MURDERING HITLER - the failed attacks on Hitler’s life
A lot of murder attempts on Hitler were planned. Here’s a list with a lot of the efforts made to kill him
München November 1921
Assassination attempts on Hitler's life began long before he ascended to political power. The first recorded attempt occurred in Munich in 1921. In November of that year Hitler spoke at a beer hall rally that was attended by a large audience, which included some three hundred people who were either members of opposition groups or merely violently hostile to him. The crowd included members of the Independent Socialist Party, the Majority Socialist Party, and the Communist Party.
Hitler's speech "Who Are the Murderers?" was a vitriolic denunciation of the assassination on 25 October 1921, of Majority Socialist Reichstag Deputy Erhard Auer. It was routine at such gatherings for the audience, both proand anti-speaker, to consume beer in inordinate quantities and to cache the empty Steins under the tables to use as ammunition in the inevitable melee. During Hitler's speech sharp remarks were exchanged between members of the gathering; this triggered first an avalanche of Steins, then the throwing of chairs, and finally a brawl that erupted throughout the hall. In the midst of the ensuing battle, the twenty-five Nazi Storm Troopers on hand for just such an eventuality managed to shepherd most of the three hundred opponents out of the building before the police appeared in sufficient strength to secure the hall. Before the police arrived several unknown assailants fired shots at Hitler, none of which hit the target.
The gunfire was returned, possibly by Hitler himself, who always carried a pistol. These shots also failed to find a target. By the time the SA men cleared the hall of opponents many people had been injured, however, none seriously. Incredibly, Hitler persisted with his tirade for fully twenty minutes more, until police reinforcements finally closed the hall and dispersed the crowd into the street. Police reports show that some 150 Steins were smashed, together with a number of chairs and tables, and the hall was strewn with lengths of brass pipe, brass knuckles, and similar weapons commonly used in civilian riots.
Thuringia and Leipzig 1923
In 1923 Hitler again narrowly escaped death. Two attempts were made on his life by unknown assassins. The first occurred in Thuringia where shots get fired at Hitler from a crowd; a second, in which shots were fired at his car, in Leipzig.
In 1929 an SS soldier on guard duty at the Sportpalast reportedly secreted a bomb under the speaker's platform minutes before Hitler was scheduled to appear. After the usual introductions, Hitler began a speech anticipated to last several hours. The SS guard felt a sudden need to use the men's room; confident that there was ample time in which to set off the bomb, he left his position for what he expected would be only a brief absence. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the world, he was accidentally locked in the toilet. Unable to free himself from the locked room in time, he failed to trigger the bomb. Hitler escaped injury or death because of an odd twist of fate. A friend later called it the joke of the century. "The history of the world might have been changed if he hadn't had to go to the bathroom".
Berlin 1932, January
Location: Hotel Kaiserhof
Hitler often dined at the Hotel Kaiserhof with members of his staff. One night in January 1932 he dined at the hotel with his staff as usual but within an hour of eating the meal most of his table had fallen ill with food poisoning. Hitler was the least affected, possibly because he ate a vegetarian diet. Nobody died and nobody was charged.
Train 1932, March 15
Location: between München and Weimar
Hitler was travelling from Munich to Weimar with Josef Göbbels and William Frick. Shots were fired at the carriage they were travelling in but no one was hurt.
Car 1932, June
Location: near the town of Straslund
Hitler was travelling in a car near to Straslund. A group of men were waiting at a tight turn with the intention of ambushing the car and killing Hitler. However the car managed to get away.
Car 1932, July
Hitler made a speech to mass of people at Freiburg on 29th July. Just before or just after the speech a crowd threw stones at his car. One stone hit him on the head but he was otherwise unhurt.
Assner 1933, February
After Hitler became Chancellor, the assassination attempts not only persisted but in fact increased. Hardly a week passed without an assassination plot being unearthed, or at least a report of one filed with the police authorities. In February a schoolteacher reported a plot to poison Hitler, and the Bavarian Legation in Berlin revealed that Ludwig Assner, a former Nazi turned communist, claimed that Hitler was a madman who would plunge Germany into misery and that he, Assner, would kill him to prevent this from happening. Although police were on alert for the would-be assassin, his threats against Hitler were dismissed as trivial when he demanded a large sum of money in exchange for abandoning his plans.
Throughout 1933 and 1934, reports of planned attempts on Hitler's life were received almost weekly by police. They included bizarre stories of exploding fountain pens, tunnels crammed with explosives dug under buildings in which he was to appear, poison squirted in his face, and dozens of others including one claiming his plane would be shot down over East Prussia. Many of these rumors were not taken seriously, largely because of the sources; however, at least fourteen were deemed sufficiently valid to merit earnest investigation by criminal police officials.
Bomb 1933, March 4
On 3 March 1933, one day before the newly appointed Chancellor was to address a political rally in Königsberg to campaign for his slate of candidates in the 5 March Reichstag elections, police moved against a communist group whose leader, a ship's carpenter named Kurt Lutter, had organized a plot to blow up the speaker's platform while Hitler spoke. The plan took form during two clandestine meetings held in February that were infiltrated by a police informer who leaked the information to the authorities. An investigation failed to uncover the explosives, and since none of the conspirators would confess to the crime of attempted political assassination, which carried the death penalty, Lutter and his group were ultimately released after being detained for several months.
Tag von Potsdam 1933, March 21
Location: Potsdamer Garnisonskirche
Hitler was due to attend a ceremony to commerate the opening of the new Reichstag building and the agreement that had led to the passing of the Enabling Act. Known as the Day of Potsdam the ceremony was to take place in the Garrison Church (Garnisonskirche) on March 21st. The day before the ceremony authorities discovered a tunnel that had been recently constructed beneath the church. It was thought that the tunnel would be packed with explosives and detonated while Hitler and Hindenburg were in the church.
Location: Old Reichskanzlei
Beppo Römer, a communist and former leader of a Freikorps, came into the Reichskanzlei. When he got discovered they send him to Dachau concentration camp. In 1942 he was killed.
Location: Berghof area
Hitler's life was threatened by a would-be killer at Hitler's country house not far from Berchtesgaden. The hilly countryside surrounding the house was crisscrossed with numerous walking paths along which Hitler liked to stroll, usually accompanied by a small entourage of security people and political followers. The Führer generally led the column while his disciples alternated walking alongside him to exchange a few words of intimate conversation. The security men maintained a discreet distance and performed their duties as unobtrusively as possible.
However, since the grounds through which Hitler's party strolled were public property, it was not unusual for them to meet other strollers, sometimes even exchanging pleasantries. Repeated observances of a man in an SA uniform who was acting in a suspicious manner and was watching Hitler's group carefully did not escape the attention of the security forces. During a routine security check, a personal search revealed that he was carrying a loaded handgun, a serious violation of law, and he was immediately arrested.
Location: road between Rosenheim and Obersalzberg
After Hitler picked up friends from München in Rosenheim, unknown people shoot at the car of Hitler, somewhere on the road between Rosenheim and the Obersalzberg.
Bad Wiessee 1934
Location: Road München-Bad Wiessee, exact location unknown
An alleged coup attempt against the Führer in 1934 by the leaders of the SA, remains an enigma to this day. The SA leader, Ernst Röhm, had long advocated replacing the German army with his own organization. Unproven rumors persisted that Röhm coveted the position of Führer for himself. Whether the rumors were valid or Hitler simply decided to appease his army generals and rid them of a nuisance, the alleged plot was Hitler's pretext for the arrest and murder of several hundred SA leaders from 30 June 1934, through 2 July 1934.
Hitler himself participated in Röhm's arrest while the latter was vacationing in Bad Wiesse, south of Munich. With the arrests accomplished and the prisoners en route to Stadelheim prison near Munich, Hitler and his entourage, including an SS security contingent, prepared to drive to Munich. Minutes before they were to leave, a truck carrying heavily armed SA bodyguards known as the Stabswache drove up. Learning that their leaders had been arrested, the SA men assumed combative positions against Hitler's cadre, creating a highly charged and dangerous situation for the Führer.
Hitler somehow persuaded the SA team to retire. Reluctantly they returned to their truck and started out on the road to Munich. Minutes after leaving Bad Wiesse, the men had a change of heart and resolved to kill Hitler, disarm his security force, and rescue the SA leaders. Concealing their truck well off the highway, they established a deadly ambush. Machine guns set up on both sides of the road created a lethal field of fire that could not fail to annihilate Hitler's party. However, Hitler distrusted the SA group and decided to take an alternate route to Munich as a precaution against just such a contingency. Had Hitler traveled the main road, it is likely the SA unit would have killed him.
Lacking documented hard evidence that the SA leaders planned to murder Hitler, and since Röhm and his closest confederates were executed, it will never be known whether the plot actually existed. Hitler's brutal action against the SA caused many former Nazis to join a growing list of those who wanted him dead.
In 1935, a right-wing group hatched an elaborate scheme to kill Hitler. The group's leader, Dr. Helmuth Mylius, was head of the Radical Middle Class Party, an industrial entrepreneur, and editor of a right-wing newspaper. Mylius and retired Navy Captain Hermann Ehrhardt developed a plan to infiltrate Hitler's SS bodyguard units with their own supporters. So successful were they that 160 men penetrated SS security and began accumulating data on Hitler's movements. The coup never came about because the Gestapo, having been informed of the plan, infiltrated the group and arrested most of the participants.
A SA man, named Kraus, according to Bridget Hitler, who was granted permission to present a petition personally to the Führer, was the would-be assassin who came nearest to succeeding. At the Berghof, Hitler's Bavarian Alps' retreat, he fired a single shot at Hitler and missed. He was shot at five times by the guards and died instantly. His motives are unknown but it might be surmised that they had something to do with the murder of Röhm, SA leader in 1934.
Another version of an attack motivated by Röhm's assassination was brought forward by Otto Strasser in his book "Flight from Terror" (NY 1943). It seems much more credible than the Bridget Hitler's version. Another SA man named Heinrich Grunow, who had not swallowed Ernst Röhm's murder, got in touch with Otto Strasser, head of the Black Front opposition movement to Hitler, and set up a plan to kill Hitler while the Führer was driven to his beloved Berchtesgarten retreat. Grunow was a member of the close guard protecting Hitler at Berchtesgarten and knew that at some spot on the road the car had to slow down to less than 15mph and argued to Strasser that it would be a propitious location to shot at Hitler. Strasser agreed to the plot and Grunow went to execute his murderous task. Unfortunately, according to Strasser, Hitler had taken the wheel on this day and Grunow shot the driver in the back seat while Hitler escaped alive. The irony is that Grunow, persuaded that he had succeeded in his attack, committed suicide on the spot while Hitler-the-driver scared to death rushed out of the car that he had put to a sudden halt. Hitler's chauffeur, Julius Schreck, was hit in the chest, the jaw and his right temple. Officially he died of a tooth infection.
Communists planned an attack on Hitler, Blomberg, Göring, Göbbels and Hess.
Group Markwitz 1935
The group Markwitz wanted to kill Hitler, but the Gestapo infiltrated the group. All the members of the group were killed.
During 1936, David Frankfurter, a Jewish medical student living in Berne, killed Wilhelm Gustloff, Hitler's deputy in Switzerland. Gustloff became Frankfurter's substitute target when the assassin realized his primary target, Adolf Hitler, was beyond his reach. A year later it was learned through SS contacts with the Hagna, the Jewish intelligence service in Palestine, that Gustloff's murder was part of a failed assassination plan against Hitler by a Paris-based group known as the Alliance Israélite Universelle.
Strasser’s Plan December 1936
Location: Nürnberg Stadium
In December 1936, a young German Jew who had been living in Prague infiltrated into Germany as part of a plot to kill Hitler by blowing up a building in the Nuremberg Stadium. Helmut Hirsch, acting under the influence of Otto Strasser, one of Hitler's most virulent opponents, agreed to plant the bomb built by another of Strasser's followers.
Hirsch arrived in Stuttgart on December 20, three days before the scheduled meeting with his contact, a Strasser disciple who was to deliver the bomb. Hirsch did not know his contact had been arrested crossing the German-Polish border with the bomb, and under questioning by the Gestapo he revealed the bombing plan and identified the would-be bomber. Since Hirsch had used his own name at the hotel when he completed the forms required of all guests, it was a simple matter to track him down and arrest him.
On 8 March 1937, Helmut Hirsch was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by beheading. The execution was carried out on 4 June in Plötzensee.
Otto Strasser probably instigated more than a few death plots against Hitler. Otto and his brother, Gregor, were socialists before joining Hitler's National Socialist Party. Gregor entered into an unqualified allegiance to Hitler, but Otto held some serious reservations. He openly disagreed with Hitler on important issues such as a major strike by metalworkers in Saxony. Otto Strasser championed the workers; Hitler, who was being subsidized by wealthy industrialists, was ordered by them to disclaim Strasser and condemn his support for the strikers. Hitler and Strasser met twice in Berlin's Hotel Sanssouci on 21 and 22 May 1930, to reconcile their differences. Neither man budged from his position and they parted enemies. Expelled from the Party, Otto Strasser formed his own socialist organization, which he called the Schwarze Front (Black Front).
When Gregor Strasser died in Hitler's attack on the SA, Otto realized that he had lost the protection his brother's position in the Nazi Party had afforded him and that his own life was now in danger. He fled Germany and continued to scheme against Hitler from asylum in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and later Paris. Throughout 1937 and 1938, German intelligence uncovered a steady flow of information revealing plots to kill Hitler by the Black Front, as well as other opponents of the Führer, many of whom were German émigrés.
Josef Thomas 1937, November 26
Location: Reichskanzlei Berlin
A mentaly ill man called Josef Thomas from Ebersfeld ran around in the Reichskanzlei. He got arrested. No one ever heard from him again.
Location: Sportpalast Berlin
An unknown person puts a bomb in the speakers platform of the Sportpalast. It is said that the bomb didn’t go off because the guy who placed it got, in some way, stuck in the toilets.
Dr. Johannes von Dohnanyi of the Abwehr, personal advisor to Reich Minister of Justice Franz Gurtner, had disapproved of Hitler and his Nazi Party almost from the beginning when, through his post in the attorney general's office, in Hamburg, he was exposed firsthand to Nazi brutality. As early as 1937 Dohnanyi tried to recruit Hitler's adjutant, Hans Wiedemann, in a plot to shoot the Führer.
Maurice Bavaud 1938
The year 1938 was a busy time for another would-be assassin, Maurice Bavaud. Through a strangely twisted logical reasoning, Bavaud concluded he must kill Hitler because the German dictator had reneged on his promise to squash the communists. Bavaud was a Swiss citizen attending a French Catholic seminary in Brittany when he came under the influence of another seminarian, Marcel Gerbohay. Gerbohay founded a small secret society of seminarians who called themselves the Compagnie du Mystère. This group was pledged to fight communism wherever it appeared, especially in Russia.
Gerbohay portrayed himself as a descendant of the Romanov dynasty that had ruled Russia for over three hundred years. He prophesied they would rule again when the communists were overthrown. Hitler, whom many thought would be the instrument for the destruction of the Russian communists, was now showing every indication that he intended to co-exist peacefully with the Soviet Communist regime.
At Gerbohay's bidding, Bavaud set off from the seminary on a mission to assassinate Hitler because of his outward tolerance of the communists. He returned to his family's home in the west Switzerland town of NeuchU00E2tel and lived briefly with his parents and his five brothers and sisters. While he earned his keep helping his mother in a small grocery she ran to supplement her husband's postal workers salary, Bavaud studied German and read the French translation of "Mein Kampf".
On October 9 he bid his family farewell and set off on an odyssey that would crisscross Germany in pursuit of Adolf Hitler. He told his family he was going to Germany to find work as a draftsman, a trade he had learned before joining the seminary. He spent a fortnight visiting relatives in the German resort town of Baden-Baden. Telling these relatives he was going to Mannheim to seek work, he instead left Baden-Baden and proceeded south to the Swiss border town of Basel, where he purchased a 6.35-millimeter Schmeisser automatic pistol. He then traveled four hundred miles by rail to Berlin, where he expected to find Hitler.
In Berlin Bavaud learned that the Führer was at his mountain retreat near Berchtesgaden. Determined to kill his quarry, Bavaud immediately entrained for the resort three hundred miles to the south. Arriving in Berchtesgaden on October 25, he checked into an inexpensive hotel, the Stiftskeller, and found a source where he purchased extra ammunition for his pistol. To improve his nonexistent shooting skills he went deep into the woods and used trees for target practice. He decided that he would be able to shoot Hitler if he could get within twenty-five feet of him. It apparently did not occur to Bavaud that there was no guarantee that if he was successful in shooting Hitler the Führer would necessarily die.
Unfortunately, Bavaud again missed connections when Hitler left Berchtesgaden shortly after he arrived. Dejected over this second failure to find his target, Bavaud decided to plan more carefully by learning as much as possible about Hitler's movements before taking further action. However, his German was only rudimentary, and he was severely handicapped in these inquiries.
One afternoon while eating lunch he met two French instructors with whom he carried on a lively conversation, claiming to be an ardent admirer of Hitler who wanted to meet the Führer. Although his companions could not be of any help, the conversation was overheard by a police captain sitting at the next table who spoke French. Captain Karl Derkert told Bavaud that he was connected with Hitler's security and assured the young Swiss that to arrange a personal audience with Hitler would require a letter of introduction from a high-ranking foreign official. But if he only wanted to see Hitler up close, Deckert advised, he should go to Munich in time for the anniversary of the 9 November 1923 Putsch. Hitler traditionally led a parade through the city's streets that retraced the route he and his band had taken in 1923.
On October 31 Bavaud once again boarded a train, this time for Munich, where he rented a furnished room. Using a tourist map, Bavaud plotted the route of the march during the days preceding the celebration, looking for a vantage point from which to shoot Hitler. A series of grandstands had been constructed along the route, and for one of them he was able to obtain a ticket by impersonating a reporter for a Swiss newspaper.
Not entirely confident with his marksmanship, he located a suitable site about twenty-five miles from the city where he could safely practice his shooting skills.
The morning of November 9 was cold and clear. Dressed in a heavy overcoat, with his pistol inside the coat pocket, Bavaud made his way through the thousands who thronged the streets of Munich and arrived at the grandstand near the Marienplatz with time to spare. He found a front-row seat and sat quietly, hoping to remain inconspicuous while he waited for Hitler. The street in front of him, as well as along the entire march route, was flanked on both sides with two rows of burly SA men who stood shoulder to shoulder to keep the crowd from rushing into the streets. The intended assassin knew he would have to shoot Hitler from the grandstand because it would be impossible for him to push his way through the brown-shirted guards. Suddenly the cry went up, "The Führer is coming!"
Rising as one, the people in the grandstand, Bavaud included, stood to view the approaching parade. Inside his pocket his hand gripped the pistol tightly, ready to remove it quickly when Hitler came within range. With his heart pounding, the young man stood poised to act as the line of marchers approached. When the parade drew abreast of Bavaud, disappointment gripped him as he realized that Hitler was marching on the opposite side of the street, not in the center as he had expected.
This placed his target more than fifty feet away, twice his confidence range with his weapon. Bavaud released his hold on the Schmeisser and could do nothing except watch Hitler and his entourage turn a corner and disappear from view.
Bavaud was disappointed but far from discouraged. He purchased some tastefully expensive stationery and envelopes and returned to his room, where he proceeded to forge a letter of introduction to Hitler from French Foreign Minister Pierre Flandin.
The letter stated that Bavaud carried a second letter that was to be read by Adolf Hitler only. It was a poorly conceived ruse born of desperation. That Bavaud even imagined such a letter would gain him admittance to Hitler's presence is incredible. To believe that the foreign minister of France would use this young Swiss citizen to carry important correspondence to the Führer of Germany instead of his own ambassador was the height of foolishness.
Hearing erroneously that Hitler had returned to his retreat, Bavaud again boarded a train for Berchtesgaden. At the station he hired a taxi to take him to the Berghof, but he was prevented from entering the grounds by the armed guards who told him Hitler was not there, but still in Munich. Bavaud rushed back to the railroad station and took the next train to Munich, arriving there about the same time Hitler's private train left on its way to Berchtesgaden.
Frustrated and nearly out of money, Bavaud gave up his quest to kill Hitler and decided to leave the country. He did not have enough money to travel to Switzerland, so he hid aboard a train bound for Paris where he hoped to obtain from the Swiss embassy sufficient funds to return to his parents' home. When he was discovered by a railroad conductor he was turned over to the police at Augsburg, who handed him to the Gestapo because he was a foreigner and because he was carrying a gun and letter addressed to Hitler. For some insane reason Bavaud had failed to dispose of the incriminating letters and the weapon he intended to use against Hitler.
Under arduous interrogation Bavaud eventually confessed his plan to the Gestapo. He was put on trial, found guilty, and on 14 May 1941, was beheaded
Having traveled hundreds of miles pursuing his fantasy to kill Hitler, Marcel Bavaud succeeded only in bringing about his own demise. Perhaps he would have accomplished his mission had he been a bit more imaginative and more resourceful, but he was doomed from the beginning because of a grievous lack of planning. Even when certain failure became apparent, the poor fellow was not smart enough to rid himself of the evidence that ultimately incriminated him.
Maurice Bavaud (January 15, 1916 in Neuchâtel - May 14, 1941 in Berlin-Plötzensee) was a Roman Catholic Swiss citizen who in 1938 attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
Bavaud was a Catholic theology student, attending the Saint Ilan Seminary, Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, and a member of an anti-communist student group in France called Compagnie du Mystère. The group's leader, Marcel Gerbohay, had a lot of influence over Bavaud. Gerbohay claimed that he was a member of the Romanov Dynasty, and convinced Bavaud that when communism was destroyed, the Romanovs would once again rule Russia, in the person of Gerbohay. Bavaud believed what Gerbohay had told him, became obsessed with the idea that killing Hitler would help the plans to materialise, and finally decided to carry out the assassination himself.
On 9 October 1938, Bavaud travelled from Brittany to Baden-Baden, then on to Basel, where he bought a Schmeisser 6.35 mm (.25 ACP) semi-automatic pistol. In Berlin, a policeman, Karl Deckert, overheard Bavaud saying that he would like to meet Hitler personally. Deckert advised Bavaud that a private audience could be arranged if Bavaud could obtain a letter of introduction from a suitable foreign VIP. Deckert advised him to travel to Munich for the anniversary of the 1923 "Beer Hall Putsch", which Hitler attended every year. Bavaud followed those instructions by buying a ticket for a seat on the reviewing stand by posing as a Swiss reporter, intending to shoot Hitler as the latter passed during the parade. Bavaud abandoned this attempt when, on November 9, Hitler turned out to be marching in the company of other Nazi leaders whom Bavaud did not want to injure.
Bavaud next purchased expensive stationery and forged a letter of introduction in the name of the French nationalist leader Pierre Taittinger, which claimed that Bavaud had a second letter for Hitler's eyes only. He travelled to Berchtesgaden in the belief that Hitler had returned there, only to find that Hitler was still in Munich. When Bavaud returned to Munich, he discovered that Hitler was just leaving for Berchtesgaden.
Having exhausted his money, Bavaud stowed away on a train to Paris, where he was discovered by a conductor who turned him over to the police. He was interrogated by the Gestapo and admitted his plans to assassinate Hitler.
Bavaud was tried by the Volksgerichtshof on 18 December 1939, naming as his motives that he considered Hitler a danger to humanity in general, to Swiss independence, and to Catholicism in Germany. Swiss diplomacy made no effort to save Bavaud; Hans Fröhlicher, the Swiss ambassador to Germany even publicly condemned Bavaud's assassination attempt. An offer from the Germans to exchange Bavaud for a German spy was turned down, and Bavaud was sentenced to death. He was executed by guillotine in the Berlin-Plötzensee prison on the morning of 14 May 1941.
Bavaud's father Alfred attempted to rehabilitate his son's name and reputation, resulting in a court decision on 12 December 1955 reverting the death sentence but posthumously condemning Bavaud to a five-year sentence, arguing that Hitler's life was protected by law just as any other life. A second verdict of 1956 reverted the prison sentence and Germany paid Bavaud's family the sum of CHF 40,000 in reparation.
In 1976, Rolf Hochhuth idealized Bavaud as a "new William Tell", while in 1980 Klaus Urner relativized Hochhuth's heroic picture, analyzing psychological aspects of Bavaud's motivation. In 1989 and again in 1998, the Swiss Federal Council admitted that the Swiss authorities did not make a sufficient effort to save Bavaud. Finally, in 2008, the Swiss government honored the life and effort of Bavaud. In 2011, a small monument was erected in Hauterive near Neuchâtel.
Oster group, 1938, September 28
Members of the resistance were scattered throughout the army, the Foreign Ministry, the police, and nongovernmental circles and were essentially a small minority in a totalitarian state that engaged freely in terror, imprisonment, and murder against its enemies, real or imagined.. They could not meet in large numbers to engender support for their struggle against the Nazis without arousing Gestapo interest in them. Nor could many of them risk being seen with each other because of government restrictions. Contact between different government agencies was strictly limited and in some cases forbidden, such as between officials of the Foreign Ministry and the General Staff, unless the individual involved was a liaison officer. Gestapo and SS secret police units worked ceaselessly to uncover opponents of the regime. Considering the overwhelming resources against them, it is miraculous that practically anyone who joined the 1938 resistance movement survived long enough to be executed by the Nazis in 1944 and 1945.
During 1938 latent anti-Nazi and anti-war sentiment among individual officers in the German army gradually coalesced into a hardcore group determined to depose Hitler. Early in the year the first tentative beginnings of an organized coup took form. By year's end a solid nucleus of ranking officers was plotting to kill the Führer. However, many of the generals who recognized that Hitler's plans for conquering Europe harbored the seeds of Germany's destruction rejected assassination, opting instead for arrest and imprisonment.
Lieutenant Colonel Hans Oster, Chief of Staff of the Abwer, the counterintelligence section of the military High Command, was a much-decorated veteran of World War I. He was a deeply religious parson's son, a highly charged and temperamental man, without personal ambitions. Oster viewed Nazism as anti-Christian and persisted in his efforts to depose Hitler until his own execution in 1945.
A group of military conspirators around him planned a coup when the troups to enter Czechoslovakia were mobilised. Hitler's ultimate fate had not yet been decided, but most senior officers believed he should be tried on charges of treason for committing Germany to a senseless war, or declared insane and committed to an asylum. Little is known about the detailed military plans for the coup. Except for General Franz Halder, a deeply religious and sensitive man from a background steeped in military tradition, none of the ranking army officers who were involved survived the war. General Halder stated that he left the details to General Erwin von Witzleben, keeping for himself only the final authority to issue the order that would begin the coup.
Everyone now waited for the order to come from General Halder, who in turn waited for Hitler's orders to prepare to attack Czechoslovakia before he would commit the coup's forces to action. During this slack period the conspirators debated Hitler's fate. Although Halder despised the Nazis and deplored their tyrannical rule over Germany, he also believed strongly in his personal oath of loyalty to Hitler. Halder opposed outright assassination, which might besmirch the army's reputation. If Hitler had to die, Halder preferred it to happen in some way not directly connected with the army or the army's actions in conducting the coup. Other senior officers, including Beck, Witzleben, and Canaris, wanted Hitler brought to trial for the crimes committed by his regime. They wanted the public to clearly understand what these crimes were, so the army could never be accused of stabbing Germany in the back, a reference to the "stab in the back" theory expounded at the end of World War I and which Hitler used to great advantage in his rise to power. The theory, invented by Hindenburg and Luddendorf, held that democratic-minded politicians had stabbed the German army in the back, by calling for armistice, just when it was poised to win its greatest victory in the war.
Hans Oster and others, including Dr. Hans von Dohnanyi, wanted to have Hitler declared insane by a panel of doctors. Dohnanyi had been collecting evidence to submit to such a panel for over five years, and his psychiatrist father-in-law, Professor Karl Bonhöffer, had already agreed to chair the panel.
Major Heinz and his well-armed escort team (which was to fight its way into the Chancellory) thought otherwise. In Heinz's words, "Hitler alive has more weight than all the troops at our disposal". His plan was to entice Hitler into some action that would provoke a gun battle in which the Führer would be killed. At first Oster refused to go along with murdering Hitler, but Heinz's premise that a live Hitler was too dangerous a force to permit the establishment of a stable government in Germany was persuasive enough to win him over. They agreed, however, that no senior officer, not even Witzleben, was to know of their decision to kill Hitler.
By 15 September 15, Heinz's assault squad was poised for action. They were secreted at the Berlin safe houses maintained by the Abwehr. Throughout Berlin and the surrounding suburbs military officers, police officials, and civilians, all members of the conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime, waited tensely for the word to begin. They all felt certain of three facts. First, that Hitler would issue the order to attack Czechoslovakia; second, that Britain and France would declare war on Germany, or at least rattle enough sabers to make it clear that they were about to declare war; and third, that the coup would succeed in deposing the Nazis and the war would be prevented. What they did not expect was the willingness of Neville Chamberlain to throw Czech independence to the wolves and allow Hitler to do as he pleased.
Then the unthinkable happened. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain decided to confer with Hitler personally. On 14 September, Chamberlain announced in the House of Commons that he would meet with the Reich Chancellor the following day.
In Britain the forces for appeasement mobilized to gather public support for Chamberlain's peace plan of giving Hitler what he wanted. Chamberlain's Air Minister, Sir Kingsley Wood, doctored a report from the Air Staff estimating that Germany's entire bomber force was under fifteen hundred planes, with less than one-third of them capable of being a threat to Britain in case of war. The altered report, which was leaked to the press, said that Germany was capable of sending fifteen hundred bombers against Britain, causing a half a million casualties in three weeks. The British public was painted a picture of skies darkened by masses of German bombers turning London and other major cities into infernos.
At the final Munich meeting on 28 September Hitler renounced his plans to destroy Czechoslovakia. France and Britain allowed him to intervene in Czechoslovakia by occupying the Sudetenland with German troops. The threat of war was averted. So, too, was the threat to Hitler's life that had been mounted by the coup's assault squad hidden in buildings all around the Chancellory. The assault squad was dispersed and their weapons returned to the Abwehr warehouse.
Everyone who knew of the planned coup recognized that the regular conscript troops would probably refuse to obey orders to arrest Hitler after such a great victory. Nevile Henderson, the Germanophile British ambassador, wrote to Lord Halifax, "by keeping the peace, we have saved Hitler and his regime".
The full import of the Munich debacle did not become entirely clear until after the war. At the Nuremberg trials, Marshal Keitel was asked whether Hitler would have attacked Czechoslovakia had France and Britain taken a stronger stand behind the Czechs. Wilhelm Keitel, who served Hitler faithfully throughout the war, answered, "Certainly not. We were not strong enough militarily".
American historian William Shirer, in his "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" (1960), took the view that although Hitler was not bluffing about his intention to invade, Czechoslovakia would have been able to offer significant resistance. Shirer believed that Britain and France had sufficient air defences to avoid serious bombing of London and Paris and would have been able to pursue a rapid and successful war against Germany. He quotes Churchill as saying the Munich agreement meant that "Britain and France were in a much worse position compared to Hitler's Germany". After Adolf Hitler personally inspected the Czech fortifications, he privately said to Josef Göbbels, "we would have shed a lot of blood" and that it was fortunate that there had been no fighting. [Josef Göbbels diary, 2 October 1938]
Hitler's bloodless victory in Munich disheartened the resistance. Never before had Hitler's popularity been higher than when the Sudetenland was annexed to the Reich. Some of those who took part in the planned coup would never again consider such activities favorably. They felt betrayed by the Allies' spineless capitulation to Hitler's blackmail.
Others remained dedicated to the cause of overthrowing Hitler: men like General Witzleben, General Beck, Lieutenant Colonel Oster, Gisevius, Schulenburg, and Major Heinz, joined by new resistance members, they regrouped to prepare for a renewed opportunity.
Also active in 1938 had been a group of would-be assassins gathered together by Dr. Wilhelm Abegg, a former Prussian state secretary. Abegg's plan was to build a compact bomb small enough to be concealed inside the clothing of an assassin yet powerful enough to cause widespread damage when it exploded. Abegg sought to eliminate as many Nazi leaders as possible along with Hitler.
Abegg devised an imaginative scheme to accost Hitler and the other Nazis with a deception that just might have worked. He formed a team of ten assassins, all former Prussian police officers who had served time in Nazi concentration camps and who had been ransomed by Abegg. The Prussians were to be dressed in stolen uniforms of Italian army courier officers. Each man was assigned a target whom he would approach, presumably with an important message from the Italian government. The man assigned to Hitler was to blow himself up along with his target, while the others were to shoot their assigned targets at the same time.
Abegg's plan was never activated because he had difficulty constructing a suitable bomb. After learning through contacts in the military that high-ranking officers were planning a coup against Hitler, he decided to step aside and leave Hitler's assassination to the generals. He believed they could carry it out much more effectively than he could.
During the period between the signing of the Munich accord and the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the resistance movement, which had been less an organized movement and more a disjointed series of anti-Nazi or anti-war groups and individuals who had managed against all odds to unite in the 1938 coup, suffered dismemberment. Military officers were moved to new postings, and government officials, especially those in the Foreign Ministry, were transferred to new locations throughout the Reich.
General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord 1939, September
The coming of war, followed two days later by declarations of war against Germany by Great Britain and France, generated a flurry of activity among officers and others who felt that Germany was doomed unless Hitler was dead. In one instance, Albrecht von Kessel and Adam von Trott zu Solz, both members of Weizsäcker's Foreign Ministry circle, proposed to Lieutenant General Alexander von Falkenhausen that he invite Hitler to inspect the fortifications on the Bohemian border. Once there, Hitler's schedule would include a tour of a bunker where the general or a close aide would detonate a live grenade. The scheme was a bit bizarre, and Falkenhausen, although a coup sympathizer, did not think the plan was workable. He never sent the invitation.
Hitler did receive another invitation, however. This one was from Colonel General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, an independent-minded and tough officer who despised Hitler and the Nazis. Having retired as Commander-in-Chief of the army in 1933, he was recalled during the mobilization for the Polish invasion and appointed commander of Army Detachment A on the Lower Rhine. Although frustrated because his headquarters was in Cologne, far from Hitler, Hammerstein-Equord began plotting ways to kill Hitler as soon as he arrived at his command.
Since it was impossible for him to travel to Berlin without express permission, Hammerstein-Equord decided to invite Hitler to visit him. His persuasion for this visit was that the Allies would hear about Hitler inspecting the western defenses, and this would encourage their belief that Germany's western frontier was well defended. Once he lured Hitler within his reach, he would "render him harmless once and for all." Confidants who knew of his intention to kill Hitler did not doubt that this general, known as the "man of iron nerve," could do it if Hitler accepted his invitation.
Adolf Hitler was acutely aware of General Hammerstein-Equord's sentiments toward the Nazi Party, and he had no wish to jeopardize his safety by placing himself within the general's reach. He declined to visit Cologne. Shortly afterward, Hammerstein-Equord was transferred to Silesia and then quickly placed into permanent retirement. Before he died in April 1943, he confided to a friend his disappointment at the generals' placid submission to Hitler's authority, and how most refused to support the movement to overthrow the Nazis. "These fellows," he said, "make me, an old soldier, an anti-militarist." It is unfortunate that in 1938, when the case for action against Hitler became apparent, Hammerstein-Equord had no troops under his command and could not carry out an earlier pledge to kill Hitler if he were given troops.
Although both Britain and France declared war on Germany after the invasion of Poland, the Allies took no direct military action against Germany. This absence of real war, which later became known as the "phony war," gave many Germans hope of escaping another war of the magnitude of the 1914 to 1918 conflict. The absence of actual fighting between the Allies and Germany gave rise to the premise that a compromise could be found to re-establish peace.
All possibility for a peaceful solution vanished on September 27, 1939, when the Führer told the officers commanding the army, air force, and navy that he was determined to "destroy the enemy." He would, he told them, attack France and Great Britain. The neutrality of Belgium and Holland would be swept aside as German forces overran the French in their own country, leaving Great Britain to carry on alone.
As word spread of Hitler's intention to start a shooting war with the Western Allies, the resistance was given a new life and a new cause, to save the peace by preventing a war almost every competent observer knew would ultimately mean the destruction of Germany. Many of the men now proposing to depose the dictator had also been involved in the aborted coup of September 1938. Again they risked the possibility their actions might result in a civil war between their camp and the masses of new army recruits and the civilian population, most of whom viewed Hitler as a modern Caesar. In addition, what weighed heaviest on General Halder's mind was the fact that Germany was now officially at war with Great Britain and France. He did not want a coup attempt to cause turmoil within Germany that the Allies could exploit by invading the country during the transition from one government to another.
It is significant that the men who planned the overthrow and killing of Hitler did so because they were German patriots. While they had no quarrel with many of Hitler's earlier policies, especially reclaiming territory taken from Germany by the treaties following World War I, they did not want to acquire the land by force. Many believed that despite their just cause, force would lead to retaliation against Germany and finally to another war, perhaps another World War.
Warsaw 1939, October 5
Location: crossing Aleje Jerozolimskie - Nowy Swiat
The Polish army wanted to blow up Hitlers car, when it crossed the (now called) Square Charles de Gaulles. A human error prevetend the bomb to explode.
Himmler's Bomb Plot 1939, November 8
Location: Bürgerbräukeller, München
Heinrich Himmler was undeniably Adolf Hitler's most sadistic henchman, an epitaph befitting the abominable crimes he committed against humanity. When this unimposing, pudgy little man wearing pince-nez spectacles bit open a cyanide capsule lodged between two teeth on the right side of his mouth during an examination by a British army doctor on 23 May 1945, he took many secrets with him. The most ominous was his role in a bombing that barely missed killing Hitler in 1939.
Hitler customarily participated at the annual meeting in Munich commemorating the failed putsch of November 8-9, 1923. The meeting, held in a large hall of the Bürgerbräukeller, was always well attended by the "Old Fighters" who had participated in Hitler's first attempt to seize power.
The SS routinely began guarding closely any facility in which the Führer was scheduled to appear at least several days before his arrival. This tight advance security was calculated to preclude the possibility of a political antagonist placing a bomb in the building set to explode during Hitler's visit. The "Old Fighters" convention was no exception to this practice. Several days before the meeting, crack SS guards placed the hall under maximum security.
Despite stringent security precautions, a thirty-six-year-old artisan named Georg Elser who was both a trained carpenter and master electrician unaccountably managed to slip undetected into the vast beer hall over a span of several nights just before the meeting. Elser had only recently been discharged from the concentration camp at Dachau where he was serving an indeterminate sentence for his activities as a member of a communist organization, the Red Front Fighters League.
Each night Elser worked quietly at his deadly task alone in the darkened hall. A diminutive man with a pale complexion and long dark hair offset by bright darting eyes, Elser bent to his work preparing the instrument for Adolf Hitler's demise with a special dedication.
Directly behind the platform from which Hitler traditionally delivered his speech was a pillar that was a main support for the roof. Dark wood paneling encased the support column. Elser cut an opening into the paneling allowing him entree to a narrow space between the panel and the support. The opening was sufficiently wide to permit him access to the space, yet small enough to escape notice by a casual observer. He fashioned a tiny door from a matching piece of paneling to disguise the opening. Elser's only fear was that a close examination of the pillar would expose his miniature door.
Incredibly, Elser managed to conceal himself inside the hall, undetected, on thirty-five separate occasions. As the date for Hitler's speech drew near, Elser worked feverishly to complete the preparations for his bomb.
As part of his death plot he had taken a job at a quarry specifically to enable him to steal Donarit, an explosive with the properties he required. He added to the Donarit some black powder and the explosive removed from a stolen 75-millimeter shell. The final touch was two Westminster clocks synchronized to pinpoint the timing of the explosion.
Because the Führer was in the midst of the invasion of Poland, and because Germany was technically at war with both France and Britain, the meeting organizers planned a scaled down program for the 1939 ceremonies. At first Hitler decided to forego his customary speech and delegate his second in command, Rudolf Hess, to broadcast a nationwide radio address commemorating the anniversary. At the eleventh hour Hitler changed his mind. He would attend the ceremonies and deliver the speech in person.
On November 8 Hitler flew to Munich, but in deference to the foggy November weather he ordered that his personal train meet him there for the return trip. To avoid disrupting the normal train traffic, Hitler's train was scheduled to leave the Munich station at 9:31 P.M. that evening. To meet this departure time he would have to leave the beer hall no later than 9:10 P.M. Hitler's previous habit at these gatherings was to begin his speech at 8:30 P.M., speak for about one hour, and then spend approximately thirty minutes sipping weak beer and chatting with the rank and file members who had supported him from the early years.
When the Führer arrived, the large hall, gaily decorated with flags and banners, was packed with three thousand celebrants. The Blood Banner, the Nazi flag that had been used on the day of the putsch, was in its place of honor, and the party luminaries who were attending had taken their seats. Most prominent among them were Heinrich Himmler, Josef Göbbels, Hans Frank, and Alfred Rosenberg.
The crowd rose to its feet and cheered when Hitler strode in at 8:00 P.M. He waved and smiled broadly. Hitler stepped to the platform and waited the better part of ten minutes, allowing the ovation to die down before beginning his speech. When the room was finally quiet he launched into a diatribe against Great Britain that lasted nearly one hour.
Predictably, Hitler accused Britain of fighting in World War I and then, just a month earlier, declaring war on Germany again purely for her own imperialist motives. He denounced the British claim that they were fighting for liberty and justice, and he mockingly shouted that God had rewarded Britain's good deeds with 480 million people around the world to dominate. Again and again his speech was interrupted by wild cheering.
Seated in the front row was a nervous Max Wünsche, the Führer's young military aide, who kept checking his watch. He feared Hitler's speech would run too long and he would miss the train. Wünsche had given the train crew strict orders to leave the station precisely at 9:31 P.M., as Hitler had instructed. While a backup train would arrive a short time later as a security precaution, the young officer did not relish the prospect of waiting around the empty station for the alternate train while the Führer's temper rose.
As Hitler continued his attack on Great Britain, only a few feet behind him Georg Elser's two Westminster clocks quietly ticked away the minutes.
Hitler laughed at the British claim that they were fighting for civilization, and he questioned whether the civilization for which they fought was to be found in the mining districts of Newcastle or the urban slums of London. Meanwhile, the Westminster clocks ticked off their inexorable countdown to destruction.
At seven minutes after nine Hitler ended his speech. Joined by Himmler, Göbbels, and his personal bodyguard, he promptly left the hall amid the deafening cheers of his supporters. Hitler's party boarded a fleet of waiting automobiles and sped directly to the railroad station. Wünsche was enormously relieved; the convoy would arrive in time to depart on the first train.
Thirteen minutes after leaving the hall, as the entourage proceeded through the city toward the station, a loud explosion was heard coming from the direction of the hall. Everyone turned instinctively to the rear window of their cars, but they were too far from the explosion to see what had caused the blast. By the time they arrived at the station the night was filled with the sounds of police and ambulance sirens and the ringing of fire bells.
Minutes before Hitler's train left the station, Eva Braun and her close friend, Herta Schneider, were welcomed aboard. As the train gathered speed through the darkness, the privileged passengers partied, with Hitler the only teetotaller aboard. When the train arrived in Nuremberg, Göbbels got off and entered the stationmaster's office to send several messages and receive the latest dispatches.
The propaganda chief returned pale and obviously shaken. In a trembling voice he told Hitler of the bombing of the Bürgerbräukeller. At first Hitler thought Göbbels was joking, but when he realized it was true he too turned pale and sat quietly for a few minutes to regain his composure. As the color returned to his face he spoke with controlled emotion. He attributed his timely exit from the hall only minutes before the explosion to a benevolent Providence and insisted it was a sure sign he was destined to reach his goal.
Hitler spoke by telephone with SS General von Eberstein, the Munich police chief (who had been flatly forbidden to encroach on this strictly Party preserve with regular police security measures), and consoled the anguished SS general: Don't worry-it was not your fault. The casualties are regrettable, but all's well that ends well." By 7 A.M. the news was that six people had been killed (the death toll later rose to eight) and over sixty injured.
- David Irving, "Hitler's War"
Hitler then commanded his personal adjutant, Julius Schaub, to ensure that everything possible would be done for the victims of the explosion.
Georg Elser's bomb caused a section of the Bürgerbräukeller's roof to collapse on the Nazi Party gathering. Eight people died and sixty-three were injured. Eva Braun's father was among the injured. The ensuing peculiar series of events defies logic.
Ever wary of the omnipresent British Intelligence, Hitler quickly concluded that two British agents operating in Holland were responsible for the bombing. The two agents, Major R. H. Stevens and Captain S. Payne-Best, were negotiating with a man they believed to be a member of an anti-Nazi conspiracy in the German High Command. The man was actually an SS double agent.
Late that night Himmler telephoned the agent, SS Major Walter Schellenberg, in Venlo, a hamlet just across the Dutch border. He instructed Schellenberg to break off negotiations with the two British officers, kidnap them, and bring them into Germany. Schellenberg was hesitant at first, but Himmler made it clear the order came directly from Hitler.
The following day Schellenberg waited at a cafe in Venlo for his scheduled meeting with Stevens, Payne-Best, and a Dutch military intelligence officer, Lieutenant Klop. When the Buick carrying the three arrived at the cafe at precisely 4:00 P.M., the man known to them as Major Schämmel was seated on the cafe terrace casually sipping an aperitif. Suspecting nothing, the trio stepped from the car and immediately came under deadly fire from a crack squad of SS Security Service men commanded by the notorious Alfred Helmut Naujocks.
Naujocks had been responsible for the staged attack on a German radio station in Gleiwitz, using prison camp inmates dressed in stolen Polish army uniforms. The incident had provided Hitler with an excuse for attacking Poland. A man of useful SS talents, Naujocks later disguised German soldiers as Dutch and Belgian border guards to prepare for the German invasion of those countries in May 1940.
In the gunfight that erupted behind the Venlo cafe, Lieutenant Klop was mortally wounded and both British officers taken prisoner. The SS squad then towed the disabled Buick across the frontier, less than two hundred feet away.
On the same day, Georg Elser was arrested near the town of Constance as he attempted, along with thousands of others, to flee into Switzerland. A search uncovered a large amount of incriminating evidence, including an unused postcard from the Bürgerbräukeller, drawings of detonators and shells, parts of a detonator, his old membership card in the Red Front Fighters League, and a substantial sum of money in Swiss and German currency.
The kidnapping of Stevens and Payne-Best proved futile. Intense questioning of the two men failed to produce the slightest shred of evidence that they were even remotely connected to the Munich bombing. Elser, however, confessed to setting the bomb but refused to implicate anyone else. He told his interrogators that he had acted alone and had told no one of his scheme to kill Hitler. When they demanded to know why he wanted to kill the Führer, Elser said he thought it was the only way to prevent Germany from going to war.
Despite repeated beatings and torture by Gestapo agents, Georg Elser insisted he had acted alone. Meanwhile, Hitler publicized the bombing as an "English plot." He wisely recognized the propaganda value of the assassination attempt, and he shrewdly used it to incite German public resentment against Great Britain. On November 21, Hitler declared he had incontrovertible proof that the British Secret Service was behind the bombing and that two British agents had been arrested near the Dutch border.
Finally, in the official explanation of the conspiracy to kill him, Hitler strung together every faction or individual that had ever opposed him. Elser was labeled a communist activist (to which there was some truth) who had been persuaded to become a British agent by Hitler's old National Socialist nemesis, Otto Strasser. The British were accused of supplying Elser with the materials to construct the bomb and promising him safe passage to sanctuary in Switzerland after the assassination.
In a Gestapo-produced film, Georg Elser actually demonstrated how he had manufactured the bomb that devastated the Bürgerbräukeller meeting hall, and he explained how he had planted it behind the wood paneling covering the support pillar. When Himmler brought the film and the Gestapo report to the Führer, he refused to view the movie. Hitler categorically denounced the conclusion, which Himmler supported, that Elser had acted alone. Hitler rejected the report and attacked Himmler personally for failing to expose the conspiracy.
Himmler's advocacy of the conclusion that Elser acted alone in spite of his knowledge that Hitler believed the bomber was part of a conspiracy -- and wanted the Gestapo investigation to indicate so -- is out of character for a man whose reputation was one of total subservience to the Führer's wishes. The logical position was for him to agree with Hitler and place the blame on the two British intelligence officers whom Schellenberg had kidnapped. It was completely unlike Himmler, and without explanation, to take the position he did, unless he was withholding information about the bombing from Hitler.
Major Stevens and Captain Payne-Best spent five years in various concentration camps but managed to survive the war. Shuttled from camp to camp, the two were eventually confined at Niederdorf in South Tyrol. There American forces liberated them on 28 April 1945. Several survivors of plots to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944, were rescued at the same time.
Himmler rewarded Schellenberg for his kidnapping of the two British officers by promoting him to major-general in the SS. He soon became a specialist in foreign espionage, and in early 1940 he furnished Hitler with a report that claimed to prove the existence of close ties between British military intelligence and Dutch military intelligence agencies. Hitler cited that report as part of his justification for invading Holland, which was a neutral country.
Georg Elser's punishment for attempting to kill Hitler was most unusual. It raises provocative questions about exactly who was actually behind the Bürgerbräukeller bombing. Dictators such as Hitler and Stalin relish a prominent, well publicized trial of their enemies, real or imagined. It allows them to convince the public that evil men and women exist who plot against their authority, thereby justifying the need for draconian security measures. Holding these show trial victims up as examples, even if the evidence is fabricated by the prosecution, serves as a powerful deterrent to other potential opponents. There was ample precedence to expect that the Nazis would parade the Munich bomber before the public in a show trial, presenting all manner of evidence to implicate Hitler's personal and public enemies, especially the British. Incredibly, no such trial ever took place. Not until after the war was lost did Elser pay with his life for the attempted assassination.
Instead of a trial and public execution, Georg Elser was interned as a prisoner with special privileges by Himmler's SS. In a succession of concentration camps he was treated decidedly better than other inmates. He was referred to as a "special prisoner" known under the code name "Eller." In his biography of Adolf Hitler, Robert Payne described Elser as a prisoner who was to be feared or at least respected because he possessed important state secrets.
Ironically, although Elser did not know Stevens and Payne-Best, who were both alleged by the Nazis to be his accomplices, he met them in prison. At Sachsenhausen Elser met Payne-Best, whom he learned the Nazis wanted to implicate in the bombing. Elser told the Briton a fascinating story about how he had come to plant the bomb.
According to Elser, he was arrested as a communist activist in Munich during the summer of 1939 and sent to Dachau for re-education training. One day during his stay at Dachau he was summoned to the commandant's office, where he was questioned about his carpentry and electrical skills. His interrogators confided to him that several high-ranking Party officials were suspected of plotting to kill Hitler, but despite sufficient evidence the Gestapo was reluctant to arrest them because of the chaos it would cause in the upper echelons of government while the country was at war. Elser was asked if he would build and plant a bomb timed to explode shortly after Hitler completed his speech at the annual Munich celebration. In return for his co-operation he would be released from the camp, given a large sum of money, and allowed to escape to Switzerland.
Elser accepted the offer. After he fulfilled his part, he was arrested in a gross breach of the agreement. Following his arrest he was told it was a mistake because several overzealous border guards had not been informed of the plan. While he was held in custody, Gestapo agents coached him in testimony he was to deliver implicating both Stevens and Payne-Best in the bombing. Unaccountably, the expected trial never took place.
Later, after he was transferred from Sachsenhausen to Dachau, Elser related essentially the same story he had told Payne-Best to a noted Dachau inmate, the prominent anti-Nazi pastor, Reverend Martin Niemöller.
Georg Elser finally paid for his crime four and one-half years later, just weeks before the end of the war. In the declining months of the Third Reich, many opponents of the regime being held in concentration camps and prisons were slaughtered by the Nazis. Elser's death was made to look as if it happened during an Allied bombing raid.
Among the documents uncovered after the war was a letter from Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller to the commandant of Dachau, SS-Obersturmbannführer Eduard Weiter, instructing him to kill Elser during the next air raid. Müller even told Weiter the exact words to use when announcing Elser's death. On 16 April 1945, Weiter announced that Georg Elser had been mortally wounded during an Allied bombing raid.
Unfortunately for historical accuracy, the elusive answer to the question of who was actually behind the bombing of the Munich beer hall will probably never be resolved. Three viable possibilities exist: (1) Himmler arranged the bombing with Hitler's approval to stir up anti-British hatred among the German population; (2) Himmler arranged the bombing, without Hitler's knowledge, for whatever personal reason he may have had; and (3) Elser accomplished the entire task by himself.
Taking the last first, practically no one with any understanding of the workings of Nazi Germany could conclude that Georg Elser, a man of limited intelligence, could possibly have succeeded in placing the bomb undetected by security agents. Most historians agree that Himmler, for some unclear motive, planned the entire incident. At the time of the bombing, William L. Shirer wrote in his diary the phrase, "smells of another Reichstag fire". Robert Payne concluded that Elser had been Himmler's tool.
If in fact Shirer and Payne are correct and Himmler actually did arrange the bombing, an important new question requires an answer. Was the bomb planted with Adolf Hitler's knowledge and approval? This question may be easy to answer by looking at the political result of the explosion. Hitler used the attempt on his life to arouse German resentment against Britain. He accused the British of trying to win the war by killing him. His strategy worked. Hitler's wild, unsupported accusations radically increased anti-British feelings among the German population.
It is difficult, though, to imagine Adolf Hitler allowing Himmler or anyone else to plant a time bomb just a few feet away from where he stood. It is even more difficult to imagine Hitler permitting a known communist and enemy to plant the bomb. Without question, if the bomb had exploded while Hitler was speaking, he would have died. It is hard to believe that even Hitler would take such a chance with his life merely for propaganda reasons. Surely the same thing could have been accomplished by the arrest of known British agents, such as Stevens and Payne-Best, and by prosecuting them before a Nazi court on fabricated charges using bribed or coerced witnesses to testify that the two had planned to kill Hitler. The effect might have been less spectacular than a bomb that killed eight people, but the result would have probably been no less effective in its impact on the public's perception. It is unlikely that Hitler would actually risk his life to achieve such a questionable propaganda advantage.
When all the facts are assembled, it seems reasonable to assume that Heinrich Himmler plotted the bombing. If, as is likely, Hitler knew nothing of the plan in advance, it is clearly possible that Himmler, an ambitious schemer who longed for great military power (as evidenced by his ultimately building the SS into a private army of thirty-five divisions), could have contrived to kill Hitler so he could replace him as Germany's triumphant head of state just as the Third Reich stood on the verge of military conquest.
Georg Elser has been the subject of rumours and various conspiracy theories since the Bürgerbräukeller bombing. After the war, Protestant pastor and theologian Martin Niemöller, also in custody in the 'Bunker' at Sachsenhausen, gave credence to the rumour that Elser had been a member of the SS and that the whole assassination attempt had been staged by the Nazis to portray Hitler as being protected by Providence.
In 1948 Allen Welsh Dulles, the future Director of Central Intelligence (de facto head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) possibly summed up the full range of conspiracy theories when he wrote:
"On 8 November a bomb exploded in Bürgerbräukeller in Munich shortly after Hitler had given his annual speech on the anniversary of the beer hall putsch of 1923 and after he had left the building. This event still remains unresolved.
"Some evidence suggests that the infernal machine was exploded with the knowledge of Hitler and Himmler in order to consolidate the German sense of community, or, as in the case of the Reichstag fire, to give rise to a new wave of terror. I heard there were photographs showing a high-ranking SS officer standing next to Hitler with a watch in hand, to take care that the leaders escaped in time. Others claim the attack was the work of communists acting independently and without the knowledge of other anti-Nazi groups. A new report presents the plot as the attempted assassination of an illegal socialist group".
Julius Schaub, who was responsible for seeing to it that his chief reached the railroad station on time, nervously passed him cards on which he had scrawled increasingly urgent admonitions: "Ten minutes!" then "Five!" and finally a peremptory "Stop!"-a method he had previously had to use to remind his Führer, who never used a watch, of the passage of mortal time. "Party members, comrades of our National Socialist movement, our German people, and above all our victorious Wehrmacht: Siegheil !" Hitler concluded, and stepped into the midst of the Party officials who thronged forward. A harassed Julius Schaub managed to shepherd the Führer out of the hall at twelve minutes past nine. The express was due to leave from the main railway station in nineteen minutes.
- David Irving, "Hitler's War"
In 1969 historical research by Anton Hoch based on "The Gestapo Protokoll" (interrogation report) dated 19–23 November 1939, found that Elser had acted alone and there was no evidence to involve the Nazi regime or any outside group in the assassination attempt.
Coup 1939, November
By late October 1939, General Halder was surrounded by coup conspirators. His deputy and senior quartermaster of the General Staff, General Karl Heinrich von Stülpnagel, was an active participant in urging Halder to begin planning for a new coup attempt to avoid a shooting war with the Allies. Other officers of colonel and lower rank rallied behind Stülpnagel, including one, Lieutenant Colonel Henning von Tresckow, who would eventually head a future conspiracy to kill Hitler.
Finally, events began to take shape when Hitler announced that his attack on the neutral countries would take place between November 15 and 20. The coup planned for 1939 was not as well organized or armed as the coup planned in 1938, but it still had a chance to succeed if Halder could gather the courage to give the command. Halder was already sensitive about his role in the impending coup. He remembered the June 1934 massacre Hitler had perpetrated on the SA, and he surmised that Hitler had learned of their plans and intended to do the same to the OKH. He envisioned army headquarters surrounded by armed SS groups, the building searched by Gestapo agents, and possibly the members of the General Staff murdered like Röhm and his associates. This fantasy drove Halder to desperate measures, since not enough armed guards were posted at OKH headquarters to withstand an assault by the SS.
Halder proposed to Admiral Canaris he would be ready to act if the Abweher chief would take the responsibility of killing Hitler. The Admiral exploded in anger and replied that Halder should "shoulder the responsibility in a clear-cut fashion."
The men who had spent tense hours anxiously waiting for the coup to begin heard nothing from Halder. His promised order never came, and they now sat around in small groups at OKH and Abwehr wondering what to do next. Although they were clear about their goals, without a leader they could not order out the troops necessary for the coup.
Hitler began a new series of postponements of the offensive, first to November 19, then November 22, then December 3. His indecision continued until May 1940, when the attack was finally launched. During this time people like Oster, Gisevius, Groscurth, Canaris, and the other hard line plotters tried unsuccessfully to persuade Halder to set the coup in motion before the shooting began. As each new date was fixed, the coup leaders reacted with increased tension not unlike the anticipation felt by soldiers who, knowing an attack is about to start, wait tensely for the final order to begin. After each emotional high of preparation there was a letdown in frustration as Hitler once again postponed the attack. Further, many resistance members saw this interval as their last opportunity to elicit from the Allies an agreement to refrain from attacking Germany while a coup was in process. They expected that after the violation of neutral countries and the spilling of French and British blood, the Allies would be in no mood to deal with any Germans, Nazi or not.
The irresolute behavior of top army leaders, which led to the failure of the two planned coups, the first in 1938 and the second in 1939, convinced most of the conspirators that an elaborately organized coup might not be the best way to topple Hitler. What was required was to present the leading generals with a fait accompli, Hitler's death. From now until 1944, elaborate coup plans took a back seat to efforts by individuals and small groups to assassinate Hitler.
Group Oster 1939, November
Erich Kordt of the Foreign Ministry decided to take an action that he hoped would free the generals from their oath of allegiance to Hitler. He was one of the few conspirators who had access to the Führer, although it was limited to Hitler's anteroom. He was well known in the Chancellory and could enter the anteroom with impunity. Now his visits became more frequent and his behavior more conspicuous, a tactic calculated to ensure that all the guards got to recognize him as a routine visitor. Oster promised to furnish explosives from the Abwehr supply for Kordt's use. His plan was simple. When Hitler emerged from his inner office and entered the anteroom (as was his practice either to give instructions to an aide or to welcome his next appointment), Kordt would approach him, grab him tightly, and explode the bomb, which would kill both men.
The opportunity never materialized because the Gestapo had assumed control of all explosives in the Reich, including those in the Abwehr arsenal. Gestapo control meant that the distribution of explosives was strictly limited to those who could demonstrate an approved need, which few conspirators could. This answers the many critics who ask, "Why didn't someone blow Hitler up during a meeting, or simply shoot him?" It was almost impossible to enter the Führer's presence without being searched, and carrying a weapon was forbidden. Kordt would certainly have been arrested if he was discovered with his pistol in Hitler's presence.
Erich Kordt (10 December 1903 – 11 November 1969), was a German diplomat who was involved in the German Resistance to the regime of Adolf Hitler.
A convinced Anglophile, Kordt spoke perfect English after gaining a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He joined the German Foreign Office in 1928, and was posted to Geneva and Bern in Switzerland. He then served as Legationsrat (counsellor) in the London Embassy under Ambassdor Joachim von Ribbentrop, for whom he developed both a personal dislike and a professional disdain. Despite this, he became a member of the Nazi Party in November 1937, and in February 1938, when Ribbentrop became Foreign Minister, he was appointed head of the Foreign Office's "Ministerial Bureau".
Both Erich Kordt and his brother, Theodor, played a part in the Oster Conspiracy of 1938, which was a proposed plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler if Germany went to war with Czechoslovakia over the Sudetenland.
Theodor Kordt, who acted as Chargé d'Affaires at the London embassy, was considered a vital contact with the British on whom the success of the plot depended; the conspirators needed strong British opposition to Hitler's seizure of the Sudetenland. Erich used his brother as an envoy to urge the British government to stand up to Hitler over the Czechoslovakia crisis, in the hope that Army officers would stage a coup against Hitler.
However, in the event, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, apprehensive of the possibility of war, negotiated interminably with Hitler and eventually conceded to him. This destroyed any chance of the plot succeeding since Hitler was then seen in Germany as the "greatest statesman of all times at the moment of his greatest triumph".
In June 1939, Kordt went to London to warn Robert Vansittart, the diplomatic advisor to the British government, of the secret negotiations between Germany and the Soviet Union which were to lead to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. He was dismayed that all approaches made by the German resistance movement within the German Foreign Office were ignored by the British.
In April 1941, Kordt was posted to Tokyo as German embassy First Secretary and later to Nanking as German Consul, where he worked as an agent for the Soviet spy Richard Sorge until 1944. He narrowly avoided being killed by a Japanese hitman when Japanese Intelligence discovered his espionage activities.
In June 1948, at the Nuremberg Trials, Kordt testified on behalf of Ernst von Weizsäcker, State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry of Nazi Germany, and later German ambassador to the Vatican. Weizsäcker was on trial for his role in Hitler's aggressive foreign policy. Partly as a result of Kordt's testimony, Weizsäcker was acquitted. This aroused the hostility of Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who blocked Kordt's return to a career at the Foreign Office. From 1951, Kordt was a professor of international law at the University of Cologne.
NKVD attack 1939
Location: Osteria Bavaria, München
English agents of the Russian NKVD investigated Hitlers habits in order to kill him. They plan to blow Hitler up in the restaurant Osteria Bavaria. When Germeny reached an agreement with Russia the plans get cancelled.
Paris 1940, July 27
All chance of organizing a coup ended, at least temporarily, on 19 May 1940, when German panzers stormed into Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France with startling success. In a stunning defeat, France signed an armistice on June 22 conceding to Germany the right to occupy half the country. The Low Countries had capitulated within days of the attack.
Decisive victory boosted Hitler's stature with the German people to even greater levels, while the generals who predicted disaster looked patently foolish. The resistance members now faced the prospect of having no support from troop commanders. Even General, now Field Marshal, Witzleben, a firebrand of anti-Hitlerism, said he had abandoned all hope of a coup because Hitler was far too popular with the people. He said the younger army officers and men would not support a coup because they could see no reason why the man who had restored Germany's national pride and regained the territory taken from her in 1918 should be replaced by force.
With plans for a coup suspended indefinitely, the more virulent anti-Nazis now turned to the remaining alternative, a simple assassination of Hitler. If it succeeded, they hoped the army would act to prevent Göbbels, Himmler, or Göring from taking power. Much like the earlier attempts on Hitler's life by political opponents, assassination plots developed by military officers usually involved a tight circle of conspirators and placed the plotters in grave danger.
At this point in the war, as Hitler began preparations to invade the Soviet Union, virtually every ranking member of the conspiracy against him -- including its leaders, General Beck -- was reconciled to the inescapable truth that arresting and imprisoning Hitler was no longer a viable option. The Nazi organizations, especially the SS, had grown too large and powerful and would not abdicate their privileges without a struggle, which would result in a civil war. This was especially true if Hitler remained alive and his supporters thought there was a chance they could free him. Except for a small few whose religious beliefs forbade tyrannicide, everyone agreed with Major Wilhelm Heinz, who had commanded the assault squad designated to shoot Hitler in the 1938 coup: "The Living Hitler must die".
During the next four years no fewer than twelve bona fide attempts to kill Hitler were made by military officers. Many took their lead from General Hammerstein's 1939 strategy and sought to induce the Führer to visit an army field headquarters.
The first of these assassination intrigues was scheduled soon after the French signed the armistice. Plans were immediately made for a victory parade in Paris, which everyone expected the Führer to review. The parade was set for July 27, and a flood of troops were moved toward the former French capital to take part in the celebration.
In Paris, two men planned Hitler's death. They were Lieutenant Fritz-Dietlof Graf von der Schulenburg and Dr. Eugen Gerstenmaier. Schulenburg was a reserve officer who, as vice president of the Berlin police, had been an active participant in earlier attempted coups in Berlin. He was called to active duty in May 1940. Gerstenmaier was an official of the Evangelical Church who worked in the Information Division of the Foreign Ministry. The two had talked earlier in Berlin of organizing a small officer's cadre to arrest Hitler, but nothing came of it. Now they decided to carry out their mission to unseat the Nazis by killing the Party leader, Adolf Hitler. The coming victory parade in Paris provided the opportunity they needed. Their plan called for shooting Hitler while he stood in the reviewing stand along the parade route.
On July 20 Hitler cancelled the parade. He quietly slipped unannounced into Paris in the early morning hours of July 23 and visited several places of personal interest, including Napoleon's tomb, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palace of Justice. Just as discreetly he left the city, his would-be assassins unaware of his brief sojourn there.
Paris 1941, May 21
In May 1941, a parade of German troops was again scheduled for Paris. German army and SS divisions were assembled and a reviewing stand for Hitler and other dignitaries was constructed near the Place de la Concorde for the parade on the Champs-Elysées.
A plan to kill Hitler while he reviewed the parade was worked out by staff officers of Field Marshal von Witzleben's headquarters. Witzleben was Commander-in-Chief West, with headquarters outside Paris in St. Germain. The staff members and an operations officer from the Paris commander's staff were to shoot Hitler point-blank. If they failed to kill him, another officer was assigned to throw a bomb at him. The shooters were Captain Graf Schwerin von Schwanenfeld and Major Hans Alexander von Voss, both of Witzleben's staff, and Captain Graf von Waldersee of the Paris staff. Hitler frustrated his enemies once again, declining at the last minute to make the trip to Paris.
A third Paris-based attempt on Hitler's life, of which little is known, allegedly involved Witzleben's replacement as Commander-in-Chief West, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, SS-Sturmbannführer Hans-Victor von Salviati, and Major Achim Oster. The plotters again invited Hitler to visit Paris in 1942, but the wary Führer refused their invitation.
Most assassination plots relied on Hitler's adherence to a predetermined agenda, but the assassins were invariably thwarted by Hitler's practice of avoiding routine or established schedules in his travels. Hitler's policy was to live his life "irregularly," as he put it. "Walk, drive and travel at irregular times and unexpectedly" was his personal formula for security against assassins.
Borisov 1941, August 4
Location: Heeresgruppe Mitte
War with Russia, which began on 22 June 1941, with a threepronged German attack across Soviet borders, opened new opportunities to eliminate Hitler. Because many German field marshals and generals considered the invasion a potential disaster rivaling Napoleon's ill-fated 1812 Russian campaign, several of them flirted, although briefly, with the resistance, but some came to stay.
Major General Henning von Tresckow.was a Prussian who had served as a platoon commander during World War I, traveled internationally for a bank following the war, re-entered the army in 1924, and served in various posts, including several years on the General Staff.
Growing disgust for the Nazi war crimes enabled Tresckow to expand his resistance base. He used his position as senior operations officer on Field Marshal von Bock's staff to mold the staff into the core of a new resistance movement against Hitler. Among the dissenters who operated at Army Group Center under Tresckow's leadership were Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, the man who had informed the British of General Hammerstein's plan to kill Hitler; Lieutenant Colonel Hans Alexander von Voss, who had planned to shoot Hitler in Paris during the planned May 1941 parade; Lieutenant Colonel Georg Schulze-Buttger; Lieutenant Colonel Berndt von Kleist, who maintained communications with the resistance in Berlin; and Colonel Rudolf-Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, who would later make a suicide attempt on Hitler's life.
Schlabrendorff, who survived the war and wrote his memoirs of the resistance, traveled to Berlin in October 1941 to examine the possibility of rescuing the coup with resistance leaders there. He met with von Hassell to explore the Allies' attitude toward fostering a change of government, and he was told that the German resistance could expect no help from the Allies but could doubtlessly negotiate a reasonable peace if Hitler was removed.
Tresckow first planned to assassinate Hitler in the late summer of 1941, while the Russian campaign was still going well for the Germans. Bock's troops were only two hundred miles from Moscow, which many of the generals deemed the most important target in the Soviet empire, when Hitler issued an order to divide Army Group Center's Panzer and other mobile forces in half, transferring half to Army Group North for its thrust against Leningrad, and half to Army Group South to help von Rundstedt's drive to capture Kiev, capital of Ukraine. Army Group Center would then have basically only infantry troops for its attack on Moscow.
Halder and Brauchitsch at OKH, and Bock at Army Group Center, objected strenuously to Hitler's plan -- so strenuously that the Führer decided to visit Army Group Center to personally deliver the order to Bock. Tresckow and Schlabrendorff welcomed this opportunity to kill Hitler and arranged, with a small group of officers, to shoot him when he entered one of their headquarters buildings.
Unfortunately, the conspirators were committed to fighting a war, and their energies were divided between pursuing combat plans and organizing the assassination. Also working against them was Hitler's obsession with the "irregular" in his actions.
The visit was scheduled several times only to be cancelled, rescheduled, then cancelled again.
Finally, in early August a fleet of cars arrived from the Führer Headquarters in East Prussia to await Hitler's arrival. Hitler refused to use cars supplied by the army for fear they might be booby trapped with explosives. When he finally arrived at Bock's headquarters in Borrisov, Tresckow and his fellow conspirators were overwhelmed at the amount of security people that accompanied him and the rigid security measures they imposed. The would-be assassins barely caught a glimpse of Hitler, much less an opportunity to shoot him.
Orsja 1941, November 13 (not proven and unconfirmed attack)
Stalin heard from the English that Hitlers train Europa came to Orsja on 13 November. The place where the train stood was bombed. But Hitler wasn’t there. He was at the Wolfschanze at that time. The story was never confirmed, not by the Russians and not by the Germans. There’s no proof of a bombing at all.
Location: unknown, not important
The NKVD made plans to kill Hitler in Moskow after the city fell in German hands. But it didn’t.
Poland 1942, June 8
Location: railway between Dirschau (Tczew) and Konitz (Chojnice)
There are stories about the Polish resistance derailing a train. They thought it was Hitlers train Amerika, but it wasn’t. There’s not much sure about this story, though.
Soviet planes 1942
Sovijet planes shoot at Hitlers plane. Some bullets hit the plane.
Airfield Zaporozje February 1943
Location: east of the city
When Hitler met Manstein in Zaporozje, his pilot was waiting for him on the airfield. Russian tanks came very close to the airfield, but because they didn’t have enough fuel and because they thought there were a lot of heavily armed Germans in the area, they decided not to attack. This obviously doesn’t really count as an attack on Hitlers life.
Location: Headquarters Heeresgruppe B
Another plot to assassinate Hitler was hatched at Army Group B Headquarters at Walki near Poltava in the Ukraine. This time the conspirators were General Hubert Lanz, his Chief of Staff, Major-General Dr. Hans Speidel and Colonel Count von Strachwitz, the commanding officer of the Grossdeutschland Tank Regiment. The plan was to arrest Hitler on his anticipated visit to Army Group B in the spring of 1943. Hitler, at the last minute, changed his mind and instead decided to fly to Zaporosje, further east, on 15 February 1943 to meet Fieldmarshall Von Manstein instead of going to Poltava.
Cointreau bomb March 1943
Location: Smolensk, Heeresgruppe Mitte
Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, commander of Army Group Center on the eastern front, finally managed to lure Hitler into visiting his headquarters at Smolensk. Colonel Henning von Tresckow, who hated Hitler and the Nazis, together with Lt. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Colonel Rudolf von Gersdorff and Cavalry Captain Georg von Böselager had hatched plans to get rid of their Führer. The final one was to destroy Hitler's plane in midflight. This option had several distinct advantages: Field Marshal Kluge's approval was not necessary, and Hitler's death would not directly involve army officers who could have underlying misgivings because of their oath.
It did, however, require two vital ingredients: (1) a detailed schematic of Hitler's plane, especially the armored compartment where the Führer stayed during flight, and (2) enough sophisticated explosives to do the job. The force of the explosives was critical because Hitler's armored compartment was constructed in such a manner that if his plane was disabled the compartment could be detached from the aircraft and float gently down, using special parachutes that were connected to it. It was therefore vital to destroy the armored section of the plane to succeed.
Tresckow contacted Captain Ludwig Gehre, a member of the conspiracy in Berlin, and asked him to obtain copies of the prints for Hitler's Condor aircraft. Gehre called a close friend and member of the resistance, Otto John, who was employed by Lufthansa, and invited him to his house. Swearing John to secrecy, Gehre outlined the scheme to bomb Hitler's personal aircraft and asked John if he could get plans of the craft. John cautioned Gehre that it would be next to impossible to plant a bomb on the Führer's Focke-Wulf 200 Condor. The aircraft was kept under tight security by armed SS guards who searched every person approaching the plane, including the ground crews who serviced and cleaned it. John, however, was able to get drawings of the craft, and these were forwarded to Tresckow in Smolensk.
Next Tresckow and Schlabrendorff needed the explosives with which to do the job. It would seem that senior officers attached to a frontline army headquarters would have easy access to explosives, but this was not the case. All explosive materials in the Third Reich were kept under tight inventory control by the Gestapo. The material for their bomb would have to be acquired in small amounts over a period of time.
Tresckow assigned this task to Colonel Rudolf-Christoph Baron von Gersdorff, the Army Group Center Intelligence Officer. What was required, Tresckow explained to Gersdorff, was an explosive material that was compact yet yielded a high energy explosion using noiseless time delay fuses.
Gersdorff told Tresckow that German-made time delay fuses were unworkable because they all emitted an audible hiss. He canvassed several Abwehr supply depots, finding what he needed at an arsenal maintained by the Sabotage Division. Explaining that he was training a cadre to counteract disruptive partisan activity, he asked the officer in charge of the arsenal if he could demonstrate several different types of explosives his teams might use.
Gersdorff settled on "Plastic C," a volatile substance the British regularly supplied to partisan bands throughout occupied Europe. Quantities had fallen into the Abwer's hands when German army units either tracked British parachute drops or recovered them from captured partisans. Plastic C consisted of over 88 percent hexogen, with the remainder an amalgam of materials such as axle grease to prevent the hexogen from crystallizing. An officer who was knowledgeable in the use of Plastic C proudly showed Gersdorff what less than a pound would do, when he detonated it under the turret of a captured Soviet tank. The force of the explosion blew the turret off the tank, hurling it more than twenty yards away.
Gersdorff asked the arsenal commander, Lieutenant Buchholz, for samples of Plastic C, along with various fuses and detonators to demonstrate the explosive for Field Marshal Kluge. After signing the required receipts and receiving thorough instructions on handling the material and the detonators, he was provided a modest quantity. A few more trips to other supply depots gave Gersdorff enough Plastic C to make several test runs, with enough left to sabotage Hitler's plane.
Tresckow, Gersdorff, and Schlabrendorff experimented with the explosive and found its only disadvantage was that at temperatures below zero degrees Centigrade it sometimes failed to explode. Satisfied that Plastic C would do the job, providing the temperature was not too cold, they fashioned a package to look like two bottles of Cointreau, a premium brandy bottled in square decanters. The square shape was easy to duplicate, making the package appear authentic. The package was heavily wrapped and tied tightly with cord to discourage closer inspection.
An ingenious device to detonate the bomb was chosen from Gersdorff's selection. When a small vial of acid in the device was crushed, the acid spilled into a wad of cotton. The acid then ate through a tiny trip wire that released a plunger that drove the detonator into the explosive. Once the capsule was broken, the acid would require thirty minutes until it was absorbed by the cotton and the spring was released.
When the deadly package was ready, Schlabrendorff kept it inside a metal box in his quarters, awaiting Hitler's visit. The conspirators at Army Group Center now had preparations solidly in place for two alternative plans to kill Hitler. No one connected with the plot doubted that if one misfired the other would succeed. As far as the plotters were concerned, when Hitler made his expected visit he was as good as dead.
On 13 March 1943, the sky over Smolensk was a cloudless blue expanse. The operations officer at the small airfield near headquarters heard the steady drone of approaching aircraft and watched the distant specks take sharper form as he called Kluge's duty officer with the news that the Führer's plane was about to land. Tresckow and the field marshal hurried into staff cars for the short ride to the airstrip. Overhead, three Condors approached the runway escorted by a formation of Messerschmidt-109 fighters. While Kluge and Tresckow went to greet Hitler, Schlabrendorff telephoned Gehre in Berlin to alert him that Operation Flash was about to begin. Gehre immediately informed Olbricht, then Dohnanyi, who promptly told Oster. Oster, in turn, contacted Beck with the news. The resistance waited anxiously for the word to strike.
The Condors landed and taxied off the runway to allow the fighter escort room to land. Hitler stepped from the lead Condor, descended the steps, and greeted Kluge and his staff warmly. He declined Kluge's invitation to drive him to headquarters in his staff car. Hitler, appearing older than most of those present remembered him, and exhibiting a noticeable stoop, proceeded to his personal car, which his chauffeur, Erich Kempka, had driven to Smolensk. The detachment of SS guards that accompanied Kempka was supplemented by a platoon flown in on the second Condor.
Rounding out the entourage were several staff officers; Hitler's personal physician, Dr. Theodor Morell; a stenographer; Hitler's personal chef; and a photographer to record highlights of the visit for posterity. The chef personally prepared all Hitler's meals. Dr. Morell, who like his arch-rival Göring had grown rich and fat off his relationship with the Führer, always tasted Hitler's food in his presence before the Führer ate anything.On an earlier visit to a frontline headquarters several Soviet tanks had come ominously close to Hitler's plane, prompting the SS to beef up the Führer's security force. His escort for this visit was double the usual complement. Sensing Hitler's preoccupation with security, Army Group Center seized on this opportunity to volunteer a squadron of Cavalry Regiment Center's troops, under command of Major König, to augment Hitler's security shield. The officers of this squadron, who had sworn to shoot Hitler, were now perfectly positioned to kill him while he walked from his car to the headquarters building, or when he was returning to the car. An earlier suggestion to shoot Hitler while he ate in the mess was rejected by Kluge because he felt it unseemly to shoot a man while he was eating. Also, there was the risk of hitting one of the officers seated with Hitler, possibly even Kluge, whom the conspirators expected would assume command of the entire front and stabilize the situation until a truce was arranged.
The assassins in Cavalry Regiment Center never received the order to shoot, possibly (as explained later by Major König) because Hitler changed his original route and the mounted guard did not have a clear shot at him. It is also not improbable that the SS guards, fingers tight around the triggers of their submachine guns, kept too close a watch on the armed soldiers whom they might have viewed as a potential threat. In any event, no shots were fired.
During lunch Tresckow approached one of Hitler's staff officers, Colonel Heinz Brandt, whom Tresckow saw alight from the Führer's own plane. He asked Brandt if he could take a package of two bottles of Cointreau with him to High Command Headquarters. They were a gift for Colonel Helmuth Stieff, Tresckow explained, and he did not want to risk their being broken if he sent them through the normal mail. Brandt cheerfully agreed.
When lunch was over and Hitler prepared to depart, Lieutenant Schlabrendorff slipped off to his quarters and retrieved the bomb. At the airport he waited until Hitler said his farewells and started to board his plane, followed closely by members of his entourage. Tresckow nodded to Schlabrendorff, who pressed a key against the package, crushing the capsule of acid, then with a broad smile handed the package to Colonel Brandt, who carried it aboard Hitler's plane.
The fighters took off first, circled the field several times, and signaled the all clear. Within minutes all three Condors were airborne, flying a course for Rastenburg in East Prussia.
Tresckow and Schlabrendorff returned to their headquarters, where the latter called Gehre in Berlin to tell him that Operation Flash was in its second stage, meaning they were waiting for confirmation of Hitler's death. Tresckow estimated that Hitler's Condor would mysteriously explode somewhere in the vicinity of Minsk, a half-hour's flying time from Smolensk.
For two anxious hours Tresckow and Schlabrendorff waited for news that Hitler's plane had crashed. They expected the first announcement to come from the commander of the fighter planes that escorted Hitler, but no word came. Finally a confirmation was received from Rastenburg that the Führer's plane had landed there safely. Stunned, the two officers could not believe their ears. Schlabrendorff immediately called Gehre and gave him the coded message that Operation Flash had failed. Gehre, sickened by the tension and the disappointment, passed the word to General Olbricht and then Oster and Dohnanyi.
Tresckow and Schlabrendorff were at a loss about what to do next. Obviously, the bomb had not exploded. Had the secret of their lethal package been discovered before it could explode? If so, the Gestapo was surely on the way to arrest them. If the bomb failed to explode because of a defect, the package would have to be retrieved before it was delivered to Colonel Stieff. Either way, the two men could be in grievous trouble.
They had to know what had happened. Finally, Tresckow called Colonel Brandt in Rastenburg and casually asked if he had delivered the package to Stieff. To his great relief, Brandt said he had not had a chance to deliver it yet. Tresckow then explained that Brandt had been given the wrong package, and would he hold on to it until the next day when it would be exchanged for the correct package. Brandt replied that he would be glad to, and the conversation ended.
The following morning Schlabrendorff took a scheduled courier flight to Rastenburg bearing a package containing two bottles of Cointreau. When he arrived at Brandt's office, the colonel playfully tossed the package containing the bomb from one hand to the other, joking about dropping the two bottles of expensive brandy he thought it contained. Schlabrendorff, trying to remain calm, exchanged the packages and withdrew as quickly as possible. He had no idea why the bomb had not exploded and he was afraid that Brandt's juggling would cause the explosion right there. Leaving the building, he took a staff car to the railroad station in nearby Korschen, where he boarded a train to Berlin.
On board the train Schlabrendorff locked himself inside the private compartment he had reserved and carefully opened the package. Examining the bomb, he immediately saw what had happened. The capsule had broken under the pressure of his key and the acid had permeated the cotton, causing the wire to break and the spring to release the detonator, which slammed home causing a blackened mark where it struck, but for some unknown reason the Plastic C had failed to ignite. What probably happened was that Colonel Brandt left the package in the unheated luggage compartment instead of taking it into the heated passenger section with him. The extreme cold caused the explosive material to crystallize immediately -- and when the strike hit, nothing happened.
In Berlin Schlabrendorff met with Oster and the other conspirators. He showed them the flawed bomb and how close they had come to killing Hitler.
Von Gertsdorff attempt 1943, March 21
Location: Zeughaus, Unter den Linden, Berlin
On March 21 the country would observe a national holiday known as Heroes' Memorial Day. Traditionally the Führer participated in the ceremonies honoring German soldiers who had died in previous wars. Schlabrendorff was still in Berlin when Tresckow proposed to Gersdorff a way to kill Hitler when he came to the event. As part of the program, Hitler was to inspect an assortment of captured Soviet weapons on display in the Berlin Armory. Because the weapons had been captured largely by Army Group Center, an officer from that army was invited to accompany Hitler on the tour to answer any technical questions he might have. This was an important duty because Hitler was always fascinated by new weapons developments and usually asked tough questions. Gersdorff had been selected for this job.
During their conversation, Gersdorff and Tresckow concluded that the only way to kill Hitler during the tour was through a suicide mission. Gersdorff would have to set off a bomb hidden on his person, then wrap his arms around the Führer tightly until the explosion killed them both. Tresckow was reluctant to ask this of his comrade in the conspiracy, but Gersdorff confessed that since his wife's death a year earlier he really had little to live for, and if through his death he could accomplish the great patriotic good that would come from killing Hitler, he was more than willing to make the sacrifice
Gersdorff arrived in Berlin two days before the ceremonies and established himself in the Hotel Eden. The following morning Schlabrendorff brought him the bomb package that had been placed on Hitler's plane on March 13. Gersdorff chose from a variety of British fuses. He discarded several instantaneous fuses because he would need time to grab Hitler and hold on to him. He decided to use a ten-minute fuse, which was the shortest timed fuse he had aside from the instantaneous fuses. This would provide sufficient time to set the fuse in action and get close enough to Hitler to grab him in case they were separated. He knew from the schedule, which he had obtained from General Schmundt, Hitler's Chief Adjutant, that the Führer was allotting ten minutes for the weapons tour, so he planned to set the fuse off just before the tour began.
Just after noon on March 21 Hitler arrived for the ceremonies and was greeted by the chiefs of the armed forces and other government and Party dignitaries. Inside the hall he delivered a speech for fourteen minutes while Gersdorff, a bomb hidden in each pocket of his greatcoat, waited patiently by the entrance to the weapons exhibit. When Hitler finished speaking he left the platform and walked toward the exhibit. As Hitler approached, Gersdorff reached into his left pocket, a highly risky gesture when Hitler and his bodyguards were around, and released the fuse. He did not want to press his luck by arming the bomb in his right pocket, and he assumed that when one went off it would ignite the other. He had ten minutes until the explosion.
To everyone's amazement, Hitler ignored Gersdorff and strode into the exhibit hall at an ever quickening pace. Gersdorff rushed to catch up with him, attempting to draw his special attention to certain exhibits in an effort to slow him down, but Hitler continued to ignore him and also paid no attention to others, including Göring, who tried to point out interesting aspects of certain exhibits. Hitler was in and out of the exhibition hall in two minutes, not the ten minutes that had been scheduled.
At the exit Gersdorff was turned back by SS guards, as this was as far as he was supposed to go. The stunned officer watched helplessly as Hitler virtually raced from the hall. Regaining his thoughts amidst the confusion and frustration, he remembered the live bomb in his left pocket. Frantically he looked for some place he could go to deactivate the bomb. He looked at his watch, eight minutes left, and prayed the bomb did not detonate prematurely. Locating a nearby men's room, he quickly went inside and locked himself in a stall. Removing the bomb from his pocket, he pulled off the striker, making the bomb inoperative. Gersdorff collapsed onto the toilet seat and dropped his head into his hands, panting heavily from the tension.
The only positive result of these failed attempts on Hitler's life was that General Olbricht, who had been listening to reports of the ceremonies over the radio and waiting for news of the explosion, uncovered deficiencies in the coup planning that must be corrected before the next attempt. To help with this task, Tresckow asked for and received a sick leave of several months' duration. He spent virtually the entire time working on resistance organizational problems and helping refine the plans for the coup that was used the following year.
Operation ‘München’, spring/summer 1943
Location: Führerhauptquartier Vinnitsa and its region
The Russian NKVD tried to find out what Hitler’s habits were when he was in Vinnitsa, so they could take him out. But they started their observations too late: in the spring/summer of 1943. Hitler had been there for the last time in March 1943 and he only came back there for a short stay on 27 August 1943. After that the FHQ was destroyed.
Olga Tsjechova 1941-1943
Wild plans to have Hitler killed by the actress Olga Tsjechova couldn’t be carried out because she didn’t have a lot of contact with Hitler between 1941 and 1943. Hitler spend a lot of time in the Wolfschanze. When the Russians started to win the war, the plans were cancelled.
Did Stalin really stop attempts on Hitler's life?
By Guy Walters
4 June 2010
Another week, another highly dubious revelation about the Second World War. This time it's from the Russians, specifically from the lips of one General Anatoly Kulikov, who has claimed at a conference on military history in Moscow that Stalin cancelled at least two attempts to kill Hitler. "A concrete plan to assassinate Hitler in his Bunker was developed," said Kulikov, "but Stalin suddenly cancelled it in 1943 over fears that after Hitler's death his associates would conclude a separate peace treaty with Britain and the United States".
Adding that he had documentary evidence to support his claims, the general also claimed that a second plan almost came to fruition, and that the intended assassin had even infiltrated Hitler's entourage, but Stalin once more cancelled any operation.
These stories certainly raise my eyebrows, as I'm sure they do those of many others. While the notion that the Russians had planned Hitler's assassination is feasible – after all the British had their own Operation Foxley – the idea that the Soviets had inveigled someone into Hitler's inner circle seems too fantastical and the stuff of thrillers alone. Last night I consulted Professor Peter Hoffmann, the author of the excellent "Hitler's Personal Security", a peerless account on the attempts on Hitler's life. He told me: "The obvious answer is: Where is the evidence? We should see documents, names, for example especially names of persons who are described as having infiltrated Hitler's entourage and their identification as having been present in Hitler's entourage".
Until General Kulikov presents his evidence, I think we can safely dismiss his stories as Junk History.
The English gathered a lot of information about Hitler on the Obersalzberg. They wanted to bring snipers to the hill who could kill Hitler. When in 1944 it became very clear that the Germans would lose the war, the plans were cancelled.
Adolf Hitler was the centre of the Nazi system. Around him revolved a loose confederation of fiefdoms, whose leaders engaged in a ceaseless struggle to protect and enhance their power. If Operation Foxley, the plan devised by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) to assassinate Hitler, had succeeded, this system would have been thrown into chaos.
Count von Stauffenberg and various fellow conspirators, whose courage was equalled only by their ineptitude, were plotting a similar operation from the German side. There was, however, not the slightest possibility that they could have taken advantage of the chaos.
Rather more likely was the emergence of a coalition of the major fiefdoms, with Hermann Göring as Reichsverweser (literally state caretaker), co-existing uneasily with Heinrich Himmler, Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz and a clutch of popular generals such as Erich von Manstein and Erwin Rommel.
The most plausible date for SOE's assassination of Hitler would have been around 13-14 July 1944. By this time the Russians had reached the old Polish-Soviet frontier. From what is now known about the frame of mind of many prominent generals in Germany around this time, we can guess that the new administration would have sent peace feelers to the western allies, who would have reiterated their demand for unconditional surrender.
For Himmler and the SS even a negotiated peace would have posed serious problems. He would have been worried about how he was going to explain the 'final solution' (the extermination of all Jewish people, and other 'Untermenschen', in Nazi-held territories) to the outside world, and might well have decided to close down the gas chambers, and tried to pass the death factories off as labour camps.
Germany still in control of Europe
At this stage, however, a reversal of policy would have been prudent rather than pressing. Germany still controlled Europe - with the exception of southern Italy and the Normandy beachhead - from the Atlantic to the Vistula, the Carpathians and the lower Danube. There were still cards to play, which, if handled skilfully, might yet have elicited from the Anglo-Americans something more palatable than a demand for unconditional surrender.
Moreover, the propaganda machine run by Göbbels would have both lionised the martyred Führer - the modern Siegfried - and hinted that with the Führer now in Valhalla the war might begin to go better. In the summer of 1944 most of the German people were assailed by doubts about the continuing pursuit of the war, but they were not yet prepared to give up
How would the death of Hitler have affected the Reich's production of war material? Overall very little, except in one important area. In June, Speer and Göring had pleaded with the Führer to abandon the conversion of the Me262 jet fighter into a bomber, but to no effect. With Hitler gone, the Luftwaffe might have had twice as many Me262s available in the autumn of 1944, not enough to establish air parity with the Allies, but enough to have made the air war in the west less one-sided.
Hitler's death would have had a much greater effect on the conduct of operations. On the Eastern Front, Erich von Manstein, Heinz Guderian and others had already proposed withdrawal from the Baltic states, which Hitler had refused, partly because the navy claimed it needed the coastal waters for training submarine crews. Dönitz would have continued his resistance to the proposal, but without Hitler's support he would have lost the argument and the generals would have had their way.
A new line on the Front would have emerged, running south along the heavily fortified border of East Prussia to the Vistula, and thence along the Carpathians to the lower Danube in Rumania. It would have been shorter than the actual line, and taken advantage of natural defensive features, making it more formidable.
The army already had a contingency plan, Margarethe II, for the occupation of Rumania if the country tried to defect, but Hitler had refused to countenance putting the plan into action, saying that he trusted the Rumanian leader Marshal Ion Antonescu. With Hitler gone, Margarethe II would have swung into action in August, allowing the Germans to block the 200-mile-wide corridor between the Carpathians and the Danube, and thereby halt the Soviet offensive into the Balkans.
Operations in the west, too, would have been profoundly affected by the Führer's demise. On 28 June Hitler had rejected a plan, put forward by von Rundstedt and Rommel, which suggested a German withdrawal back to the line of the Seine. With Hitler gone, this plan could have been put into effect. There would have been no Mortain counter-attack and no Falaise pocket, with their attendant losses.
Instead a defence of the Seine would have been followed by a defence of the Somme, and then the Meuse and Moselle, and so on back to the Reischswald and eventually the Rhine. This early withdrawal from France - about three weeks sooner than the one that did occur - would have saved some 250,000 men and much equipment, some of which could have been redeployed to the Eastern Front, particularly in Rumania.
Hitler's demise, then, would have allowed Germany to adopt defensive strategies on both western and eastern fronts, fighting on shorter, more defensible lines. And with Rumania still under German control, the oil crisis of late 1944 would have been less severe. In addition, Germany would still have had access to the strategically important minerals of the Balkans and Anatolia, so that many of the log-jams that delayed jet aircraft production would not have occurred.
Moreover, without Hitler there would have been no Ardennes offensive, and consequently no squandering of precious resources. Instead the Germans would have imposed a series of attritional slogging matches on the Anglo-Americans, fought on ground of their own choosing. In the east the fierce resistance offered to the Soviets on the frontiers of East Prussia and the Carpathians would have been stronger yet, while the great tank battles that actually took place on the plains of Hungary at Debrecen, would have been fought to defend the oil fields of far-off Rumania.
The disparity in production and manpower between the Allies and Germany, however, was so great that the Eastern Front would have given at some point, whoever was in charge. On 12 January 1945 the Soviets launched a great offensive in central Poland, which carried them from the Vistula to the Oder - dangerously close to Berlin, in other words - in less than three weeks.
In our alternative world, it is difficult to see how the Vistula - Oder offensive, however vigorously resisted, could have been stopped. Soviet deception had persuaded Hitler to concentrate his forces in Hungary and East Prussia, but there is no reason to suppose that other German generals, even those unhindered by their Führer, would not also have fallen victim to false intelligence.
A radical solution to the Soviet advance
On 23 January, Soviet forces reached the Oder, only 60 miles east of Berlin. Shocked by the speed of the Soviet advance, the German naval high command actually discussed a radical solution - opening Germany's western front and allowing the Anglo-Americans unimpeded access through Belgium and the Rhineland into the heart of the Reich.
They hoped the Allies would thus be drawn in to join with Germany in keeping the Russians to the east of the Oder - but this idea was not discussed outside the Naval high command, as there was little trust between them and the other two services. In the absence of Hitler it is likely that such a scenario, in effect an Anglo-American relief in place of the German army, followed by German demobilisation, would have been widely, and in some quarters favourably, canvassed.
Would it have become policy? It is possible, given that the crisis produced by the Vitula-Oder offensive would have fractured the loose coalition running Germany. Göring and Himmler, now weak and discredited, would have gone to the wall, and a new government composed of Army and Waffen SS generals, could have announced that Germany's western borders were now open.
The Yalta conference, at which the Anglo-Americans and Soviets were to agree the post-war division of Europe, was only two weeks away. With their forces still west of the Meuse, and bogged down in the Appenines in Italy, the Anglo-Americans were expecting to go to Yalta as supplicants, with the Russians in a strong position.
But if the plan had been followed, suddenly Berlin would have been offering unconditional surrender. The dowry would have been significant - not just control over central Europe but over south-eastern Europe to boot. The price of acceptance for the Allies, however, would have been immense - an irrevocable breach with the Soviets. The British, perfidious as ever, would probably have accepted, but there would have been problems with the Americans, who thought they needed Soviet support for the war against Japan.
If the Germans had taken the initiative, and had begun pulling back from their western defences, it is difficult to see how Anglo-American forces could have avoided being sucked into the resulting vacuum, and pushing on to face the Russian advances, no matter what political decision had been made in London and Washington.
By ending the war three months early, Germany would have escaped the last of the terror raids, particularly the destruction of Dresden. In addition, the bulk of German territory would have been surrendered to a disciplined, civilised enemy, so that the murder, rape and pillage of the Soviet advance would have been confined to areas east of the Oder. There would have been war crimes trials, but possibly not as extensive as those that actually took place.
The long-term political impact of the way the war ended would have been immense if Operation Foxley had succeeded. If it had, and Stalin had been excluded from the Balkans or from Berlin, he would not have accepted the situation. He would probably have launched offensives against the Allies as they advanced into Germany in their attempt to keep Russia out of central Europe. One can imagine Anglo-American and Soviet forces clashing in Carpathian passes, or shelling each other across the Oder.
In this scenario, the Cold War would have started with a bang the moment the Anglo Americans reached the German side of the Eastern Front. In June 1945 Churchill, worried by increasing Soviet belligerence, actually did propose the re- mobilisation of German forces as a way of opposing Stalin, a suggestion that was quickly buried by the chiefs of staff. In the post-Foxley world, he may have got his way.
The spring and early summer of 1945 would have been the period of maximum danger, as Russian and Allied troops faced each other. This confrontation would have eased only with the first successful test of the American atomic bomb on 16 July, which would have dictated a policy of prudence to Stalin.
This end to the war would have left a bad taste in many mouths. The political left in the west would have railed about the betrayal of the Soviet Union, and accorded to the Soviet system much greater legitimacy than it actually had. Conversely the right in Germany would have seen the 'Volk' stabbed yet again in the back, not once but twice (by the Allies and by the treachery of their own generals. They would have said that if Hitler had lived, if the borders had not been opened, Germany might yet have avoided the humiliation of an Anglo-American occupation. There would have been soul searching, but not as much as that produced by the reality of total, utter defeat.
The legacy of betrayal could only have served to make the post-war world more dangerous than it actually was. The Soviet Union, faced with a resurgent, psychologically undefeated Germany allied to Britain and America, may have withdrawn ever deeper into paranoia, perhaps not unreasonably. The crises of the early Cold War years would have happened not in Berlin or Budapest, but in Iran or the Norwegian-Finnish frontier.
These crises might have been containable, but it is unlikely that the world would have been as lucky as it actually was, in October 1962, when the Soviets deployed missiles to Cuba. All that was required to tip the balance in favour of war at that time was a slight increase in paranoia, a condition that is highly likely to have been rampant in the world - if Operation Foxley had succeeded.
Find out more
"Plotting Hitler's Death: The German Resistance to Hitler 1933-1945" by Joachim Fest (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996)
"Hitler, Göring and the Obersalzberg" by Bernhard Frank (Anton Plenk, 1989)
"Hitler's Personal Security" by Peter Hoffman (MacMillan, 1979)
"Operation Foxley: The British Plan to Kill Hitler" by Mark Seaman (MacMillan, 1979)
"The Good Nazi: The Life and Lies of Albert Speer" by Dan Van der Vat (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997)
"Hitler 1936-1945": "Nemesis" by Ian Kershaw (Allen Lane, 2000)
"Inside Hitler's Command" by Geoffrey Megargee (University Press of Kansas, 2002)
Hitler (Introductions to History) by David Welch (UCL Press, 1998)
About the author
Duncan Anderson joined the War Studies Department at Sandhurst as a senior lecturer in 1987, and has been Head of Department since 1997. He has written several books on World War Two, and worked for the British Army and other NATO forces in Germany, both lecturing and conducting staff tours.
Egon Hanfstängl, summer 1943
Egon Hanfstängl, the son of Putzi, presented plans to kill Hitler on the Obersalzberg. Roosevelt rejected the plan.
In 2002 Charles Fenyvesi was combing through the declassified WWII files at the U.S. National Archives when he came across a surprise. In July 1943 Count Helmuth James von Moltke - the German military intelligence service (Abwehr) representative at the German High Command and an anti-Nazi - made a secret visit to the OSS (the predecessor to the CIA) in Istanbul offering to turn Wehrmacht against the Waffen-SS and make a separate peace with the Americans. Moltke also gave the OSS a list of the high rank Germans involved in the conspiracy: Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Field Marshal Wilhelm List, Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Colonel General Franz Halder.
Late in 1943 Tresckow attempted to get himself assigned as Field Marshal Manstein's Chief of Staff in the hope of convincing Manstein to join the resistance. The field marshal rejected the appointment, telling the army personnel chief that while Tresckow had no peer as a staff officer, he had a negative attitude toward National Socialism. This reproach spelled finis to Tresckow's career and his effectiveness in the resistance. He was transferred to the eastern front, where he could do little except wait to hear that Hitler was dead and the coup had begun.
Before his departure Tresckow engineered three final attempts on Hitler's life. In one, Colonel Stieff secretly gathered a large quantity of explosives to use in an attack on Hitler. Two officers took the explosives to the grounds of Hitler's Rastenburg headquarters in East Prussia, where they buried them under a water tower to wait for the right occasion to use them. Inexplicably, the material exploded for no apparent reason, causing consternation among the SS guards and redoubling of security measures.
With unusual good luck for the resistance, one of their member officers was assigned to investigate the incident. Colonel Werner Schrader dragged his inquiry on so long that he never issued a report.
A crazy plan of some American soldiers was to throw down a lot of pornographic material on Hitlers mountain to make the puritan Hitler go mad. The colonel the soldiers discussed the plan with, said that they were maniacs with an insane plan...
Treskow 1943, November or December
Location: Berlin (?), demonstration of uniforms
In late November or early December 1943, Hitler was supposed to view a selection of proposed new uniforms for the army. Several alternative samples were made, and he wanted to have the final word on which were to be produced and distributed, especially to the troops fighting in Russia. One of the officers chosen to model the new uniforms was Captain Axel von dem Bussche, a member of Tresckow's inner circle. Bussche dismantled a German hand grenade and fashioned a bomb with a four-second fuse, which he proposed to carry in the pocket of the greatcoat he was going to model. Once in Hitler's presence, he planned to release the timer and grab Hitler so the two of them would be blown up together.
The viewing was postponed repeatedly while Bussche waited impatiently to perform what he expected would be the final act of his life. The sample uniforms were stored in a railroad boxcar parked on a siding in Berlin. One night during the regular allied bombing, the car received a direct hit and was destroyed, along with the uniforms that were to provide the opportunity to place an assassin within reach of the Führer.
On February 11, 1944 another ‘overcoat’ attempt was made. This time the volunteer model was Ewald Heinrich von Kleist, son of one of the original conspirators and included Major General Helmuth Stieff. Again the RAF saved the day with an air-raid just before the demonstration was about to take place forcing its cancellation.
Von Breitenbuch plan 1944, March 11
In March 1944, Captain Eberhard von Breitenbuch, personal aide to Field Marshal Busch, told Tresckow that he was going to attend a conference at Hitler's Berchtesgaden headquarters where he would shoot Hitler, knowing full well that he himself would probably be shot to death by the SS guards. Tresckow offered to give him explosives, but Breitenbuch said he was an excellent shot and would require only seconds to draw his pistol, aim at Hitler's head, and squeeze off at least one and possibly several shots. He was confident Hitler would be killed.
On the day of the conference, Busch and his aide arrived in the anteroom at Hitler's quarters where they met other field marshals. When the SS major opened the door to the Führer's conference room the conferees entered in ranking order. Breitenbuch, the most junior officer, last. The SS major put his hand out to restrain Breitenbuch and told him that aides were not permitted to attend the meeting. When Busch protested that he required his aide's presence, the major informed the field marshal that it was Hitler's decision and could not be countermanded.
For the next several hours Breitenbuch waited anxiously in the anteroom, brooding over the reason he was excluded from the conference with Hitler. He thought that perhaps someone had learned of his intent to murder the Führer. This seemed to be the most logical explanation, and every time an SS man walked through the room Breitenbuch feared the worst. Around noon the meeting broke up and he followed Busch out of the building, looking nervously around, half expecting to be arrested. No explanation was ever given for his exclusion from the conference, but once again fate stepped in and saved Hitler from an assassin.
Operation Hellhound, June 1944
Location: Obersalzberg - Milan
The plans of the American airforce to bomb the Obersalzberg got stranded because of discussions with the British. Only airphotos were made of the area. On 4 November 1944 they did bomb a hotel in Milan, of which was said that Hitler was there at the time. Hitler was at the Wolfschanze at the time.
Stauffenberg in Berchtesgaden 1944, July 6
One needed only to look at Colonel Claus Count von Stauffenberg to know that he had already paid a high price for Hitler's war. A black patch covered the empty socket that had been his left eye. His right hand was missing, as were two fingers of his left hand. Despite these disfigurements, suffered when a U.S. fighter plane attacked his North African Panzer column, Stauffenberg remained a handsome and charming officer.
In the fall of 1943, after several head operations required by his wounds, Stauffenberg recovered enough to join the active resistance at the strong urging of his uncle, Count Nikolaus von Uxkull. His uncle knew of Stauffenberg's attitude toward Hitler and the Nazis, which was formed indelibly from his experiences in the Russian campaign before he was assigned to Africa. Uxkull confided in his nephew that there were other officers who felt as he did, and that they were organized into a formal resistance group determined to kill Hitler and remove the Nazis from power. He asked his nephew to join them.
When Stauffenberg was restored to active duty he reported to Colonel General Kurt Zeitzler, who had replaced Halder as Chief of the General Staff in September 1942. The disabled colonel requested assignment to a frontline unit, but Zeitzler, recognizing his enormous potential, felt Stauffenberg's talents deserved to be nurtured. Zeitzler wanted him to broaden his experience so that one day he could command a corps or perhaps even an army. Instead of sending him to the front, Zeitzler appointed Stauffenberg Chief of Staff of the General Army Office under General Friedrich Olbricht.
The next time he saw his uncle, Stauffenberg told him he had decided to join the resistance. He is also reported to have told him that since the generals had failed to unseat Hitler, now it was time the colonels accomplished the task. It was then Count Uxkull felt it safe to tell him that his new superior officer, General Olbricht, was a key figure in the conspiracy against Hitler.
In September 1943, Stauffenberg helped Olbricht and Tresckow, who was still in Berlin on sick leave, reorganize plans for a renewed coup attempt. They were joined occasionally by General Beck, whose recovery from cancer surgery was taking longer than expected. Pointedly absent from these proceedings was the man who had once been a central figure, Hans Oster. Now under close Gestapo surveillance, Oster had been ordered by Keitel to stay away from military installations. Reluctantly he obeyed, for fear of betraying the identities of the other conspirators.
The new pattern for the coup that evolved from the original concept of 1938 was "highly sophisticated" as the Gestapo would later admit. It centered around the unlikely use of the Replacement Army, which was a reserve force of walking wounded, trainees, cadets in military schools, workers who could quickly be pulled from their jobs, and men on sick leave. It was not an effective fighting force, but was intended originally to be used to supply replacements to frontline units. The Replacement Army was controlled by General Olbricht's superior, Colonel General Friederich Fromm, an overweight bureaucrat filled with his own importance. Fromm refused to have anything to do with the conspiracy unless the plotters killed Hitler; then, he said, they could count on his support.
In early 1943 the conspirators, disadvantaged by the fact that not even their leading military officers commanded troop formations, hit on the idea of molding the Replacement Army into a force to support their coup. Olbricht spoke to Hitler about the internal dangers to the Reich presented by the over four million foreign workers and prisoners of war within its borders. Enemy nationals concentrated in such numbers posed a serious threat if they organized a rebellion in any significant strength against the largely inadequate civil police forces. Olbricht proposed to develop a contingency plan using the Replacement Army as a safety valve that could be called on to put down a worker's revolt, or even move against enemy saboteurs who might infiltrate the Reich. Hitler was enthusiastic about the proposal and told him to work out the details. Tresckow and Stauffenberg concentrated on the project throughout the fall of 1943, assisted by a select committee of dedicated officers.
The idea of employing troops to control potential internal emergencies appealed to the High Command; consequently, they gave the Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army, Fromm, wide latitude to requisition and deploy troops in case of a domestic disturbance. This should have aided the conspirators, but an impasse existed between Fromm, who refused to cooperate unless the conspirators demonstrated they could succeed, and resistance leaders, who could do little without a commitment of Replacement Army backing. A possible solution to this dilemma was advanced by Olbricht, who decided that when the time was right he would ask Fromm to commit the Replacement Army and the military district forces to the coup. If Fromm refused, Olbricht would arrest him and issue the orders in his name, anticipating that most troop commanders would carry them out.
A set of substitute orders was prepared and updated regularly by Stauffenberg, changing the original response to the signal "Valkyrie," which meant an internal disturbance, to mean "surround and neutralize all SS and Gestapo installations within the Reich, and commandeer all communications facilities, particularly public radio stations."
Consistent with earlier coup plans, neutralizing the SS was a critical issue, since that organization was devoutly loyal to Hitler.
Now the Waffen SS became equally important. Grown to parallel the regular army, the Waffen SS had its own Panzer and mobilized units, which actually outnumbered the army in some military districts. While a few Waffen SS commanders might throw in their lot with the army if Hitler was dead, many more could be expected to wage a civil war against the army. At the same time, the army would have to maintain its position on all fronts facing the Allies. The speed with which the conspirators moved against these potential opponents was vital to success.
Just as Tresckow before him, Stauffenberg recognized that Hitler's assassination was paramount. With Hitler dead the coup might succeed, but if Hitler was merely arrested or confined, he would be a rallying point for his supporters.
After conferring with other officers who were candidates for the job of assassin, Stauffenberg decided the surest course of action was to do the "dirty work," as the conspirators called it, himself. When in late spring of 1944 he was appointed Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army, Stauffenberg soon found the opportunity he needed.
When Stauffenberg became General Fromm's new Chief of Staff on 1 June 1944, an appointment Fromm had requested because of Stauffenberg's organizational skills, he immediately sought ways to try to win Fromm over to the resistance.
Five days later the Allies swept ashore at Normandy in such overwhelming strength that many German army leaders read the invasion as the prelude to disaster. In the south, the Allies were pushing relentlessly up the Italian peninsula. In the east, the German army steeled for the expected Soviet summer offensive. Intelligence reports made it clear that the Soviet army was now far superior in men and material to the German defenders. With Germany being squeezed on all sides into an increasingly tighter circle, and her cities ablaze and crumbling under continuous Allied bombing, Stauffenberg questioned whether the effort to kill Hitler was still worthwhile, since the end of the war was obviously so near.
Stauffenberg asked Tresckow for guidance. Never one to waver, Tresckow, without hesitation, responded as Stauffenberg doubtlessly expected: "The assassination must be attempted at all costs. Even if it should not succeed, an attempt to seize power in Berlin must be undertaken. What matters now is not the practical purpose of the coup, but to prove to the world and for the records of history that the men of the resistance movement dared to take the decisive step. Compared to this objective, nothing else is of consequence".
Encouraged by Tresckow's counsel, Stauffenberg forged ahead with his plans. He was pleased to find that as Chief of Staff to Fromm he would have ample opportunity to kill Hitler. As Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army, Fromm now regularly appeared at Hitler's military conferences to report on the status of his forces. His Chief of Staff usually accompanied him.
While his infirmities would seem to make Stauffenberg an unlikely assassin, they also made him the least likely to be suspected by Hitler's security people. Also, he had become virtually the only member of the resistance with direct access to the person of the Führer and the resolve to carry out the assassination.
Fate decreed that Stauffenberg was the man. He began preparations for the assassination. Major General Helmuth Stieff had been hoarding a cache of explosives in Rastenberg, and Stauffenberg dispatched two officers who were resistance members to bring them back to Berlin. The explosives used acid-based fuses housed in thin glass tubes about the thickness of a pencil. With both their families moved to the relative safety of the south of Germany, Claus and Berthold Stauffenberg now shared an apartment in a Berlin suburb. Alone in his bedroom each night, Claus practiced with a small pair of pliers squeezing hard enough to break the glass and start the fuse.
On June 7, the day after the Normandy invasion began, Stauffenberg accompanied Fromm on a visit to Hitler's headquarters near Berchtesgaden. The handful of men attending the conference included Himmler and a grossly overweight Göring. Stauffenberg came away from this conference encouraged. He now had direct access to Hitler, and he had entered his presence without being searched. Even his thickly packed pigskin briefcase had stirred no interest. At this conference the briefcase contained nothing but documents, but it would soon carry the explosive intended as the instrument of Hitler's death.
Acting on the latest advice from Tresckow, Stauffenberg flew to Paris on June 23 to visit his old friend, Colonel Eberhard Finckh, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief, West. Stauffenberg told Finckh of his plans to kill Hitler and the coup that would follow to seize the government and control the army. He asked Finckh to pass this information to General Stulpnagel, the Military Governor, whom Stauffenberg knew would support the coup.
Meanwhile, Tresckow sent Colonel von Böselager, the cavalry officer who had planned the shooting of Hitler during his visit to Army Group Center, to ask Field Marshal Kluge to support the coup. Kluge had replaced von Rundstedt as Commander-in-Chief, West, when Hitler tired of the old field marshal's "pessimism." As usual Kluge wavered, and Tresckow regretted he had been unable to make the trip himself because he believed he could still hold sway over Kluge. Tresckow sent a message to Kluge suggesting that he allow the Allies to break through the German lines to force the High Command to see the futility of the situation. Kluge replied that it was unnecessary to do anything to encourage a breakthrough, since it would happen soon enough anyway.
Stauffenberg had no reservations. To him the situation was clear-cut. He could find no other officer with access to Hitler who was willing to attempt the assassination; consequently, he would do it himself. The other resistance leaders did not favor this decision. Stauffenberg was now the driving force behind the coup, and its success relied heavily on his talents. They feared that his absence from Berlin during the critical hours after the assassination, while he was flying back to the capital, would have an adverse effect on the results.
Stauffenberg readied his briefcase, carefully packing it with two pounds of explosives, and waited for his next opportunity. He felt he was destined to do the job, and he prepared to accomplish it as quickly as possible. He looked forward anxiously to his next trip to Hitler's headquarters.
July 1944 began ominously, with the arrest of several resistance members. Rumors spread that the Gestapo had learned of the coup and was about to seize all the plotters, but no further arrests followed and the work went forward. On July 6, Stauffenberg again went to the Berghof to hear Hitler's order for fifteen newly formed grenadier divisions to be rushed to the eastern front to stop the Soviet advance. Stauffenberg took the briefcase bomb into the conference room but made no attempt to trigger it, for reasons known only to himself. At the meeting's end Hitler assigned him the job of locating the personnel necessary to fill the proposed grenadier divisions.
Stauffenberg in Berchtesgaden 1944, July 11
Stauffenberg's next chance to put his bomb to use came on Tuesday, July 11. As the growing military crisis threatened the collapse of Germany's eastern front, Hitler called for an update on Stauffenberg's progress in organizing the fifteen new "blocking divisions." Hitler referred to them in this way because he believed they would block the Soviet advance, that they would somehow plug the holes that were expanding daily in the German defenses.
Hitler's attitude before this conference was indicative of his growing panic and vituperative treatment of his lieutenants. Things were going badly on all fronts, and Hitler typically placed the blame squarely on his generals and field marshals who were prudently advocating strategic retreat. Refusing to face reality, something no one around him would point out, he assumed Stauffenberg could create crack grenadier divisions from the worn-out veterans and raw recruits in the Replacement Army.
Stauffenberg went over his plans in his mind during the ninety-minute flight from Berlin to the small airfield in Freilassing, just north of Berchtesgaden. Inside his briefcase, under a fresh uniform shirt, was the bomb and timer fuse. He was accompanied by his acting adjutant, Captain Friedrich Karl Klausing. His regular adjutant, Lieutenant Werner von Häften (who earlier in the year had volunteered for a suicide attempt on Hitler's life) was too ill to travel.
On landing at Freilassing, Stauffenberg instructed the pilot of his Heinkel HE-111 not to wander too far from the plane because he might have to return to Berlin in a hurry; then he and Klausing got into a waiting staff car for the ride into the nearby mountains to Hitler's retreat.
At the Berghof, Stauffenberg, clutching the briefcase with his one hand, told Klausing to stay with the car and be prepared to race down the mountainside to the waiting aircraft if he exited the meeting without his briefcase. Stauffenberg's plan was to set the acid fuse timer, place the briefcase in the conference room, and leave as unobtrusively as possible before the bomb exploded. As the colonel walked up the terraced steps toward the main building, Klausing checked his watch. It was 1:00 P.M.
Inside the building, Stauffenberg left his revolver and hat on the table reserved for this purpose and entered the conference room carrying the briefcase. He set it down carefully under the conference table and listened to the proceedings.
Stauffenberg surveyed the room. His heart sank when he saw that Himmler was not present. Goring was there, but without Himmler Stauffenberg did not want to leave his bomb. He quietly withdrew from the conference room, knowing that the present discussion would continue for at least several more minutes. He started toward a bank of telephones, but first stopped at a nearby washroom where he splashed cold water on his face to ease his tension and rinse off the sweat streaming down his forehead.
Stauffenberg asked the telephone exchange operator to place a call to General Olbricht in Berlin. When the call went through the two conspirators conversed, using predetermined code words. Stauffenberg reported Himmler's absence and the two agreed to abort the assassination, at least until the next conference. Stauffenberg returned to the conference room and waited to give his progress report on the fifteen new divisions that Hitler was convinced would stem the Soviet advance.
At 3:30 P.M. Stauffenberg returned to the waiting car carrying his briefcase. Noting Klausing's surprise at seeing the briefcase again, he explained to him what had happened. Meanwhile, General Olbricht contacted the resistance members who had been waiting for the signal to begin the coup. Count Helldorf, whose Berlin police forces were poised to arrest leading Nazis, and the officers of the Ninth Infantry Reserve Regiment at Potsdam, who were to lead their troops into the government center in Berlin and isolate it from the rest of the city and country, were told to stand down and await further instructions.
That evening Stauffenberg met with coup leaders in Berlin, including Generals Beck and Olbricht. The conversation focused on what should be done at the next conference if Himmler was not present again. While some saw the need to wait until both Himmler and Hitler could be killed at the same time, others disagreed, saying there was too little time left in which to act before Germany was totally destroyed. They insisted the bomb must be set at the next meeting, whether Himmler was present or not. In the end, no firm decision was reached either way. They would wait to see what happened at the next conference. If Himmler was absent again, Stauffenberg should call Olbricht's office for instructions.
Stauffenberg at the Wolfschanze 1944, July 20
Location: Briefing room
The next few days were dark ones for the resistance. On Sunday, July 16, Stauffenberg received news that General Alexander Falkenhausen, military commander in Belgium and northern France, and a supporter of the coup, had been dismissed. The following day news arrived that Rommel had been severely injured and hospitalized. Although Rommel was not a member of the resistance, Stauffenberg had hoped he would come over once Hitler was dead, especially since he made no effort to hide his pessimism about Germany's future from Hitler, who now brushed off his one-time favorite as a "coward."
On July 18, Stauffenberg received a report that the Gestapo had been ordered to arrest Gördeler, a key member of the resistance and the man designated to be Germany's new Chancellor. He warned Gördeler and told him to go into hiding. Reluctantly, Gördeler left Berlin for Westphalia.
Tense meetings were held between Stauffenberg, Beck, Olbricht, and other coup conspirators at his residence at No. 8 Tristanstrasse, Wansee. It was finally decided that they no longer wanted to endure the tension of waiting for news of Himmler's presence at one of Hitler's conferences. Things were getting out of hand. Hitler had to be eliminated at all costs.
Stauffenberg was instructed to set his bomb at the next meeting, no matter who was there, as long as Hitler was in the room.
On July 19, General Heusinger was at Hitler's conference reporting that the Soviets were breaking through all along the eastern front. He told Hitler that additional troops were needed if the Germans had any hope of halting the Soviet advance, and he asked how many men the Replacement Army could provide for this purpose.
Field Marshal Keitel interrupted with a suggestion that Colonel Stauffenberg attend the following day's conference to provide "facts and figures" about the combat readiness of the fifteen new grenadier divisions he had been ordered to organize.
Hitler rose to his feet, terminating the conference, and said, "Good, send for Stauffenberg tomorrow."
Colonel Stauffenberg worked late into the evening of 19 July 1944, making last-minute updates to the operation tables for the fifteen divisions Adolf Hitler had ordered him to create from the military rubble of the Third Reich. It was not a successful undertaking. With increasing frequency in the past two years, Hitler had prescribed imaginary divisions created out of thin air, largely by reducing existing divisions to half their assigned strength and forming additional units with the overflow.
He must have known that the next day the "dirty work" would definitely be done. The decision was now reached that the bomb would be set whether Himmler was present or not. There would be no telephone calls seeking instructions from superiors; he would do it.
Secure in his Wolf's Lair headquarters deep in the East Prussian forest at Rastenburg, Hitler was awake until past 2:00 in the morning. Typically, his practice was to engage in animated conversation with aides until well past midnight and sleep until late in the morning, which is why the "morning military conference" seldom began before 2:00 P.M. On this night he left instructions that he should be awakened at 9:00 A.M., an unheard of hour for the Führer; however, he was expecting Mussolini in the afternoon and his "morning military conference" was actually scheduled for late morning.
Daybreak on 20 July 1944, carried with it a promise of oppressive heat and later, w hen he entered the room, Stauffenberg must have realized the bomb he was carrying might not be sufficient for the job. Instead of a solid concrete structure in which these conferences were usually held, this building was constructed of wood and contained several large windows that were open to allow a summer breeze in. Stauffenberg had expected a solidly built conference chamber that would contain the blast and increase the force of the explosion, but now it was obvious that the wood walls and windows of the room being used would allow at least a portion of the blast to escape the room, reducing the damage it would inflict to those inside.
A massive oak table on which several military maps were spread occupied a large portion of the 18-by-40-foot room. Close to either end of the table were thick oak supports practically the width of the tabletop. Over two dozen men stood in place around the table, with Hitler himself standing near the center, his back to the door and facing the open windows.
Stauffenberg, satisfied that his briefcase was placed under the table as close to Hitler as he could get it, and possibly fearing that the unseasonably high temperature could accelerate the chemical reaction and detonate the bomb prematurely, quietly informed Keitel, "Herr Field Marshal, I have to make an urgent call to Berlin." Keitel nodded his permission and Stauffenberg unobtrusively left the meeting. Stauffenberg's departure attracted no particular interest, since officers were constantly entering and leaving the conference room for a variety of reasons.
General Adolf Heusinger was summing up the situation in East Prussia. Just as he said, "If the Army Group does not withdraw from Lake Peipus, a catastrophe will. . . " at 12.42 p.m., a violent blast hurled everyone to the floor, setting fire to hair and uniforms. Over the bedlam several officers could hear the ever-faithful Keitel, unhurt by the blast, calling out, "Where is the Führer? Where is the Führer?" General Heusinger, who was momentarily knocked unconscious, came to and found himself on his back next to Hitler, who was also unconscious. Heusinger crawled to the door and managed to drag himself painfully into the hall, where several officers and men helped him exit the building. His uniform, face, body, and legs were burned, and both ear drums had been broken. His right arm and hand bled profusely from numerous splinters that had been launched into the air when the table was ripped apart by the bomb.
Keitel groped his way through the thick smoke and dust, past wounded men crying out for help, until he found the Führer just regaining consciousness. The Field Marshal helped Hitler to his feet; the latter's pants had been shredded. Hitler looked at Keitel with a dazed expression, then collapsed into his arms. He was carried to his quarters where a doctor dressed his wounds, which turned out to be superficial.
Others in the room were not so lucky. Hitler's stenographer, Heinrich Berger, had both legs blown off and died a few hours later. General Rudolf Schmundt, Hitler's adjutant, lost a leg and died in a hospital on October 1. Two days after the blast General Günther Korten, Chief of Staff for the Luftwaffe, and Colonel Heinz Brandt died of their wounds. Everyone's uniform was burned or tattered, and most received wounds that required a stay of several days in the hospital at Rastenburg.
Investigators later concluded that had the explosion occurred inside the Bunker-like structure usually used for these conferences, everyone in the room would have been killed, many of the bodies unrecognizable from the blast and fire. When it was learned that Stauffenberg and Häften had a second bomb identical to the first, most investigators agreed that no one could have survived if both bombs had exploded simultaneously. Once again, Hitler had cheated death.
At Wolf's Lair men were beginning to piece together what had happened. Everyone in the conference was accounted for except Colonel Stauffenberg, who it was quickly learned had sped away immediately following the explosion. When it was found that Stauffenberg's H-111 was airborne, a hurried call was placed to Luftwaffe headquarters in Berlin with orders to scramble a fighter squadron to shoot down a westbound H-111 bearing the identification number of Stauffenberg's plane. The fighters never took off. It is believed that the order was suppressed by Major Friedrich Georgi, General Olbrich's son-in-law on the air staff, who suspected it had something to do with his father-in-law's coup.
If Stauffenberg could have delegated an alternate to plant the bomb while he stayed in Berlin, the coup would have gotten off to a better start; but during this time of indecision the one man who would have been decisive, and who had the respect of all the plotters, was out of touch on the return flight from East Prussia. On the other hand, had this coup been as well organized as the 1938 attempt, it might have succeeded despite Hitler's survival of the Wolf's Lair explosion.
Meanwhile, some basic assumptions were emerging at Wolf's Lair. Once it was determined that the bomb had probably been set by Stauffenberg, the assassination attempt was thought to be the act of a single individual. It did not apparently occur to anyone that the bombing might have been part of a conspiracy. In fact, Hitler himself was the likely author of the single assassin theory. Not until nearly 4:30 P.M. when Hitler lifted his communications blackout and word was received that Operation Valkyrie was in progress, did anyone suspect that a coup attempt was related to the bombing. Until now nothing was done to safeguard the Nazi regime against a coup because none was suspected. Now Himmler entered the investigation, calling on his Berlin Gestapo headquarters to find out what had happened and who was involved. Meanwhile, considerable time had passed, and neither side had actually made any significant headway.
During the next few hours a communications battle was waged between Wolf's Lair and Stauffenberg at the Bendlerstrasse. From Wolf's Lair came regular reports that Hitler was alive and well. Using the telephone and teleprinters at his command, Stauffenberg countered with denials and issued fresh orders for the arrest of all SS and SD members throughout the Reich and the occupied territories.
General von Hase, the City Commandant, had ordered the Grossdeutschland Battalion to surround and seal all entrances and exits to a list of government buildings, including several housing the SS. The battalion was commanded by a young officer, Major Otto Remer, who had a distinguished combat record but whose loyalties had not been determined.
Major Remer followed orders; he surrounded the buildings he had been assigned and set up roadblocks around the government quarter. So far these were the only troops at the disposal of the coup. The police were held in readiness by Count Helldorf, who waited for instructions that never came.
A liaison officer between Remer's battalion and the Propaganda Ministry became suspicious of the orders and slipped off to see the Propaganda Minister, Josef Göbbels, in his apartment on the Hermann-Göringstrasse. When informed of the army's activities and the rumor that Hitler was dead, a shocked Göbbels agreed that Remer should be brought to him.
After some soul searching about his responsibility as an officer, Remer decided to answer Göbbels's summons. Following a brief discussion during which Göbbels ascertained Remer's loyalty to the Führer, he called Wolf's Lair. His call went through with no trouble, demonstrating once again the fatal error on the part of the conspirators of failing to close down even civilian communications within Berlin.
Göbbels explained the situation in Berlin, as he now knew it, to Hitler, and handed the phone to Remer. This single brief telephone conversation was the turning point in Berlin, and it spelled ultimate disaster for the coup. Hitler told Remer that a failed attempt had been made on his life. He placed Remer in charge of all troops in Berlin and instructed him to arrest anyone involved in the coup, and to shoot all who resisted him.
This was an intoxicating moment for the young major. Hitler had made him his personal military representative in Berlin, responsible to the Führer only. If Remer had been part of the resistance, perhaps it might have had a better chance at success. Remer immediately recalled his own troops and took control of all other units the coup leaders had ordered into the city. He then surrounded the Replacement Army headquarters on the Bendlerstrasse, signifying to anyone who cared to took that the coup against the Nazi government had failed.
Major Remer surrounded the Replacement Army Operations Center at the Bendlerstrasse, and even worse, Himmler was en route to Berlin to take command of all troop formations in the city and to deal with the traitors.
Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators, Häften, Olbricht and Mertz von Quirnheim, were arrested and taken to the inner courtyard of the Bendlerstrasse Headquarters where a firing squad was waiting. Several cars and trucks had been drawn in a semicircle with their lights focused on the row of sandbags where the condemned men stood silently. Seconds before the shots were fired, Stauffenberg shouted, "Long live holy Germany". In a final act of loyalty, Häften threw himself in front of Stauffenberg, who was merely wounded by the first round. A second volley was needed to finish him. The soul of the conspiracy against Hitler died at 12:30 A.M., 21 July 1944.
Before the second round of executions could be carried out, they were stopped by SS Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was acting as Himmler's personal representative, and SS Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, Himmler's choice to command the Replacement Army. They wanted prisoners who could be interrogated, not corpses.
At exactly 1:00 A.M., 21 July, Hitler broadcast a speech that was carried throughout occupied Europe. In his harsh, flat voice the Führer announced the unsuccessful attempt on his life: "Men and women of Germany, I do not know how many times there have been plans and attempts to assassinate me. If I speak to you today it is, first of all, in order that you should hear my voice and know that I am unhurt and well, secondly that you should know of a crime unparalleled in German history".
Hitler went on to identify Stauffenberg as the intended assassin of the Führer and high-level German military leaders. He called the conspirators a "small clique of ambitious, unscrupulous, and at the same time criminal and stupid officers". He compared them with the anonymous cowards who had stabbed the German army in the back in 1918. To emphasize that the plotters had not infected the army with their poison, he assured his listeners that "this circle of usurpers is very small and has nothing in common with the German Wehrmacht". They were, he went on, "a tiny gang of criminal elements that will be ruthlessly exterminated".
Hitler then described the measures he had taken to excise what he called "this tiny clique of traitors". Himmler was made Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army and charged with punishing the conspirators. "This time we are going to settle accounts with them in a manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed". These were chilling words for the conspirators. They knew exactly what Hitler had in store for them. Death would be a slow, torturous agony for the men who had plotted Hitler's death and the destruction of the Nazi government.
Hitler told Joachim von Ribbentrop: "I will crush and destroy the criminals who have dared to oppose themselves to Providence and to me. These traitors to their own people deserve ignominious death, and this is what they shall have. This time the full price will be paid by all those who are involved, and by their families, and by all those who have helped them. This nest of vipers who have tried to sabotage the grandeur of my Germany will be exterminated once and for all".
Just as quickly as the coup in Berlin had unravelled, so did the entire network of conspirators. Himmler turned the SD and the Gestapo loose in a bloodlust vengeance against anyone who was even remotely suspected of complicity in the assassination and the coup. When it was fully over, between six hundred and one thousand Germans had lost their lives. Some were executed just days before the war ended in a Nazi purge of all enemies.
Many of these men and women might have survived had it not been for the German penchant for keeping meticulous records of everything, even the conspiracies to kill Hitler. At the behest of both Beck and Oster, the Abwehr center of the conspiracy had kept copies of every memorandum, coup plan, lists of people to be arrested, and most incredible of all, the names of virtually everyone involved in the conspiracies since the first coup of 1938. It is probable that they hoped to give the world an accurate description of how these Germans opposed Hitler, but when this cache was discovered in a security zone safe on 22 September 1944, it spelled death for hundreds of people who otherwise might never have been suspected.
This record of the assassination plans altered the probe of the July 20 bombing. Originally the Gestapo worked under the impression that the attempt on Hitler's life was provoked by army officers who were unhappy with the course of the war, but now they knew that the planning had been going on for six years by officers and civilians who were anti-Nazi, and they now knew there had been several other attempts on Hitler's life. As a result, hundreds of new names were added to those slated to appear before the infamous People's Court for quick trial and execution.
The Nazis also ruthlessly applied their 'kith and kin' method of dealing with opponents. This meant that every member of a traitor's family, including those by marriage, was to be hunted down and exterminated. When it came to the Stauffenbergs, Hitler himself ordered that the entire family be "made harmless." On 3 August 1944, Himmler, now the undisputed master of Germany with all police, SS, and Home Army forces under his direct control, said the entire Stauffenberg family "will be exterminated down to its last member".
Colonel Stauffenberg's wife and four children were arrested and imprisoned. Freed by the Allies at the end of the war and pregnant at the time of her arrest, she gave birth to her fifth child while in prison.
In 2005, the Military Channel's show "Unsolved History" aired an episode titled 'Killing Hitler' in which each scenario was re-created using live explosives and test dummies. The results supported the conclusion that Hitler would have been killed had any of three other scenarios occurred::
Had Hitler in fact been killed by the plotters, some historians argue that the plot would have unfolded (and failed) in relatively the same fashion, but with Hermann Göring taking Hitler's place, and in turn ordering Major Remer to switch sides and arrest the plotters. A Nazi state under Göring, however, would have differed from a Hitler regime in being more receptive to peace with the Allies, and might also have 'cleaned house' of several fanatical Nazis, including many senior SS and Nazi Party leaders. [ie. Fest, Joachim. "Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of German Resistance". Holt Paperbacks. 1997
Walter S. Dunn, Jr. "Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Army, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler". Westport: Praeger, 2003. x + 180 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-275-97715-3.
Pierre Galante Silianoff, with Eugöne. "Operation Valkyrie: The German Generals' Plot against Hitler". New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002. 299 pp. $17.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8154-1179-6
Reviewed by James V. Koch (Old Dominion University)
Published on H-German (July, 2004)
The supply of new books dealing with World War II appears to be almost limitless. My February 2004 search on Amazon.com for books dealing with 'World War II' generated a mere 99,152 choices, of which several thousand had been added in the last year alone. Hence, one can be forgiven for expressing delight when a book appears that, if its arguments hold water, would shift dramatically how we interpret the last eighteen months of the war in Europe.
Walter S. Dunn Jr.'s "Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Army, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler" is such a book. Dunn's thesis is that some of the individuals who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944 deliberately withheld approximately 600,000 troops from the front lines in the first half of 1944 so that these troops could be used to buttress the plotters' coup. Dunn argues that "the formation of at least sixty new divisions would have been possible before June 1944" (p. xi) and that the destruction of Army Group Center in summer 1944 and the defeat of the Germans in Normandy might well have been averted, had these troops been made available. "The catastrophes in July and August 1944 were not mere coincidences" (p. xviii), argues Dunn, nor was the seemingly miraculous recovery of the Wehrmacht in Fall 1944.
Dunn asserts that except for the withholding of approximately 600,000 Replacement Army troops, the war "might have been prolonged for many months" (p. xviii) and, "with an additional twenty-eight divisions, Rundstedt could have halted the Allies short of Paris and lengthened the war by at least a year" (p. 111). Moreover, he suggests, the lives of approximately 765,000 German soldiers would not have been saved because rather than having been taken prisoner, they would have died in a prolonged war. Additionally, tens of thousands of concentration camp inmates would not have been rescued; the first atomic bomb might have been dropped on a German target; the wholesale destruction of additional German cities would have occurred; and hundreds of thousands of additional Allied troops would have died.
Dunn also argues that the actions of the Replacement Army changed the military outcome in such way that it allowed the Russians to occupy and dominate Central and Eastern Europe. Since "the astonishing victories on both the Eastern and the Western fronts in July and August were not solely the result of the brilliance of Allied commanders" (p. 157), Americans, British, and Russians as well as Germans "owe a debt of gratitude to the men who plotted to kill Hitler in July 1944" (p. 156). Here, he is not referring to the idealism the plotters exhibited, but rather to the life-saving consequences of their actions. These are strong assertions and are subjected to additional analysis below.
In contrast to Dunn's perspective-challenging work, Pierre Galante's version of the July 20, 1944 plot against Adolf Hitler treads familiar territory, oft-described. Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a Wehrmacht veteran, who had been badly wounded in North Africa, and Chief of Staff of the Wehrmacht's several million man Replacement Army, placed a bomb underneath a table in the briefing room of the Führer in Rastenburg, East Prussia, on July 20, 1944. Hitler was present and was badly shaken by the explosion, which killed several others in the room. Had the bomb not been repositioned by an unsuspecting individual shortly before its explosion, then perhaps Hitler would have died as well. Further, had the briefing been held in the usual enclosed Bunker, it seems likely everyone in the room would have perished. But Adolf Hitler survived, and after some disorientation, emerged with the notion that Providence had spared him. Later that day, he hosted the visiting Benito Mussolini and set in motion a cycle of revenge that was to claim the lives of at least two thousand individuals.
Many historians already have written about these events. A particularly readable version is James Duffy and Vincent Ricci's "Target Hitler: The Plots to Kill Adolf Hitler" (1992). However, Hans Bernd Gisevius's "To the Bitter End" (1947), Fabian von Schlabrendorff and Gero v. S. Gaevernitz's "Revolt against Hitler" (1948), Constantine FitzGibbon's "20 July" (1956), Wilhelm Schramm's "Conspiracy among Generals" (1956), Gerhard Ritter's "The German Resistance" (1958), Hans Rothfels's "The German Resistance to Hitler" (1962), Terence Prittie's "Germans against Hitler" (1964), Fabian von Schlabrendorff's "The Secret War against Hitler" (1965), Joachim Kramarz's "Stauffenberg" (1969), Hans-Adolf Jacobsen's edited volume, "July 20, 1944" (1969), Harold Deutsch's "The Conspiracy Against Hitler in the Twilight War" (1968), James Forman's "Code Name Valkyrie" (1973), Ger van Roon's "German Resistance to Hitler" (1971), Pierre Galante's "Hitler Lives" (1982), and Peter Hoffmann's "German Resistance to Hitler" (1988) previously mined this material, most quite extensively. Consequently, there is very little new that one can write about the assassination plot unless one has discovered new research sources. Galante does not make that claim.
An endemic challenge for writers such as Galante is assessing the worth of the stylized versions of events offered by German leaders who survived the war. While these renditions can provide valuable insights and perspective to the Third Reich's activities, many constitute sanitized apologias for the authors' conduct. Where the assassination plot against Adolf Hitler is concerned, Albert Speer and Heinz Guderian provide instructive examples. Both individuals were in contact with the plotters, though both declined to participate. Even so, Speer was penciled in as the Minister of Armaments in the prospective post-coup government.
Adolf Heusinger was among those injured in the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life. His successor as Chief of Staff (officially Acting Chief) was Heinz Guderian. He seems to have been at least aware of the assassination plot, and probably indirectly approved. Certainly Guderian authorized temporarily delaying the movement from Berlin to the Eastern Front of some armored units the conspirators intended to use to take control of the capital after Hitler’s death. On 20 July he took pains to be absolutely elsewhere: hunting by himself on his new estate in East Prussia. Though Guderian was able to sidestep the suspicion that fell on him, there seems to be little doubt that he would have served a new government with the same competence with which he continued to serve Hitler: a combination of ambition, opportunism, and patriotism, marinated in an increasing level of fatalism.
For the record Guderian referred to his appointment as a burden he felt compelled to accept. He briefly underwrote Hitler’s perspective by denouncing proposals for withdrawal as defeatism and pessimism. Whether that behavior reflected opportunistic gratitude for his promotion or lack of information on what was really happening in Russia remains unknown—perhaps even to Guderian himself.
After the plot, both condemned the plotters. Speer commented soon after the coup that it would have been "an utter disaster" for Germany, and both issued conspicuous protestations of their loyalty to Adolf Hitler and their faith in ultimate victory, though they later recanted.  Speer offered advice to the Reich's elite on how best to put down the generals' rebellion, while Guderian transmitted strong statements to German troops underlining the need for absolute loyalty, support of National Socialism, and faith in the Führer.
In the very different atmosphere after the war, Speer (and to a lesser extent Guderian) joined many other German military figures in expressing their underlying sympathy for the plotters or their motives. Further, they provided lengthy descriptions of their frustrations with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Speer's "Inside the Third Reich" (1970) quickly became a best seller and led to two other major efforts, "Spandau: The Secret Diaries" (1976) and "Infiltration" (1981), each of which further developed an intricate layer of explanations for numerous pieces of embarrassing evidence. Both Speer and Guderian may have been genuine in the interpretations they promoted for their own actions before and after the 1944 coup. Nonetheless, the pictures they paint have struck many historians as self-serving distortions of what actually occurred. Speer's motives and actions have been especially subject to critical analysis and the reputation he sought to establish as 'the good Nazi' emerged badly battered.  Matthias Schmidt, for example, heaped ridicule on Speer's report that he planned to assassinate Adolf Hitler with poison gas in April 1945, but lacked (inter alia) a ladder.
These discussions illustrate why one must be cautious in accepting the reminiscences of those who survived the attempted assassination on Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Just as victors usually inherit the privilege of writing the initial military histories of conflicts, the defeated have a strong incentive in their writings to mold and sweeten the victors' perceptions of them. Speer wanted to avoid the gallows. Guderian wished to stay out of jail and resume a more normal life, perhaps even being called upon for military consultations by the Western allies.
On 21 July 1944, after the failure of the 20 July Plot to assassinate Hitler, in which Guderian had no direct involvement, Guderian was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army (Chef des Generalstabs des Heeres) succeeding Kurt Zeitzler who had departed on 1 July after multiple conflicts with Adolf Hitler.
As a result of the July Plot, Guderian demanded the resignation of any officer who did not fully support the ideals of the Nazi Party. Over the next few months Guderian sat with Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Keitel on the Army Court of Honor that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to the policies of Adolf Hitler. This removed them from court martial jurisdiction and turned them over to Roland Freisler and his People's Court.
Guderian and his staff surrendered to U.S. forces on 10 May 1945. He remained as a prisoner of war in U.S. custody until his release on 17 June 1948. His conduct was investigated and no charges were brought. After the war he was often invited to attend meetings of British veterans' groups, where he analyzed past battles with his old foes. During the early 1950s he advised on the re-establishment of military forces in West Germany. The reformed military was called the Bundeswehr.
Most other survivors who were party to the plot had postwar motives as well.
There is a prima facie case to be made that anyone close to Adolf Hitler, who did survive the July 1944 plot, either was not significantly involved in the plot (despite their postwar statements), or was exceedingly clever and duplicitous in his dealings with the Gestapo after that date. Two highly placed German officers who were party to the plot and did survive, despite intense interrogations, were General Adolf Heusinger (who actually was present in the briefing room when the bomb exploded), and Hans Speidel, the Chief of Staff to Erwin Rommel, and who later became commander of the land forces of NATO, 1957-63. Yet, most others who were involved at any significant level were swept up in the blood rage unleashed by the Nazis after the plot and were executed or, like Rommel, forced to commit suicide. Very few genuine plotters escaped and, on occasion, their family members were jailed or executed as well. Even individuals such as the noncommittal head of the Replacement Army, General Friedrich Fromm, ultimately were destroyed. Fromm attempted to distance himself from the assassination attempt by disowning the coup within hours after the bomb exploded and arresting several of the participants for treason. It was for naught, and he was executed in March 1945.
Thus, if someone did survive, it is likely he was not at the core of the plot and therefore probably could not have been party to the word-for-word conversations authors such as Galante report. Of course, some transcripts do exist and some individuals did survive. That said, much of the writing about the July 1944 assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler is based upon second-hand recollections. In a court of law, such conversations would be regarded as impermissible hearsay. In written history, they are interesting contributions that must be checked with great care (and often with skepticism) against other available evidence.
The bottom line is that Galante's contribution reads well and will be useful to readers who have not encountered this material elsewhere. However, it does not present new research or innovative interpretations and a nontrivial portion of the book's content is based upon conversations of participants who wanted to improve their position in history. This is hardly a new phenomenon to historians, but is especially relevant to World War II Germany because of the attempts of many individuals to distance themselves from the undeniable evil of the Nazi regime.
Walter S. Dunn Jr.'s provocative hypotheses concerning military events in Europe in 1944 present interpretations fundamentally different from the conventional wisdom on these matters. Using data relating to the activities of the German Replacement Army, he argues that the plotters deliberately withheld 600,000 troop replacements from the front lines and that this resulted in the Wehrmacht's summer 1944 debacles on both the Eastern and Western fronts. Consequently, he says, the Wehrmacht lost more men in July and August 1944 than it did for the entire period of June 1943 through May 1944, and its ground forces were thrown back to the borders of the Reich.
Germany's Replacement Army consisted of new recruits being trained for combat roles, occupation troops, certain prison camp guards, troops in divisions being refitted and restored, and wounded veterans returned from convalescence. In June 1941, there were 1,400,000 men in the Replacement Army, including 1,000,000 training and 200,000 recuperating from wounds. By June 1944, however, the number of individuals in the Replacement Army had leaped to 2,500,000 (pp. 71-72), up from 1,500,000 in June 1943 (p. 28). These troops, Dunn argues repetitively, were retained by the conspirators in the Replacement Army and denied to the front line divisions. Thus, replacements "dwindled to a trickle" in the first seven months of 1944 (p. 67). For example, only 10,000 replacements were sent to Normandy in the first six weeks after the invasion even though German forces had sustained 110,000 casualties (p. xvii). This is because the Replacement Army "was hoarding a large number of men in its training battalions" (p. 7).
In support of his hypothesis, Dunn reports that fifty-four new German divisions quickly were created in the six weeks after the coup from the bulging surplus of Replacement Army troops (p. 78). Thus, after the failure of the coup, and after Adolf Hitler and the General Staff had reasserted their control over the Replacement Army, Germany was able to produce a surprisingly large number of troops to stabilize both the Eastern and Western fronts.
In the year ending October 1943, Dunn reports, the Eastern Front alone received an average of 100,000 replacements per month (p. 46). He believes the Replacement Army was capable of providing 1,500,000 replacements per year (p. 47). But, he says, nothing close to this occurred in the first seven months of 1944 because the plotters intended to use Replacement Army troops to support their coup. Under the guise of putting down rebellion, Replacement Army Troops were to be used to capture and imprison major Nazi leaders, control communications and media, neutralize and, as necessary, fight the few Waffen SS troops inside Germany, and put down any civil insurrections that might occur after Adolf Hitler had been assassinated.
A model for this activity already existed. In summer 1941, the head of the Replacement Army, General Fromm, had devised a program code-named Walküre (Valkyrie) to utilize the Replacement Army in case of an internal crisis. The Reich's leaders worried about the possibility of civil disruption because of the increasing presence of foreign laborers, Hiwis (Hilfswillige or volunteers, though many Hiwis were not true volunteers), and prisoners of war inside Germany. Further, the increasing intensity of bombing might devastate the ability of local governments to react and thus require a quick infusion of troops to avoid looting, provide food and water, and maintain order. Indeed, some Replacement Army troops were utilized to restore order and provide critical services after the fire bombing of Hamburg in July 1943.
Walküre orders were highly secret and few individuals knew of them. No Nazi party or SS organizations were included in the plan, which focused upon providing an immediate military response. Hence, the conspirators could mobilize the Replacement Army and move it about without party knowledge or approval. The problem was that General Fromm personally had to issue appropriate orders to the various Replacement Army districts to activate Walküre. While Fromm was at least somewhat knowledgeable of the plotters' plans (Dunn skirts this issue), he never signed onto the conspiracy and, on July 20, 1944, would refuse to issue appropriate orders to initiate Walküre. As soon as he learned that Adolf Hitler had not been killed, he turned on the conspirators, arrested several, and trumpeted his loyalty to the established order.
The Replacement Army conspirators (whom Dunn never really identifies, other than Stauffenberg and a few others) were able to engage in their subterfuge, he argues, because of the inherent flux in the Replacement Army's activities. The Replacement Army was organized and operated on a decentralized, Länder basis, and this prevented easy monitoring. Further, some of the personnel streams into the Replacement Army (such as the recuperated wounded) were necessarily unpredictable. (There were 700,000 members of the Wehrmacht in hospitals in June 1944.)
Dunn ultimately concedes that he has "no 'smoking gun'" (p. xi), because no evidence is available in writing that ordered the Replacement Army to slow down the flow of replacements to the front lines in early 1944. Nor does he provide any evidence that the disposition and alert status of Replacement Army troops changed throughout Germany just prior to the assassination attempt. "I have only a statistical indication that more than 600,000 German troops did not move from the Replacement Army to the field army between February and July 1944" (p. xi). One must agree with Dunn that the statistical evidence is intriguing. However, other explanations could account for much that he reports.
First, and foremost, the quality of the Replacement Army troops had been declining over time and these troops now required more training and supervision. As the Reich began to scrape the bottom of its manpower barrel, increasingly it drafted many Volksdeutsche, some of whom, by the Reich's own measurements, were of doubtful loyalty and did not consider themselves to be German. Further, the native German pool of draftees now was dominated by very young men (sixteen and seventeen year olds) and much older men (forty to fifty year olds) and individuals with health problems (the so-called "stomach troops" because so many had stomach and other physical ailments). Such individuals required more training, especially if they were going to be inserted into new divisions in which up to 15 percent of the personnel might be foreign Hiwis. Second, it is possible that the Reich was saving some Replacement Army troops to build reserves in anticipation either of countering Allied thrusts, or of launching an offensive similar to the Ardennes offensive in December 1944. Third, it is plausible that the ranks of the Replacement Army had swelled because Allied bombing had made it necessary for more of these personnel to be used for one of Walküre's original purposes--restoring order and public services after particularly severe bombing raids. During the spring and summer of 1944, the Allies pounded Germany from the air, particularly the Ruhr Gebiet, and placed severe strains on the ability of local governments to react. Fourth, by 1944, 7,500,000 foreign laborers had been brought to Germany, plus another 2,000,000 prisoners of war, in order to release German men for military duties. Fully 50 percent of Krupp's labor force had been dragooned from such pools. Some in the Reich thought such individuals easily could become a major source of instability if they sensed a breakdown in conventional order and authority. The Replacement Army was seen as an antidote to this and its ranks swelled as more German men moved from civilian jobs to military service. Fifth, it is plausible that the increased size of the Replacement Army reflected the need to replace the substantial losses the Wehrmacht experienced in 1943. Among these were Stalingrad, which gobbled the equivalent of more than thirty divisions, and the end game in North Africa, which consumed the equivalent of almost twenty divisions. In summer 1943, the slugfest in and around Kursk may have cost the Germans up to 500,000 casualties. More disasters were to follow in early 1944 in locations such as Cherkassy. These placed unprecedented demands on the Replacement Army to expand its ranks. Sixth, Dunn places considerable emphasis upon the low replacement rate of German front line troops in summer 1944. However, a perusal of other sources, such as Jason Mark's detailed study of the German 24th Panzer Division at Stalingrad in 1942, reveals that the ratio of replacements this unit received relative to casualties was not much different than the low rates Dunn reports for Normandy in 1944.  In fact, in the later years of the war, most German divisions did not have their manpower replenished rapidly, and sometimes hardly at all, until they were withdrawn from the line for refitting.
Do these other possibilities, taken together, account for all of the expansion of the Replacement Army in early 1944? Perhaps not. Do they explain the penurious flow of reinforcements to the Wehrmacht prior to the assassination attempt? Again, perhaps not, but it is difficult to say. Dunn is the first historian to make such extensive use of the Wehrmacht's personnel files in this fashion and deserves kudos for doing so. However, the considerations raised here should inspire caution in our interpretation of his work, while at the same time providing incentive for further research.
Once solved, most good murder mysteries not only have a crime, but also a clear motive and an identifiable culprit. In the curious case of the Replacement Army, the apparent "crime" is the dramatically reduced flow of men to the front lines. The motives for this, however, are not yet clear. Nor are the identities of the perpetrators transparent. Hence, one can compliment Dunn for opening our gaze to data that previously have been given cursory attention, and applaud the challenge his research poses for World War II history, without necessarily subscribing to all of his theses.
. Dan Van Der Vat, "The Good Nazi: The Life and Lies of Albert Speer" (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), p. 211.
. Matthias Schmidt, "Albert Speer: The End of a Myth", trans. Joachim Neugroschel (New York: St. Martin's, 1984); Gitta Sereny, "Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and Van Der Vat, "The Good Nazi".
. Jason D. Mark, "Death of the Leaping Horseman: 24. Panzer-Division in Stalingrad" (Sydney, Australia: Southwood Press, 2002).
Citation: James V. Koch. "Review of Dunn, Walter S., Jr., 'Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Army, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler' and Silianoff, Pierre Galante, with Eugöne, 'Operation Valkyrie: The German Generals' Plot against Hitler'." H-German, H-Net Reviews. July, 2004.
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RFA bombing 1945, April 25, Obersalzberg
In reaction to the American bombing of the Milan hotel the British bombed the Obersalzberg. Hitler was in Berlin at the time.
Speer's 'attack', February 1945, Führerbunker, Berlin
In February, 1945, Albert Speer, Hitler’s Armaments Minister, came to the conclusion that his Führer was deliberately committing high treason against his own people. It was then that Speer decided that Hitler must be eliminated. During one of his many walks in the Chancellery gardens he took note of a ventilation shaft leading to Hitler’s Bunker. An idea formed in his mind and he discreetly asked the head of munitions production, Dieter Stahl, if he could procure some of the new gas, Tabun, which he intended to conduct into the ventilation shaft of the bunker. Stahl, who was sympathetic to the idea, revealed that Tabun was effective only after an explosion and would not be suitable for the purpose which Speer intended. Another gas had to be found but the whole idea was thwarted when armed SS sentries were placed around the bunker entrances and on the roof. A chimney had also been built around the ventilation shaft to a height of ten feet which put the air-intake of the shaft out of reach.
At the Nuremburg Trials Speer gave evidence to the fact that in February 1945 he had started to formulate a plan to use Poison Gas against Hitler in his Bunker. The idea never really got off the ground for a number of reasons. He said at his trail that he had approached the head of munitions production Dieter Stahl, with whom Speer had particularly intimate relations, since he had worked in close co-operation with him during the war years. I frankly told him of my intention, as his testimony shows. I asked him to procure some of the new poison gas for me from the munitions production. Stahl, then inquired of one of his associates, Lieut.-Col. Soyka, of the Army Ordnance Branch, as to how to get hold of this poison gas;; it turned out that this new poison gas was only effective when made to explode, as a high temperature was necessary to render it effective.
An explosion was not possible, however, as this air-conditioning plant was made of thin sheets of tin, which would have been torn to pieces by the explosion. Thereupon, I had conferences with Hanschel, the chief engineer of the Chancellery, starting in the middle of March, 1945, and I managed to arrange that the anti-gas filter should no longer be switched on continuously. In this way I would have been able to use the ordinary type of gas. Naturally, Hanschel had no knowledge of the purpose for which I was conducting the talks with him. When the time came, I inspected the ventilator in the garden of the Chancellery, along with Hanschel, and there I discovered that on Hitler's personal order this ventilator had recently been surrounded by a chimney four metres high. That can still be ascertained today. Due to this it was no longer possible to carry out my plan.
-- Albert Speer
The Trial of German Major War Criminals
Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
20th June to 1st July 1946
One Hundred and Fifty-Ninth Day: Thursday, 20th June, 1946
This whole plot was part of Speers mitigation which formed his defence at the Nuremburg trials. He originally dropped the bombshell by asking Franz von Papen's attorney to ask the head of the SS Security Service Otto Ohlendorf during his cross examination if he had ever heard of any plot by Speer to assassinate Hitler, obviously he had not but he achieved his purpose by bringing it to the attention of the court.
The subject was raised at a later sitting and examined in depth.
For more info read "Speer:The final Verdict" by Joachim Fest, "The Bunker" by James P O'Donnell and "Inside the Third Reich" by Albert Speer