Operation Valkyrie: July 20th, 1944
Over 76 years ago the world was a very different one and a tyrant ruled most of Europe. His name was Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Germany was one that through a tyrannical approach captured 70% of Europe over roughly 4 years. In that time, Hitler amassed alliances with both Italy and Japan in order to create the Axis Powers which would disrupt the world order until 1945 when they were brought down by the Axis Powers. However, on July 20th, 1944, the events that took place shook the Nazi Empire to its core and a war that was already taking place could possibly have ended earlier. However, the plan fell apart and the man whose life was supposed to be taken miraculously survived without a scratch. This is the story of Operation Valkyrie, one of the many plots to kill Adolf Hitler.
What was going on prior to July 20th?
In the months prior to the attempt on Hitler’s life there are several key events that took place which are important for the actions that took place that day. In 1943, Hitler’s armies would be pushed out of North Africa, and up the boot of Italy which would eventually surrender that same year. This set the stage for the eventual Allied Invasion of Europe which would have much cause for the Nazi’s to play a more defensive role than in previous engagements with the Allies. Hitler and his intelligence believe that the invasion would come from the West through France as this was the shortest point to his closest enemy, the English. On the opposing end of the war in the East the Russian Armies had defeated the Nazi’s in multiple engagements but were still struggling to fight for yards as the Nazi’s resolve intensified. Hitler was losing ground and fast in the East therefore the only place he could have foreseen an invasion taking place was the Western Front. Furthermore, unlike in 1940 and 1941, Hitler was not only fighting two countries. He instead was fighting three as the United States had joined the fighting after being attacked by Germany’s ally Japan at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. Hitler saw that the United States although a struggling garrison at first was slowly becoming stronger with its help from the English. After months of planning the Allied Invasion, on June 6th, 1944, the Allies landed at Normandy in France in Operation Overlord or “D-Day” as it was called. It was to be the last amphibious landing of the war in Europe. Hitler had for several days denied reports stating that the Allied armies had invaded in Normandy as he felt that this invasion was a prelude to the actual attempt that would take place further north at Calais. Nevertheless, the Allies had landed in Europe but were struggling to get through to their goals of capturing the objectives they had set. Hedgerow country in Normandy was thick and the German army having never fought a defensive war was becoming adapted to using the Hedgerows as cover and fighting within them. They slowed the Allied advance down steadily but by August the breakout campaign was coming to an end.
Claus von Stauffenberg: Mastermind
Claus von Stauffenberg is the key behind every event that took place on July 20th 1944. The plan to kill Hitler was after all his. Prior to this, Stauffenberg was an exemplary officer. Rising to the rank of Colonel due to his Inter-war and early Eastern Front Campaigns. Stauffenberg had led engagements against the Poles and Russian Armies in Hitler’s early conquest with much success. Stauffenberg was in fact a devote Nazi supporting Adolf Hitler since his rise in 1932. Stauffenberg sympathized with the Nazi cause and pushed for “A Greater Germany” as with hyper-Nationalism he voiced that the racist viewpoints of the Nazi’s were not in fact discriminatory but in fact the truth. If they were not German or fit the ideal like Hitler had preached they needed to be dealt with. This being said, Claus was against mass extermination of people and as a military commander did not persuade his troops to commit mass killings like the SS had been carrying out with its killing squads called Einsatzgruppen. He felt that as a commander the enemy if captured should be put to work for the good of greater Germany and not exterminated. After all he felt, Germany needed living space in order to spread its ideology across the world. It was around 1939 that Claus began to change his way of thinking. Again, still sympathetic to the cause but agreeing that Hitler was not the man to lead Germany further forward. He did not feel that he should be the one to lead either, although someone should.
Von Stauffenberg was not alone in his belief that Germany needed a new wartime commander. Yes, Hitler had led Germany out of a depression and had brought Germany to become the most powerful country in the world up to that point but now it seemed that his policies were becoming filled with extermination and solving “The Jewish Question.” Once the Allied advancements had occurred in November of 1942 von Stauffenberg was sent to North Africa to halt the advance under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Hitler’s finest commander. For the most part the Germans had kept the Allies at bay but with newly commanded American units under General George S. Patton it seemed that the war in Africa was coming to an end. On April 7th, 1943, von Stauffenberg was traveling between units in Tunisia when a Squadron of Australian Air Force planes bombed his unit and along with his unit von Stauffenberg was severely wounded. As a result of his injuries he was sent back to Munich in order to receive treatment for his injuries. He lost his left eye, right hand, and two of his fingers of his left hand. For his bravery under fire he was awarded a German Cross.
Spending many months in the hospital he was eventually sent home and eventually reassigned to a new position within the Wehrmacht. As a result, he came into contact with many likeminded commanders who were against Hitler fearing that the war would soon be lost. Following D-Day in June 1944, this was further considered and the search for a new leader began. Head of the German Army Office, Friederich Olbricht met with von Stauffenberg and encouraged him to join in a coup plan. From their the plan was formed.
Operation Valkyrie: The Plan
The plan was too plant a bomb to kill Hitler and some of his high command in an effort to eventually form the new German government. In the plan, their was a design for there to be mass chaos and in turn they would receive new positions in the German Government. The plan had various parts which would be described as followed.
Once the bomb went off and Hitler was confirmed dead their would be a radio broadcast that would be distributed throughout the German army units that Hitler was dead. As a result of this their would be many questions and mass confusion.
In the second part of the plan the new government would declare a state of military emergency in order to maintain the law and order. As a result of this military action the state would be controlled by the leader of the German Army who would be General Olbricht.
Then the SD Security Service would be eliminated and replaced by the SS who would fall in line under the command of the Army. Any opposition would be crushed and be presented with harsh consequences.
Operation Valkyrie: Reality
Unfortunately, their was a needed coordination of both Herman Goering and Heinrich Himmler to be killed along with Hitler but this seemed utterly impossible as all three men never seemed to appear in the same room. The original plan was set up to be at a later date but due to delays von Stauffenberg took it upon himself to kill Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair in Poland. The Lair had a bunker which would have been an expectable place to carry it out as the explosion would have been secured. At the last minute Hitler was told that the meeting he was supposed to be at was moved to another location within the headquarters. This changed everything dramatically as with additional oxygen the bomb would not necessarily damage as much as expected. von Stauffenberg carried two bombs within his briefcase to bring to his meeting with Hitler. Unfortunately Stauffenberg had to arm the bombs prior to going to the meeting and was only able to arm one of them due to having only one hand to work with. This further caused problems within the plan. Finally, von Stauffenberg placed the bomb close to Hitler during the meeting and excused himself.
The bomb exploded and von Stauffenberg with no questioning felt that the bomb exploded and killed everyone. The actual casualty report listed 4 dead and all with the exception of Hitler lightly injured. Claus returned to Berlin in order to initiate the plan to takeover the government when he found out that Hitler had survived. Within the 24 hours von Stauffenberg was arrested along with various conspirators who took part including Olbricht. At 1:00 a.m. on July 21 Olbricht, Stauffenberg and fellow conspirator Werner von Haeften were shot by firing Squad. In the coming weeks, hundreds more who took part in the plan were executed and Hitler found that he could no longer trust those closest to him. Even Erwin Rommel was suspected of being involved in the plot and was executed in August of 1944.
The plan was needed and the events that would have taken place could have saved lots of peoples lives. With a negotiation with the Allies their would have been millions of lives saved.This was not the case though as the plan failed and all members of the plan were executed. This does not however change the course of what the men were saying in relation to the war. Within one year of plotting to kill Hitler the Nazi’s would crumble and the war would be lost. Germany would have to rebuild and without over 7 million that it had lost during the war. The plot remains one of the last attempts but by far the closest attempt to killing Hitler. However, as history usually does, the ones who try to do right are always the ones who get forgotten. If this article indeed is written in praise of those that attempted to kill Hitler they too had other vices as well. This was simply the moment where they grew a consciousness and decided that the Germany that Hitler saw for the rest of the world was not the Germany that they wanted to be apart of.Instead, they wanted change and decided that it was time to act.