führer in his own right. This is also fact. In Nazi Germany, the SS was essentially a state within a state, again a fact. It all (fortunately) came to nought–but might things have turned out differently?
In history, Himmler turned against Hitler in 1944, realising that the war was being lost by Hitler’s military bungling. If he was not directly involved in the plot to assassinate the latter, then he certainly knew about it, and did nothing to prevent the attempt. In April 1945, Himmler attempted to negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies, and (possibly–probably?) proposed that the Third Reich would surrender in the West, if it were allowed to continue the fight against the Soviet Union. There is a tantalising, brief entry in the diary of the British First Sea Lord, Admiral Andrew Cunningham, which refers to a conversation with British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, concerning Himmler. He quotes Churchill as saying, ‘I would be inclined to let him live if he brought this about’.
From that brief, tantalising note, an enigmatic mention by Himmler himself, in 1943, about the leader of one of the French Resistance cells, and a persistent rumour that Himmler had made an approach to the British Government in 1943 concerning a possible surrender to the Western Allies and the continuance of the war against the Soviet Union, I began to construct an alternative history. As I started the necessary research, my belief that something not recorded in history had occurred, grew. An alleged overheard remark by Churchill to the head of MI6, Stewart Menzies, ‘we may as well see what he wants, we can always shoot him later’, in early 1943 after a cabinet meeting, seemed to tie in with persistent rumours that Menzies had actually had a meeting with Himmler, in occupied France. And then there was the matter of Himmler’s alleged suicide whilst in British custody, in May 1945. Something did not ring true about the official account. First they had found Himmler’s cyanide capsule when they first searched him, then they hadn’t. Officially, he had concealed the glass capsule in his mouth for several hours–but during that time he had reportedly consumed a British Army sandwich. BAS’s were not then, and are not now, noted for being for the fainthearted. They were/are distant cousins to the dainty, gentile sandwiches served up in oldie-worldie tea rooms in the home counties. To chomp your way through a ‘doorstep sarnie’ whilst holding a one inch glass ampule containing a deadly poison in your mouth seems a feat beyond mortal man or woman, yet Himmler seemingly achieved this feat. To misquote Shakespeare, something smelled like rotten fish.
In my alternate history, Himmler would realise in late 1941 that things were not going well. The failure to win a quick victory against the Soviet Union, and Hitler’s insistence that there was no real need to develop new weapons because the war was already won, made Himmler authorise, under the umbrella of the SS, development of a new generation of fighter aircraft, and associated weapon systems. These things were in reality under development, but lack of official encouragement (and in some cases funding) meant progress was slow. With Himmler providing the necessary funds, the new jet fighter was ready for production a year earlier than it actually was, and instead of being the famous ME 262 jet fighter, it was the more technically advance HE (Heinkel) 280. That aircraft was in reality cancelled when Heinkel could not secure the state funding for the development of the jet engines for it. When it becomes obvious to Himmler that the Allies are going to start the invasion of Europe by invading Sicily, and Hitler insists that they will attack through the Balkans, Himmler decides that the only way for Nazi Germany to survive and for his dreams of an SS state in the East to become reality, is for him to replace Hitler, negotiate a separate peace with America, Britain and France, and to continue the war against the Soviet Union. In order to do that, he will have to defeat the Allied invasion of Sicily–which is where the secretly developed weapon systems will play their part.
It all sounded plausible, and all the research had been done. I had written the first five chapters (about 12K words), when I listened to a podcast. In it, an editor spoke about many interesting aspects of his work, and mentioned that he was offering (for a price, naturally) what he termed an ‘early diagnosis’ of a manuscript. He would comment on style, the idea itself, any problems that he could see in developing the plot–early diagnosis of any potential problems. I thought about this for a day or three, then contacted him.
The diagnosis was–I wasn’t sure what story I wanted to write. Was it purely an alternative history, which he, Harry, thought sounded quite plausible, or was it a story about Himmler the man? There were elements of both in the manuscript as it stood, and they did not make compatible bedfellows. It had to be one or the other, and based on what he had read, Harry thought I had the makings of a good book about Himmler the man. Not a biography, but a fictionalised account of his life and times, a historical novel. OMG, a historical novel–one of those big, thick books full of imagined conversations which might have taken place but nobody could say whether they had or not. One of those books which is basically a true history, and yet not. It must mirror events as they happened, and yet include details which are not known to history. A daunting task. Was I up to it?
You the readers will eventually decide if I was up to it or not. In the meantime, I am struggling a little to find my new voice, and having to do more in-depth research as I write. I can use about half of the already written 12K words, amended slightly, so it has not all been a wasted effort to date. Or, I think it has not. The first two chapters of the new manuscript have been booked with ‘Dr Harry’ for their own early diagnosis.