He drank, counting generals, admiring the gold sigil on the white crockery. Sipping occasionally, he waited politely until he heard Putzi call his name, and placed his cup down without a sound. He was suddenly the focus of attention by the generals, who mouthed his name.
“Please let us not keep him waiting,” said Putzi, hurrying up. “As today is his birthday.”
The visitor’s heels clicked, the cup and saucer were spirited away, and the tall soldier was led deeper into Wolf’s Lair. Staff officers cleared a way, forming a corridor of high-ranking uniforms through which he and Putzi Hanfstangl passed into a large room.
In a far corner stood Adolf Hitler in shiny boots and black breeches, brown Party tunic with Eisenkreutz on the breast, starched white shirt and black necktie. Hatless, ruddy of complexion, he gazed benignly at the giant officer as he approached. Behind him were four young SS subalterns in field-grey service dress, ranked like a barber-shop quartet.
The visitor halted at a respectful distance and saluted, heels clacking smartly, right arm risen stiffly.
“Heil Hitler!” he cried.
Adolf Hitler returned the salute to himself very seriously, without utterance, then strolled forward, smiling, as Uncle Adi.
“Otto Skorzeny. It is good to see my favourite fellow Austrian looking well again so soon after dysentery. Admirable! Your feats make you my favourite soldier. Highly expedient!”
Hitler gripped Skorzeny’s huge right hand in both of his and shook it firmly. Skorzeny remained ramrod straight, towering over his leader.
“Apologies for my appearance, my Führer. Although I have not come direct from the front, I bring apologies for our dreadful tragedy at Stalingrad.”
“Yes, and I was sorry to bring you from your recuperation—von Paulus will be held personally accountable for that fiasco. But he is history now, and present business is present business. Your expertise is needed here in Germany.”
Otto Skorzeny reached into an interior pocket and withdrew two flat objects in red and gold, with a number of metal stars. “A gift from the Russian front. The epaulettes of a Russian general who paid the price of coming face to face with Das Reich. Happy Birthday, my Führer! May you have many, many more such trophies!”
Hitler chuckled, examining the epaulettes. “Thank you, Otto. A rich prize indeed. Later you shall have some cake with me, but now, down to our immediate business!” Hitler walked towards the large window. “You have been brought here to Rastenburg for several reasons. Firstly, promotion from Oberstürmführer to Hauptstürmführer.”
Picking up the insignia of a Captain of SS from the table beneath the window, he handed them to the giant soldier. Skorzeny clicked his heels, flushing. “I am deeply honoured, my Führer.”
“Secondly,” continued Hitler, “We are going to take a leaf out of Tommy Atkins’ book. I am making you chief of our special Commando troops, existing or to be created in the future. Your Jagdverbände commando training base will