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 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, 1944) 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. on July 20, 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 near-miss 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

Operation Valkyrie: Claus von Stauffenberg (left) with Hitler, July 15, 1944 Operation 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 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 following failure of Operation Valkyrie Operation Valkyrie: 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. Located now on Stauffen­berg­strasse in the Tier­garten district of Berlin, 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