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. 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 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. Hitler made sure per­sonally of Stauf­fen­berg’s death by having his body exhumed to view it for himself.

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

Operation Valkyrie: Claus von Stauffenberg (left) with Hitler, July 15, 1944Operation Valkyrie: 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 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.

Operation Valkyrie: Hitler making a hospital call to injuredOperation Valkyrie: German 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