Berlin, Germany March 21, 1943

Adolf Hitler was the target of assassins on at least 30 occa­sions. On this date in 1943 in Berlin, German Army offi­cers made the second of two attempts in March to kill Hitler with a bomb. The week before, two staff offi­cers had planted a bomb aboard Hitler’s private air­plane. The plas­tic explo­sives were con­tained in a pack­age sup­posedly con­taining bottles of brandy for a member of Hitler’s staff at the Wolfs­schanze (Wolf’s Lair), Hitler’s remote, high-secu­rity com­mand post at Rasten­burg in East Prussia. (Rasten­burg, now called Kętrzyn, is in today’s Poland.) The deto­na­tor failed to go off. In the attempt on this date, March 21, 1943, Hitler left the exhi­bi­tion hall show­casing cap­tured Soviet war booty before the bomb could go off. The offi­cer on the sui­cide mis­sion flushed the deto­na­tor down the toilet in a men’s room. Eight months later, in Novem­ber 1943, a young army officer volun­teered to blow him­self up while modeling a new mili­tary great­coat in front of Hitler, only to learn that Hitler had cancelled the meeting.

By the summer of 1944 some senior figures in the Wehr­macht (German mili­tary) despaired that Hitler was dooming Germany to defeat on both the Eastern and Western fronts, and that the Western powers at least might be open to nego­ti­ate a con­di­tional German sur­render once Hitler was gone. From this belief the July 20, 1944, bomb plot, code­named “Val­kyrie” (German, “Walkuere”) developed. Plotters included Adm. Wil­helm Cana­ris, the 57‑year-old head of the Ab­wehr (mili­tary intel­li­gence); retired Col. Gen. Ludwig Beck, whom the plotters tapped to suc­ceed Hitler as the new head of state; Maj. Gen. Baron Hen­ning von Tresckow, who had been involved in the brandy bottles plot; and 37‑year-old Lt. Col. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauf­fen­berg, since July 1 Chief of Staff to the Commander of the Replacement (Reserve) Army.

The key figure was Stauffenberg. Of all the plotters he was in reg­u­lar con­tact with Hitler (indeed, had seen Hitler on July 14 and 15) and had gotten into Wolf’s Lair with­out a prob­lem five days earlier. Stauf­fen­berg’s bomb-stuffed brown brief­case, which he had placed under a table before leaving a mili­tary briefing in a con­ference room to sup­posedly take a phone call, exploded at 12:42 p.m., dazing and wounding Hitler, who was bent low, elbows on the table, for a better view of a situ­a­tion map. The bright-yellow explo­sion burst his ear­drums, burned the hair off the back of his scalp, burned his calf, and sent him flying across the room where he landed against a door “dizzy and slightly dazed” as he recalled and covered by a small pile of slats and beams. Of the 24 peo­ple in the room, four died. Rushing back to Berlin by airplane, Stauf­fen­berg and three con­spir­a­tors were caught and exe­cuted the same day for their roles in the attempted assas­sina­tion, the first of upwards of 5,000 peo­ple who were even­tually impli­cated (many falsely) and killed; others were sent to concentration camps.

Operation Valkyrie, the Failed July 20, 1944, Bomb Plot to Kill Adolf Hitler

Claus von Stauffenberg (left) with Hitler, July 15, 1944 Hermann Goering (in khaki) showing visitors scene of destruction

Left: Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (far left), Hitler, and Wilhelm Keitel (right), chief of the Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht (OKW), or the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, on the day of a failed assas­si­nation attempt at the Wolf’s Lair in Rasten­burg (Kętrzyn, Poland) on July 15, 1944. Officers in the Wehr­macht and the Abwehr, knowing well the string of fail­ures to elimi­nate Hitler and his regime, none­the­less remained con­vinced that only they were cap­able of getting close enough to the well-guarded Fuehrer to do the deed.

Right: Wolf’s Lair conference room soon after the explosion of Stauffenberg’s two-pound plastic-explosive bomb. Due to July’s hot and humid weather the mili­tary briefing took place in the Wolf’s Lair main room, its windows open against the oppres­sive heat, instead of in the under­ground bunker. Showing visitors the damaged room, which had been refurbished just days earlier, is Reichs­marschall and Luft­waffe chief Hermann Goering in the khaki uniform.

Hitler making a hospital call to injured German stamp memorializing the failed 1944 assassination of Hitler

Left: Hitler making a hospital call on Rear Adm. Karl-Jesko von Putt­kamer, a naval adju­tant to Hitler and a vic­tim of the July 1944 bombing. Twenty people were injured in the blast, two seriously, four dying. Hitler, his uniform jacket and trousers torn, was lucky to have suffered only a broken ear­drum. Putt­kamer, who suffered a knee injury, along with others who were injured or died from the effects of the explo­sion, were recipi­ents of a special July 20 Wound Badge per­sonally designed by Hitler. The solid hall­marked silver badge, based on the com­mon Wound Badge that origi­nated during the First World War, bore a facsi­mile of Hitler’s signa­ture below a hel­met and the date “20 Juli 1944,” a date Hitler believed to be a “moment of destiny” for him.

Right: Tenth anniversary stamp memorializing the failed assas­si­na­tion of Hitler in July 1944. Pictured on the stamp is Richard Scheibe’s statue “Memo­rial to the Vic­tims of July 20, 1944,” which stands in the court­yard of the Bendler­block, site of Stauffenberg’s execution. The Bendler­block was used by several depart­ments of the OKW, including Adm. Canaris’ Abwehr. Today the building complex serves as a secondary seat of the German Federal Ministry of Defense.

History Channel’s Operation Valkyrie: The Plot to Kill Adolf Hitler

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WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon.com. Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.