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World War Two: The Hitler Plots
There were an amazing 42 separate assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler's life by both enemy agents and also high ranking Nazi soldiers. He was without doubt history's most hated man, millions wanted him eliminated, a brave few dared to take action against his reign of terror. From his early days to grab power, to the final days of the Third Reich, who were these would-be assassins, what were their methods and why did they all ultimately fail?
Rise of a madman
In November 1923, five years after the end of the first world war, Germany is experiencing the aftermath of a humiliating defeat. Crippling debt from the war has caused massive over-inflation and the country has lost all pride in itself.
In a crowded beer hall in Munich, a lone gunshot rings out and a stunned throng of people looks on, as a young Adolf Hitler declares that a national revolution has begun.
The next morning, 2,000 armed Nazis march through Munich and as they reach the Bavarian War Ministry, they are greeted with a hail of bullets. It is the Munich police who are firing the shots and when the dust settles, 16 Nazi revolutionaries are dead. Hitler, who had led the march, is arrested. In 1924, after less than a year in prison, Hitler emerges as a man on a mission.
In the early 1930s, a 42 year old Hitler is looking to secure power in the German elections. His ideals are of racial intolerence and the rejection of capitalists, communists and all non-arians. He believes that all Jews must be eliminated, many people therefore have good reason to hate Hitler and they see assassination as the only option.
The First Attempts TO Kill Hitler
The first plot took place in 1932 whilst Hitler is campaigning around the country, appearing in front of huge crowds of people. This makes him vulnerable to attack from almost anyone. A number of anonymous gunmen open fire on his private train, but Hitler is unscathed. This though would be just the beginning. In June the same year, he just escaped from an armed ambush and one month later he is merely grazed when an attack on his car is carried out in Nuremberg.
In January 1933, Hitler is elected Chancellor of Germany and as his personal level of power increases, as do the number of plots to eliminate him. During the following 5 years, he is targeted a further 16 times, one of which was a simple plot to hand him a bouquet of flowers that was rigged to eject poison into his face. There is also an unsuccesful plot to hand Hitler a fountain pen that had been rigged to explode.
Surprisingly, 5 years into his reign Hitler's security attachment is still relatively small and naïve. That would all change however, when in Munich on November 9th 1938, less than a year before the outbreak of World War 2, Hitler marches in a parade to mark the failed 1923 uprising.
Standing in the crowd is a lone marksman waiting for Hitler to come into view. He is 22 year old Maurice Bavaud and he is around 25 feet from Hitler's position on the march. The gun he is using is only designed to fire at a target from close range, although it is considered to be powerful enough to kill a human being from that distance.
As the march draws nearer to his position, Bavaud wraps his fingers around the gun in his pocket. If he pulls the trigger, Hitler could be no more. But the crowd ruin Bavaud's plan when they all give a right arm salute to Hitler, obscuring Bavaud's view, and the moment is lost. As Bavaud flees to France, he is caught travelling on a train without a ticket, the Gestapo arrest and search him, finding the gun along with a map of Munich. Under questioning, he confesses to the assassination plot and is sentenced to death.
Hitler however, considers the attempt to be too close a call and claims his survival is down to 'divine intervention'. The failed attempt on Hitler's life exposed his vulnerability whilst walking the narrow, crowded streets in such a widely attended event. After 1938, the annual Munich parade is therefore discontinued.
In March 1939, Austria comes under Hitler's control and Czechoslovakia becomes occupied by German troops with the threat of war. The majority of the German public see this as a positive step as they felt Hitler had restored historically German owned lands.
Another opposed to Hitler, was 36 year old German carpenter George Else, a relative loner, which suited his plans to dispose of Hitler and stop the Nazis from entering into a disastrous war. Else's plan is to assassinate Hitler during the same event Maurice Bavaud tried to disrupt a year earlier. he aimed to kill Hitler whilst he delivered his speech in a packed hall of prominent Nazis.
He set about devising a homemade time-bomb with his skills as a cabinet maker and a trained mechanic. Hitler's speech will take place in one of Munich's largest beerhalls and Else's device was planned to be secreted inside a pillar behind the podium from which Hitler will speak.
During the autumn of 1939, Else continually sneaked into the beer hall each night after closing and carried out the task of carving a space in the pillar to house his bomb. He carefully replaces the wood panelling on the pillar each morning before the hall opens, tidying up and exiting through the back door.
He planned to be in Switzerland when the device went off, so he required a special timer that would run for a few days. he builds an elaborate device with a timer capable of running for 144 hours before exploding. he encases it inside a cork lined box so as to muffle the ticking. After two long months of painstaking work, Else installs his bomb inside the beerhall pillar. On the evening of the 5th Novemeber 1939, he sets the timer to go off three nights later at 9:20pm, right in the middle of Hitler's speech. He then sets off for Switzerland.
On the 8th November, Hitler takes to the podium before a packed hall of 3,000 Nazi supporters, unaware of the ticking bomb right behind him. However, Hitler has made a last minute change to the proceedings by beginning his speech at 8:00pm instead of 9:00pm, will Hitler's speech last long enough to still be stood there at 9:20pm when the bomb is due to go off?
The answer of course was no, he actually spoke for about an hour and left for the train station, 13 minutes later the bomb goes off exactly as planned. The pillar explodes and the balcony directly above comes crashing down, the podium and front rows of seats and tables are obliterated. Of the 100 people who were left in the hall at the time, 8 are killed and a further 60 are injured. Hitler generally spoke for around 3 hours, if this had been the case on this occasion, he would certainly have been killed.
Minutes later at the Swiss border, Else is apprehended and when searched, German guards find the plans for his bomb and a picture of the beer hall. he ultimately confesses after interrogation and is sent to Dachauw where he is eventually executed. Perhaps if Hitler had been killed that night, millions of lives might have been saved.
The Underground, Stalin and the Femme Fatale
On the 1st September 1939, German forces invade Poland and within weeks, the capital Warsaw has fallen. The Polish people are subsequently subjected to a brutal regime, the country is divided up and anyone who even looks at a German the wrong way is liable to be executed on the spot. The Polish underground resistence had good reason to strike back and at the beginning of October, they hatch a plot to kill Hitler.
They set about planting 500kg of TNT underneath a main intersection in advance of Hitler's route through occupied Warsaw. But as Hitler passes by, the explosives fail to detonate and nearly two and a half years later, an attack on Hitler's train also ends in failure.
After taking Poland, German forces mount a massive assault on the Soviet Union and the bombardment decimates the Soviet defences, taking whole armies prisoner. This fuels Stalin's rage and desire to eliminate his arch enemy. They form at least three separate plots to kill Hitler, one of which involves a seductive German actress named Olga Tschechowa. When rumours begin to circulate that she and Hitler are romantically involved, Soviet secret police pressurise the Russian born actress to introduce Hitler to two would-be assassins. This was not a reliable plot however, and as nothing came of the pairs' relationship, the plot was doomed.
The British also had their own assassination plot codenamed 'Operation Foxley'. This would involve British snipers taking out Hitler in his Alpine retreat at Birchtesgarten, but fearing reprisals, they quickly abandoned the operation.
By now, Hitler's public appearances are more tightly controlled than ever before and he has little contact other than his trusted advisors and prominent high ranking Nazis.
The possibility of a successful assassination is now more likely to come from within the German ranks itself than anywhere else.
Attempts From Within
In the Spring of 1943, Colonel Henning Von Tresckow is a well respected German officer with a distinguished military career. Stationed near the eastern front, he is well aware of the continual Nazi genocide. He becomes convinced that Hitler must be stopped and gathers together a group of like-minded officers.
In March that year, Hitler plans to visit the Smolensk army base. Tresckow decides that this would be the perfect opportunity to kill Hitler using a timebomb used to blow up Hitler's private plane, Immelmann III.
With the help of his aides, Tresckow builds an improvised bomb using four captured British clam mine explosives originally designed to stick to bridges or railway lines. The biggest challenge would be to get the bomb onboard Hitler's plane, so he disguises the bomb as a gift box of brandy.
On March 13th 1943, Hitler arrives at the base in Smolensk, Tresckow is in an extremely agitated state, and after meeting with the Fuhrer, Tresckow asks Colonel brandt, a member of Hitler's party, if he would be kind enough to deliver a gift to a friend in High Command. Later that afternoon, the 30 minute fuse is activated and Tresckow arrives at the airfield.
As Brandt is about to board the plane, he is handed the box of brandy, moments later Hitler's plane takes off. Tresckow must have assumed at that point that Hitler was as good as dead. However, less than 2 hours later, Hitler's plane touches down safely, as the fuse of the bomb simply fails to fire.
Tresckow however, is undeterred by this and just a week later he learns that Hitler will be present at an exhibition of captured Soviet weaponry in Berlin. One of Tresckow's co-conspirators will be none other than Hitler's tour guide at the exhibition. The clam mines from the failed brandy box bomb will be used again, armed with a 10 minute pencil fuse. The most difficult part will be getting the bomb within striking distance of Hitler.
The only possible outcome would be a suicide bomber, who would be able to get close enough to Hitler with the bomb about his person. This close proximity detonation would be the only surefire way of achieving it's goal. The man charged with this task was a Colonel Gersdorf.
On March 21st 1943, German troops are suffering their first major defeat at Stalingrad, whilst the German resistance are plotting another attempt on Hitler's life. Just after 1:00pm, Hitler begins his speech addressed to senior officers and Nazi V.I.P's. When the speech ends, Gersdorf greets the Fuhrer and reaches into his pocket to actvate the timer. he then proceeds to guide the Fuhrer around the exhibition, whilst attempting to stay as close as possible to Hitler.
The tour is scheduled to last for half an hour, but Hitler seems distracted and after just a few minutes, exits through a side door. After Hitler leaves, Gersdorf quickly deactivates the bomb. Although the last two attempts have failed, the German resistance group keep trying with their assassination plots. In the spring of 1944, there is four attempts to shoot him, six to blow him up and one to to cause a 'fatal accident'.
The Closest of Them All
On the 6th June 1944, D-Day, an allied force of over 150,000 men land on the Normandy beaches and manage to gain a firm foothold in western Europe. By the autumn, they have been able to successfully liberate Paris and are pushing on towards Germany. At the same time, Nazi death camps like Auschwitz are operating at full capacity.
In the summer of 1944, Colonel Klaus Von Stauffenberg, a brilliant German officer, initially a Nazi movement supporter, has now become completely disillusioned by the brutal murderous regime and decides to join the resistance group committed to eliminating Hitler. He is given the task of managing Operation Valkyrie, the German Army plan to maintain order and secure key sites in the event of domestic unrest.
He intends to use Valkyrie to stabilise the country after a successful military coup. It is seen as the perfect way to take control of the country after an assassination attempt and they already had the men and plans in place to do it.
Stauffenberg will have the perfect oportunity to take action, his job required that he regularly attend meetings with Hitler. as he has close access to the Fuhrer, this plot should be the one to ultimately succeed.
On July 20th 1944, Stauffenberg is set to attend a meeting at Hitler's Wolf's Lair complex in eastern Prussia. It is here that Stauffenberg will attempt to kill the Fuhrer. the Wolf's Lair is a 5km square military compound divided into 3 zones, each with it's own checkpoint and barbed wire fences. The outer perimeter is lined with minefields, machine gun nests and anti- aircraft guns.
The inner sector is an assortment of concrete bunkers and outbuildings, the walls of Hitler's personal bunker are over five metres thick. Stauffenberg manages to smuggle in 2kg of plastic explosives into the compound. minutes before his meeting with the Fuhrer, Stauffenberg and his aide arm the explosives and secret it inside a breifcase.
It was a hot and humid day however, and Hitler, at the last minute, decides to move the meeting to a cooler wooden building instead of the stuffy, highly insulated bunker. A bomb contained within this bunker would have probably killed all those inside, but a bomb in a wooden outbuilding where windows could be blown out by a blast, left the target with a higher chance of survival.
Stauffenberg entered the war room and took up a position close to Hitler, he places the breifcase below the table and then excuses himself from the room to accept a phone call from his aide. The bomb is just a metre away from the Fuhrer with just seconds remaining on the fuse.
The bomb explodes and there is a scene of utter carnage everywhere, as the smoke clears, Stauffenberg is already heading to Berlin to manage the transition of national power. He had seen the explosion from a distance and had assumed that no one could have survived. The blast had buckled the floor, blown out windows and destroyed a wall, part of the ceiling had collapsed and the conference table was shattered.
Of the 20 men in the room, 4 are killed, but Hitler amazingly escapes relatively unharmed and with only minor injuries. He sees this as further evidence of 'divine providence' and believes himself to be immortal. If not fait, then how on earth is Hitler able to survive this explosion?.
Well it is widely believed that the leg of the conference table with which Stauffenberg's breifcase was leaning against, acted as a shield to the blast. If Stauffenberg had brought extra explosives, it is believed that Hitler would not have survived, just 1kg more of explosives would have been enough to complete the task successfully.
By July 1944, Germany was too far down the path of destruction and it is felt that Hitler's closest compatriots, Himmler, Goebbels and Bohrmann would have probably continued Hitler's plans even if he had been killed at the Wolf's Lair. Stauffenberg's coup subsequently unravelled and the conspirators were arrested, by midnight they are all facing a firing squad in Berlin.
By the spring of 1945, the war is coming to an end for the Third Reich as Allied forces march towards Berlin, Hitler orders that the German infrastructure be demolished, leaving nothing but scorched remains for the enemy to pick over.He wanted to fight to the very last bullet and he wanted to make sure there was nothing left for the Allies to occupy.
Armaments Minister Albert Speer, a member of Hitler's inner circle is disgusted at this destructive policy and sets about the 42nd and final plot to kill Hitler.He conspires to fire poison gas into Hitler's Berlin bunker from an outside air vent, but he eventually abandones his plan.
End Of A Tyrant
Berlin, April 30th 1945, the Soviets' artillery pounds Berlin's ReichChancellry and Hitler is confined within his bunker, seven metres below ground. After his secret wife Eva Braun takes a lethal dose of cyanide, Hitler himself succeeds in doing what 42 assassins could not, he shoots himself.
At the fall of the Third Reich, the world must come to terms with the extent and the scale of the Nazis brutality. But in the darkest days of the regime, there were still people willing to stand up against Hitler and act on the noblest of instincts.
The post-war German people could at least take pride in this notion and show the world that even within Germany's own army, some refused to sacrifice their conscience to Hitler's depravity.