Chapter 1: A single flame alightJanuary 1st, 1936.
Viktor Forst stared down the long table occupied by his ministers. The room was cold - Viktor had ordered the heat kept down - and formal. Hitler had generally preferred a somewhat more informal and individual method of communication, but Forst wanted things laid out in the open.
He had shuffled things around quite a bit, not entirely with the Fuhrer's approval, although Hitler had given his blessing to Forst and the assembled group in a very crowded hospital room the day before. Forst had assembled them there on the last day of the year for the psychological impact of starting their efforts on the New Year. If the Night of the Long Knives had indicated the transition of the NSDAP from a revolutionary party to a ruling one, this moment would mark the transition of its leaders from self-interested thugs to dedicated leaders.
He'd made quite a few changes. The Reich's Minister of Economics - Hjalmar Schacht - was now also minister of Armaments. He had been the man to drag the Weimar Republic out of the dismal hole of inflation and poverty that had been the post-war years, only to see the Great Depression hit. In Forst's view, the most important aim of the government had to be establishing the proper industrial base for war-making, and Schacht was the one to do it.
Joseph Goebbels, with his lean, skull-like face, now had purview over the Gestapo, the concentration camps, and maintained control over propaganda. All of these had been combined into a new "Ministry of Security", intended to watch over the internal integrity of the Reich, in any form it took. Forst had removed the SS from their role as internal police and camp guards - now they would function entirely as an elite force for the Fuhrer, watching both the Gestapo and the military, and working alongside both, and under Forst's personal control, of course. He had also spoken to Goebbels about the concentration camps: in Forst's view, they were wasteful. Either the unhappy residents should be rehabilitated, or else expelled from the country as being of no use to the Reich. He had no idea what Heydrich and Himmler had been thinking, simply penning people up and feeding their useless mouths. Not that they'd fed the all that much, of course. And to what end? After a few years, they were dead or released, probably even less disposed to serve the Reich. No. Reform them or get rid of them. And Goebbels had agreed, probably not least because control over some of the Reich's police forces was something he'd probably been lusting after.
That wasn't the only concession he'd wrung out of the man, either. Forst had wanted censorship, especially of books and films, loosed a bit. His biggest worry was that the Reich might be banning actual economic and scientific works, something Schacht had brought to his attention. Goebbels had balked, but control of the Gestapo was too large a prize to give up, and thus, a small announcement in the Völkischer Beobachter, the official party newpaper, would be going out today to declare that, after further review, the Ministry of Security would be releasing a few hundred more titles for publication.
Wilhelm Frick, sitting across from Goebbels, was less pleased. He had a long, cruel face, and had been essentially Minister of the Interior up until now. Forst, valuing his capabilities but distrusting his ambition inside the Reich, had appointed him to replace Canaris as head of the now-named "Ministry of Intelligence". In time, Forst thought, Frick would come to relish his new job, especially with the plans he had for the department. Frick's former responsibilities had been consolidated under Rudolf Hess, already essentially head of government, and a man, who, if psychologically odd, was respected by Forst for his dedication and work ethic - as well as his lack of ambition.
He'd also shuffled the Army leaders around a bit, appointing Fritz Bayerlein - a personal acquaintance - as interim Chief of Staff, and Werner von Blomberg as Chief of the Army. Raeder would stay on as head of the Navy, and Goering, of course, would stay on as leader of the Luftwaffe.
"Now," Forst said, "I shall begin." An assistant rolled a large blackboard over and Forster rose and began to write on it. "First, we must plan for the next three years. The Fuhrer desires us to be ready for war within five years. We shall do it in three. To that end, I have been speaking to Herr Schacht" - at that, Goering scowled, as Schacht and he had long been at loggerheads over the economic direction of the Reich - "and I have assembled the following dictates. Make no mistake, gentlemen, there will be no deviation from these orders. Deviation or dissension will be met with disgrace, or death."
That quieted things down a bit. Good.
"To that end, I have been impressed with the need to economically revitalize our nation. To that end, we will be concentrating on research and the building of factories capable of producing both consumer goods and military goods. We will maintain this policy for two years, while assembling four to five divisions a year."
There were nods around the table, save for Goering, but even he seemed to accept the plan.
"Politically, we have several goals. The foremost is to keep American out of any future conflict".
There was a stir at that, and Forster decided to explain.
"Yes, America has a weak army, and yes, she is struggling with the same economic issues as the rest of the world. However, both Schacht and I have been to America. They possess immense productive capabilities. Those cannot be allowed to come in on the side of our enemies, as they did in the last war. To that end, we are establishing a full-on political offensive, both openly, through diplomatic channels, and covertly, through Herr Frick's department. The isolationist element in America is very strong, and President Roosevelt's New Deal program has not eliminated the economic misery in the country. To that end, we will be funding the German-American Bund party."
There was a stir at that. The German-American Bund party was a joke. Forster continued anyway. "We will revitalize the party by stripping it of its Nazi characteristics. We must be realistic: no Americans will vote in quantity for the Nazi party. Instead, it will re-position itself as an economic party - that is, one which wishes to replicate German successes in defeating the depression. As well, it will cooperate with other parties, such as the Republican Party and the American First Committee, to run combined tickets to defeat the current president. At the same time, we will make the United States our major trading partner for raw materials, which will make us essential to their economy."
"As well, we will be working within the United Kingdom to undermine their diplomatic efforts. We are also placing agents in the Soviet Union to stir up resentment against Stalin and his government. When war comes, they will be unprepared."
"Lastly, the military. Along with our divisions, we will be producing two or three hundred aircraft a year. We will also be standardizing all of our equipment, so that we will not face supply problems. A mix of the new fighters and tactical bombers should put our air force in fine shape. On the land, we will concentrate on medium and light armor, combined with infantry and artillery. On the sea, I have decided, after talking with Goering and Raeder, that we will not be producing a submarine fleet. Instead, we will concentrate on a small fleet of battleships and destroyers, with the Luftwaffe providing air cover."
That did earn an objection, from Goebbels. "Unterfuhrer, we can hardly expect to challenge the Royal Navy on the high seas with that."
Viktor smiled. "Indeed. But we do not intend to. It is merely intended to challenge their control of the channel."
"To what purpose?" Schacht asked. "Blocking the channel is merely an annoyance. And they'll wear us down eventually, while raiding every convoy we send to America."
This time, Viktor had to grin. "My dear Schacht," he said, "how are they going to raid our convoys if they have no ports to raid from?"