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 plane. 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 March 21 attempt, 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. Nine 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, Walküre) 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 Col. Claus von Stauf­fen­berg, Chief of Staff Army Reserve. The key figure in the July 1944 plot was Stauf­fen­berg. Of all the plotters he was in reg­u­lar con­tact with Hitler and could get into Wolf’s Lair with few prob­lems. Stauf­fen­berg’s bomb-stuffed brief­case, which he had placed under a table before leaving the con­ference room to sup­posedly take a phone call, ex­ploded, dazing and wounding Hitler and killing four of the 24 peo­ple in the room. Back in Berlin, Stauf­fen­berg and three con­spir­a­tors were 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.

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

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

Left: Col. Claus von Stauffenberg (left), Hitler, and Wilhelm Keitel (right), chief of the Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht (OKW), or 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. Showing visitors the damaged room is Reichs­marschall and Luft­waffe chief Hermann Goering in the khaki uniform.

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

Left: Hitler making a hospital call on Adm. Karl-Jesko von Putt­kamer, a vic­tim of the July 1944 bombing. Eleven men were badly injured by the blast. Hitler was lucky and suffered only a broken eardrum.

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 Ober­kom­mando der Wehr­macht, 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