The bombing of July 20, 1944 was a failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler , 1 carried out by a group of Wehrmacht officers organized by Colonel Count Claus von Stauffenberg as part of a coup d’état based on the so-called Operation Valkyrie , an operational plan of the army reserves to be put into practice in case of civil unrest or an uprising of the millions of workers of the German factories.
Stauffenberg placed a bomb in a map room inside the Wolf ‘s Den , Hitler’s headquarters, where he was meeting with his generals. In spite of having exploded the bomb, Hitler only suffered slight injuries. As a result of the failure of the attack, about five thousand people were arrested, of which about two hundred were executed.
The project to overthrow Adolf Hitler began to take shape in a diffused and overlapping way in 1938, by some high officials of the Wehrmacht eager to avoid a great war on a European scale. Among these conspirators were General Ludwig Beck , former chief of staff, and Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben ; But the indecision of army generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch prevented such plans from being carried out, while the policy of appeasement pursued by the United Kingdom and France in those years discouraged them from carrying out a concrete act against the Nazi regime.
After the resonant triumphs of the Wehrmacht in the invasions of Poland , Norway , France , Belgium and the Netherlands , the popularity of Adolf Hitler increased greatly among the German masses and officers of the Wehrmacht were no strangers to this phenomenon, which At the end of 1940 it became very difficult to recruit conspirators determined to overthrow the triumphant regime until then. The plans stagnated and the opponents dispersed, despite which the plans were not thrown out pending a new political opportunity.
In 1941, after the start of Operation Barbarossa , another resistance group was formed led by Colonel Henning von Tresckow , who worked as part of the General Staff of General Fedor von Bock , his uncle. Tresckow thought that the war against the Soviet Union was lost beforehand and that it would bleed Germany in men and resources, placing it before an abyss like nation. The recruitment of opponents was very difficult. It was done with great caution and very discreetly in the residences of the ringleaders and outside of Berlin.
Added to this was the fact that the Wehrmacht’s outstanding triumphs on the Eastern Front during 1941 discouraged most of the officers from engaging in a conspiracy against Hitler, while acknowledging the danger to Germany of a war against the Soviet Union . From there Von Tresckow recruited new conspirators among the German officers, but his plans could not advance much because of the results of the battle of Moscow in December 1941, where the German advance was totally stopped by the Red Army which meant that Hitler Removed Fedor von Bock command of the Army Group Center , while General Walther von Brauchitsch was also relieved of troop control in a humiliating manner. Tresckow tried to recruit General Brauchitsch but he replied that he would not join any dissident group; But would not do anything to prevent his performance.
In 1942 Tresckow, with the help of General Hans Oster, was able to recruit General Friedrich Olbricht , who headed the army’s headquarters in Berlin , controlling there an autonomous communications system linking the military reserve units still stationed in Territory of Germany . At the end of the year, Tresckow and Olbricht attempted to assassinate Hitler with barometric bombs twice, once at the Smolensk airfield and the other in Berlin, but both plans failed because of the artifact failure. They also sought unsuccessfully to join their conspiracy with Field Marshals Erich von Manstein and Gerd von Rundstedt , two veteran veterans who enjoyed great prestige in the Wehrmacht for their successes and knowledge of tactics in combat, who could help an effective overthrow of the Nazi regime and not a mere murder of Hitler and, although these refused to join the overthrow , did not denounce the conspiracy.
There was a Third Reich military emergency plan called Operation Valkiria , intended to be used in the event of a massive revolt of foreign workers enslaved in Germany or in a situation of grave civil chaos in the rear due to aerial bombardments. This plan involved the mobilization of Wehrmacht units to restore authority and could be used according to Olbricht for reserve military units to take control of cities by arresting Nazi leaders and disarming the SS and Gestapo after the death of Hitler. This plan was to be implemented by veteran General Friedrich Fromm , head of the German military reserves, and to ensure the success of the coup, it was necessary to recruit Fromm into the conspiracy or neutralize it if necessary, since there were doubts about His probable loyalty. Even in mid-1944 the conspiracy obtained a new support in the General Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel , top leader of the German garrisons in France , who offered after the death of Hitler take control of Paris and negotiate an immediate armistice with the troops US And advancing British and French resistance . The plan was approved in the circle of Tresckow, only had to elucidate how, where and when it was going to take place.
The defeats of German troops between 1942 and early 1944 in which the bloody fighting in Kharkov took place and the breakup of the Korsun-Cherkassy Siege made it difficult to assassinate Hitler, since Hitler no longer appeared in public unlike in past years And spent most of his time not in Berlin, but in his military headquarters known as Wolfschanze (‘Wolf’s Den’) in East Prussia , or in his Alpine refuge in Berchtesgaden . In both places Hitler was very well protected by SS troops and did not receive anyone personally but his closest collaborators, especially after SS chief Heinrich Himmler began to suspect through the management of the Gestapo Concerning plans between Wehrmacht officers to assassinate Hitler. The plan, due to this reason, was already doomed to fail if the maximum objective was not met, assassinate the leader and apprehend the Nazi leadership.
Plans for a coup d’état
Since 1938, groups of opposition to the Nazi regime existed in such a large dependence as the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs , where Ulrich von Hasell , Friedrich Graf von der Schulenburg and Adam von Trott zu Solz , all professional diplomats, were actively working in a network of Opponents of Hitler. Another entity full of activity of opposition to the Nazi regime was the military intelligence service, Abwehr , led by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, where General Hans Oster collaborated, a convinced antinazi protected by Canaris, who managed to incorporate in his circle the former president of the Reichsbank Hjalmar Schacht .
To these already widespread groups was joined the secret network of opponents formed since 1938 by the former mayor of Leipzig , right-wing conservative Carl Friedrich Goerdeler , along with another politician of the same current, Johannes Popitz , they would later join the socialist Julius Leber in his effort to prepare plans for a toppling of Hitler and a new government for Germany. At the same time another secret opposition group, the “Kreisau Circle” headed by Helmuth James Graf von Moltke , a senior official of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was forming. All these groups began to meet as one entity in 1943.
Even though by 1943 all these groups joined the conspirators already existing within the Wehrmacht , civilian circles showed great differences among their members, there were monarchists, conservatives, liberals, socialists, former aristocrats, whose only common point was to be the Need to end the Nazi regime.
Despite this, some plans were drawn up for a government that had to be installed after the assassination of Hitler and the overthrow of the Nazi regime : it was agreed that General Ludwig Beck would be in the position of “President of the Reich”, as it existed in the extinct Republic of Weimar , Goerdeler would be named foreign minister , to Julius Leber be entrusted the Ministry of Interior and the quarterback Erwin von Witzleben would be commander in chief of the Wehrmacht . Another key element was to end the war by a negotiated peace, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs being entrusted to Friedrich Graf von der Schulenburg (the last ambassador of the Third Reich in Moscow ) if negotiations were to be conducted first with the Soviet Union . To negotiate first with the United Kingdom or United States said position would be entrusted to Ulrich von Hasell . A secret list was drawn up which also included Minister Albert Speer , with the annotation “If possible”.
General Heinz Guderian was also tried, but the exact details of his response are generally lacking. 2 From September 1943, Claus von Stauffenberg organized several projects of attacks against Adolf Hitler, all of which failed (for example Axel von dem Bussche in November 1943). From the beginning of 1943, the Gestapo itself investigated on a possible conspiracy against Hitler , which was not difficult task since most of the implicated ones were well-known military chiefs. Nevertheless the head of the Abwehr, Wilhelm Canaris , had also known the existence of such conspiracy; But he did not repress it as long as Canaris himself supported the idea of overthrowing Hitler. Canaris transmitted to the conspirator group that the existence of the plan was known by the Gestapo to the control of Ernst Kaltenbrunner .
The increasing possibility of being discovered by the Gestapo and the rapid Allied victory in the Battle of Normandy caused deep concern among the conspirators about the limited time they had left to execute their projects before a total military collapse of the Third Reich that would cause the destruction Of Germany and of themselves, besides the fact that the Gestapo knew the plan already marked to the main leaders automatically as traitors to the Third Reich , there was no turning back. It is noteworthy that according to the plans recovered after 1945 , the conspirators had as basic concern to avoid the ruin of their country, prevent Germany from suffering a disastrous foreign invasion, and seek a return to the European status quo prior to September 1 , 1939 , Although expelling Nazism from power .
The 1 of July of 1944 Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was it added to the headquarters of the Reserve Army in Berlin , as chief of staff of General Friedrich Fromm , which allowed him to attend the conference of Hitler with senior military commanders, outside In Berlin, in East Prussia , or in Berchtesgaden , this open door unexpectedly accelerated the execution of the plan. It should be noted that Fromm, a very ambiguous personality, already knew the plans of the conspirators, but in his internal heart decided not to show signs of absolute participation and waiting for the development of events.
Such an appointment caused Stauffenberg himself to pressure Tresckow to execute the coup plot, while now Stauffenberg was the best-placed executive plotter to assassinate Hitler.
Members of the plot against Hitler
|Main implicated in attack of 20 of July of 1944|
Head of the Reserve Forces in Berlin.
Executed the 12 of March of 1945.
|Werner Karl von Haeften ,
Assistant to Claus von Stauffenberg.
Executed in Bendlerblock, 20 of July of 1944.
|Günther von Kluge
He committed suicide on August 18, 1944.
|Carl-Heinrich von Stülpnagel
General of the Army, in charge of taking control of the SS and the Wehrmacht in Paris, France.
Executed in Plötzensee, 30 of August of 1944.
|Henning von Tresckow
General of the Wehrmacht.
Artificer of several antientados failed against Hitler. He committed suicide on July 21, 1944.
One of the main instigators.
He committed suicide on July 20, 1944.
|Berthold Schenk Graf v. Stauffenberg
Lawyer and brother of Claus von Stauffenberg .
Hanged the 10 of August of 1944.
General of the Wehrmacht The intellectual
author of Operation Walkiria.
Executed the 20 of July of 1944.
|Carl Friedrich Goerdeler Politician
82nd Future chancellor in case of Putsch success .
Tortured and executed on February 2, 1945.
Only member of the high ranking SS involved in the plot.
Executed the 21 of March of 1945.
general of the Wehrmacht Intelligence
officer of the Abwehr.
Hanged on April 9, 1945.
|Erwin von Witzleben
Instigator of the Putsch.
Hanged on August 8, 1944.
|Claus von Stauffenberg
Colonel IG (Reserve Army Staff)
Executive author of the attack.
Filed on July 21, 1944.
Head of the Abwehr (OKW Intelligence).
Hanged on April 9, 1945.
Member of the Kreisau Circle.
He was deported to Dachau, survived the war.
|Helmuth James Graf von Moltke
Jurist and aristocrat
Instigator and founder of the Kreisau Circle.
Hanged on January 23, 1945.
|Putsch criticizers loyal to the Nazi regime|
|Otto Ernst Remer
Colonel, Reserve Army
Commander Chief executive officer of the Putsch ‘s failure to take control of the reserve army.
General of the Wehrmacht
He occupied Berlin with his mechanized body taking control of Bendlerblock.
Minister of Propaganda.
He convinced Otto Remmer that Hitler lived and took control of communications.
Marshal of the Field
He told Friedrich Fromm that Hitler was alive and that he disengaged himself from the Putsch by condemning him to failure.
Thursday, July 20, 1944
At the beginning of July 1944 Von Stauffenberg had already attended two Hitler military conferences with a powerful bomb hidden in his briefcase but had not activated it because according to Goerdeler and Beck it was necessary that along with Hitler also their possible successors Hermann Goering And Heinrich Himmler ; One of those opportunities had been presented on Saturday, July 15. The presence of Stauffenberg obeyed the necessity of creating 15 new divisions to cover the breaches of the Group of Armies Center, task that had been commissioned by Hitler to the same Himmler; Therefore the Reserve Army was put at the disposal of the Reichsführer of the SS.
That Saturday, July 15, 1944, a miscommunication caused General Friedrich Fromm to partially start Operation Valkiria believing that Hitler had been killed, but with great effort the total mobilization of troops was stopped, claiming that the call for it was only one Practice exercise. Major Otto Remer in charge of the units was perplexed by the situation. This inconvenience caused a bad impression of the organization of conspiratorial groups to Fromm.
On Tuesday, July 18, Stauffenberg learned that the Gestapo could arrest him at any time and decided to kill Hitler on the first viable occasion. For this he left Berlin by plane on the morning of Thursday, July 20, towards Rastenburg , East Prussia ; 15 km east of this population the military barracks was called Hitler Wolfsschanze ( “Wolf ‘s Lair ‘) and Stauffenberg went there with a couple of plastic bombs hidden in his briefcase. He was accompanied by Major von Haeften as an assistant.
Hitler’s military conference with other military commanders began in a large room shortly after noon, with quarterback Wilhelm Keitel , Generals Alfred Jodl , Walter Warlimont, and other senior officers, including Stauffenberg, skirting a huge Table with maps; Minutes after the meeting began Stauffenberg, who arrived late, activated the bomb in his briefcase in a room next to Haeften. He entered the meeting and got as close as he could to Hitler, placed the briefcase very close to Hitler’s feet and then asked permission to withdraw for a few minutes outside the premises, claiming a call to be received, leaving his briefcase in the room next to The big table. One of the assistants tripped over the briefcase and placed it behind one of the pedestals of the large table.
At 12:40 the bomb exploded with great force, seriously destroying the conference room, killing four officers and severely wounding five others, but leaving Hitler , Jodl and Keitel with only relatively minor injuries. Nevertheless, Stauffenberg observed the smoke from outside the Wolfsschanze, and assumed that it was impossible that Hitler had survived and with great difficulty was able to leave Wolfsschanze discarding the bomb that had not used and returned to Berlin at 13:00 believing that Hitler was dead.
Shortly before 15:00, General Friedrich Fromm received a call from Rastenburg of General Erich Fellgiebel , of the Signal Corps and participant of the conspiracy, who warned his other accomplices that Hitler had survived the attack. Such news alerted the conspirators gathered in the Bendlerblock because they calculated (perhaps correctly) that if Adolf Hitler was alive the reserve troops would not obey the mobilization of the “Valkyrie Operation” ordered by Fromm. In the Wolfsschanze meanwhile , was supposed at first an aerial bombardment, but in the absence of reports of enemy planes in the area, it was suspected of an attack. Himmler was immediately called along with Kaltenbrunner; Martin Bormann was the first to suspect Stauffenberg for not being among the wounded or present. Additionally, soldiers of the guard found a package: it was the second bomb that had not been used by the conspirators. By that time, the confusion between the conspirators had increased the fact that Stauffenberg later telephoned General Fromm at 15:00, having landed in Berlin and assured the other conspirators that Hitler had died. At 16:00 and with two contradictory versions of different conspirators, General Olbricht issued the order to start Operation Valkiria and mobilize available reserve troops, but shortly Fromm telephoned Rastenburg and spoke with Marshal Of field Wilhelm Keitel and this one (oblivious to the conspiracy) assured him that Hitler was alive, as well as asking him about the whereabouts of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg .
At 16:40 Stauffenberg arrived at the Bendlerblock and Fromm in an act of absolute cynicism tried to arrest him immediately (believed to erase evidence of his participation in the plot) but failed to be seconded by Olbricht or other officers. At that time, however, Heinrich Himmler had taken steps to have the SS put an end to the attempted coup and ordered the troops of the rest of Germany not to obey the mobilization of Operation Valkyrie. The ministerial seat of Joseph Goebbels was surrounded by the garrison troops of Berlin believers in the orders of Fromm and Olbricht; But Goebbels still had the telephone line not cut by the conspirators.
The turning point came at 19:00, when Hitler was sufficiently recovered to call. Hitler could call Goebbels, who arranged for him to speak with the commander of the troops surrounding his ministry, Major Otto Remer , to persuade him that he was alive and demand that he immediately repress the revolt in Berlin ; That same night Hitler ordered Major Remer to be promoted to colonel. At 20:00 a furious Witzleben arrived at the Benderblock and argued angrily with Stauffenberg, who still insisted that the coup could continue. Witzleben left the building soon after. At about this time the seizure of power in Paris had been aborted, when General Stülpnagel was arrested by General Günther von Kluge (another participant who disregarded the conspiracy to learn that Hitler had survived).
The less resolute members of the conspiracy in Berlin then began to change sides. The battle broke out in the Bendlerblock between the plotters who supported the coup and those loyal to Hitler (among the latter is General Friedrich Fromm) and Stauffenberg was wounded. General Ludwig Beck , convinced that there was no hope, committed suicide (the first of many suicides committed in the following days). By 23:00 General Fromm was released and had regained control of the Bendlerblock, destroying traces of his collaboration with the conspirators, arrested von Stauffenberg along with General Friedrich Olbricht , Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim, and Stauffenberg’s assistant Werner von Haeften . Fromm himself presided over the sumarísimo council of war that would condemn to immediate death to the four captured conspirators, disobeying the official order of Hitler given to Remer to capture alive the conspirators.
At 0:10 on July 21, the four men convicted were shot in the courtyard of the “Bendlerblock” building. 3 Others would have already been shot, but at 0:30 it broke into the Bendlerblock Otto Skorzeny with an SS battalion, prohibiting further executions until faithfully determining how many soldiers had participated in the uprising. Fromm preferred not to face the SS and went the next day to visit the minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels , attributing the merit of having faced the rebels. Nevertheless from that same act Fromm is arrested, after pointing out Himmler how he was in a hurry to let the leaders buried and after discovering his participation in the conspiracy for documents found in his safe, he was shot dead in March 1945 .
Hitler survived the attack because of the robustness of the table that protected him from the shock wave, but his legs were hit hard by the table and left with a slight deafness in his right ear . However, after a while the effects of the attack would dampen Hitler’s physical health by affecting his motor nerves and causing a notorious tremor in his left hand that he could with a great deal of effort. His psychological strength also began to deteriorate, with Hitler falling into the paranoia of further attack and extreme measures were taken to preserve the security of the dictator by restricting free access to his person to only selected members of the Nazi hierarchy (such as Himmler , Goebbels, Goering) and close associates (secretaries, assistants, and bodyguards); Even the highest leaders of the Wehrmacht had to pass a series of rigid controls and revisions just to approach an enclosure where Hitler was. Hitler’s judgment and reflexive ability were sooner or later adversely affected, and this had a negative impact on the OKH leadership (which Hitler had personally assumed, over and above the professional military), showing the Führer remarkable failures in his decisions as well as Erratic changes of opinion and mood that lasted until his death in April 1945.
It is possible that Hitler’s death had ended with the Second World War and saved the 10 million people who died as a result of the war between the date of the attack and the German capitulation on 8 of maypole of 1945 . 3
In the following weeks, the attempted coup d’état began to be investigated in more detail, and Himmler ordered the Gestapo to proceed with the arrest of any individual who had some sort of relationship with the conspirators, an order that unofficially covered numerous Germans suspected of opposing the coup. Nazi regime, like the clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer , whose ideas antinazis were already known, or General Franz Halder , who did not join the conspiracy but whom Hitler believed capable of initiating another plot on his own. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris was even arrested because his subordinates had participated in the conspiracy and above all because of the deep distrust that Heinrich Himmler had felt for years . It was easy to reconstruct the complex network of conspirators because of the seizure of letters and diaries of the conspirators already arrested, which made it possible to keep track of numerous conspirators who had abandoned the revolt at the last moment (eg in the case of Friedrich Fromm the Gestapo Found in his offices of the Bendlerblock a list of the future “cabinet of government” that was intended to form Goerdeler after the death of Hitler).
It is estimated that there were in total about 5000 arrests and 200 executions of opponents of the Nazi regime , 4 although not all referred to conspirators of the 20 of July. The detainees who had not yet been executed remained at the disposal of the “People’s Court” led by its president, the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler . Himmler ordered the arrest of all members of the Von Stauffenberg clan, men, women and children, for later execution under the concept of Sippenhaftung . The first proceedings began on August 7, 1944, but Hitler had ordered that those directly involved should be sentenced to death and executed on the gallows , without exception; Among those convicted were Carl Friedrich Goerdeler , Popitz, Julius Leber , Friedrich Graf von der Schulenburg , Ulrich von Hasell , among others.
Few conspirators were arrested who tried to deny their involvement in the plot. Other leaders of the conspiracy such as Tresckow and Ludwig Beck had committed suicide before being arrested and other military leaders were also accused of having had contact with leaders of the uprising and consequently arrested. One exception was General Erwin Rommel , who was accused of omission for having contacted the conspiracy leaders and for not alerting his superiors to knowledge of such plans; So he was offered the option of committing suicide and thus avoiding a public trial with the arrest of his relatives. Similarly, General Günther von Kluge was called to Berlin to be investigated, but fearing to be considered a conspirator because of his strong criticism of Hitler within the OKW , he also committed suicide. The executions of conspirators or opponents of the Nazi regime related to the conspiracy of 20 July 1944 continued until the last days of World War II in May 1945.
Reaction outside Germany
The news of the conspiracy was censored abroad, while the official version of the Third Reich was that of a small group of disgruntled officers conducting an act of treason, avoiding to show the existence of a wide conspiracy with several hundreds of involved and thousands of sympathizers . Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda succeeded in reinforcing the image of a very small group, but since a large number of arrests, executions and arrests were evident, it was argued that the repression of the July 20 bombing was an additional reason to eliminate all opposition to Nazism that could still exist. In fact, the Gestapo used the occasion to arrest and execute dozens of individuals who had no connection with the conspiracy but were long identified as active opponents to the regime.
The Soviet Union , the United States , and the United Kingdom did not get more detailed information about what happened until the end of the war, but as noted at the Tehran Conference, these powers showed no interest in stimulating active anti-Nazi resistance Within Germany, even less in the conspiracy of July 20 .
Secondly, both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill wished to maintain as an allied Soviet Union, and a Western Allies’ approach to the conspirators against Hitler would cause Stalin’s worst suspicions , which feared secret agreements between Germans and Anglo-Americans, precisely in the last Phases of the war. Finally, none of the three allies wished the end of the war to have a coup d’etat within Germany. All preferred the complete military defeat of the Third Reich to prevent the most fanatical Nazis from resurfacing years later by claiming another “stabbing legend in the back” or Dolchstosslegende , invoking that Hitler would only have been defeated by the betrayal of some soldiers. In the face of this, the three allies preferred that Nazi Germany should disappear as a result of a crushing war defeat, which would show Hitler’s failure to the German masses.
As an ephemeral positive corollary, Stauffenberg’s family with his five children and his wife, Baroness Nina Freiin von Lerchenfeld , were saved from being executed because the SS who guarded them to the north of Italy surrendered to the British. At first, Stauffenberg was considered like a traitor next to the others implied; But after the fall of Nazism and later known the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust and the dark machinations of the Hitler regime in the Nuremberg Process , the conspirators were placed in another historical context, being considered as heroes in the Federal Republic of Germany .
List of surviving conspirators
- Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin
- Philipp von Boeselager
- Hjalmar Schacht
- Carl Szokoll
- Back to top↑ «July 20: a symbol of the struggle against dictatorships» . Deutsche Welle 20.07.2004 . 2004 . Consulted on December 9, 2007 .
- Back to top↑ Himmler Reichführer SS-Peter Patfield, The Sphere of Books; p. 618
- ↑ Jump to:a b «Operation Valkiria, kill Hitler» . The Adventure of History (123). 2009. ISSN 1579-427X .
- Back to top↑ Kershaw, 2000 , pp. 673-676.