July Bomb Plot

The July Bomb Plot was the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life. It took place in Hitler’s "Wolf’s Lair" field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia, on July 20, 1944. The July Bomb Plot of 1944 was an attempt carried out by senior German Army officers to kill Hitler in order to put an end to World War II. Although it was not the first attempt to assassinate Hitler, it was the one that came the closest to success and was the culmination of the efforts of the German resistance to overthrow the Nazi regime. The failure of assassination and the military coup which would follow it led to the arrest of at least 7,000 people by the Gestapo. As a result, 4,980 people were executed, crushing the resistance movement against Hitler in Germany.

Conspirational plans to overthrow Adolf Hitler and thus prevent him from sparking a new world war had been developed from 1938 to 1939 by a few German Army high rank officers. But these plans were aborted because of the indecision of Army Generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch, the failure of the western powers to oppose Hitler’s aggressions, and specially because of Hitler’s extreme popularity following the unexpectedly fast success in the battle for France in May 1940.

Nevertheless, by mid-1943 the tide of war was turning decisively against Germany. By the summer of 1944, some senior figures in Germany’s military believed that Hitler’s leadership was leading the German Nation to a total collapse. They believed that if they got rid of their Führer, the Allies would be open to negotiation with regards to a conditional surrender once Hitler had been assassinated. Based on this belief the July Bomb Plot was developed.

As Reinhard Heydrich had been assassinated in Prague in 1942, Hitler had always warned those in his inner circle that they all were in danger of being assassinated, too. Hitler himself took great steps to prevent such attempts. No one knew in advance his next movement as well as the route and the means he would use to travel from one place to another. From 1944 on, his principal ‘home’ was the Wolf’s Lair at Rastenburg in East Prussia. Simply getting near to Hitler would have been very difficult and security around him when he did venture into the public arena was very tight. Hitler also did not allow anyone near him to carry a weapon. Therefore any attempt on his life would have had to be meticulously planned.

The main conspirators of the July Bomb Plot of 1944 were: Major General Henning von Tresckow, who was the prime mover behind the July 20 plot to murder Hitler; Claus von Stauffenberg, who was the officer who planted the two bombs under the long military map table; Hans Oster, who was deputy head of military intelligence; General Helmuth Stieff, who was Chief of Operation at Army High Command had regular access to Hitler; Wilhelm Canaris, who was the head of military intelligence; Heinrich von Stülpnagel, who was military governor of France; Ludwig Beck, who was a retired General; and Colonel General Friedrich Olbricht.

The conspiracy against Hitler was given the code-name ‘Valkyrie’. Not long after Stauffenberg arrived at the War Office, Tresckow had to return to his unit at the Eastern Front. This left Stauffenberg and Olbricht to do all of the work in Berlin. By now, Olbricht had decided on former general Beck to be the man who would succeed Hitler as Head of State. In June 1944, the conspiracy took a major step forward when Stauffenberg was promoted to full colonel and made the Chief-of-Staff to General Fromm. It was now necessary for Stauffenberg to attend meetings that were headed by Hitler.

On July 18, 1944, rumors had reached Claus von Stauffenberg that the Gestapo knew about the assassination attempt and that he might be arrested at any time. Although this was apparently not true, there was a sense that the net was closing in and that the next opportunity to kill Hitler must be taken because there might not be another. At 10:00 hours on July 20 Stauffenberg flew back to the Wolf’s Lair to attend a Hitler military conference, once again with a bomb in his briefcase.

When the conference began at 12:30 hours, Stauffenberg made an excuse to use a washroom in Wilhelm Keitel’s office where he used pliers to crush the end of a pencil detonator inserted into a 1 kg block of plastic explosive wrapped in brown paper. The detonator consisted of a thin copper tube containing acid that would take ten minutes to silently eat through wire holding back the firing pin from the percussion cap. He then placed the primed bomb quickly inside his briefcase having been told his presence was required. He entered the conference room and with the unwitting assistance of Major Ernst John von Freyend he placed his briefcase under the table around which Hitler and more than 20 officers had gathered. After a few minutes, Stauffenberg made an excuse and left the room. At 12:40 the bomb detonated, demolishing the conference room. Three officers and the stenographer were seriously injured and died soon after, but Hitler survived. His trousers were torn to piece, but he suffered only minor injuries. It was discovered later that he was saved because Colonel Heinz Brandt had moved the briefcase to the opposite side of a heavy table leg when it bumped against his foot, thus deflecting the blast.

Hearing the explosion and seeing the smoke billowing from the broken windows of the concrete dispatch barracks, Stauffenberg assumed that Hitler was dead, climbed into his staff car and left. By 13:300 hours he was airborne in a He 111 arranged by General Eduard Wagner. By the time Stauffenberg’s aircraft reached Berlin about 15:00, General Erich Fellgiebel, an officer at the Wolfsschanze who was in on the plot, had phoned the Bendlerblock and told the plotters that Hitler had survived the explosion. As a result, the Berlin cohort to mobilize Operation Valkyrie would have no chance of succeeding once the officers of the Reserve Army knew that Hitler was alive. There was more confusion when Stauffenberg’s aircraft landed and he phoned from the airport to say that Hitler was in fact dead. The Bendlerblock plotters did not know whom to believe. Finally at 16:00 Olbricht issued the orders for Operation Valkyrie to be mobilized. The vacillating General Fromm, however, phoned Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel at the Wolf’s Lair and was assured that Hitler was alive. Keitel demanded to know Stauffenberg’s whereabouts. This told Fromm that the plot had been traced to his headquarters, and that he was in mortal danger. Fromm replied that he thought Stauffenberg was with Hitler.

Stauffenberg and the rest of the conspirators were rounded up by the Gestapo. They were court-martialed then shot by a firing squad. Tresckow walked into No-Man’s-Land on the Eastern Front and was shot by Russian machine gun fire. Nevertheless, this was only the start of Hitler’s revenge. Anybody who was implicated in the plot faced arrest, torture and execution. Many had to stand trial before Roland Freisler, the Nazi judge who showed no mercy to anyone.

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Thor is Carlos Benito Camacho, the manager and writer of this blog.

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