Berlin, Germany March 21, 1943

Adolf Hitler was the target of assassins on at least 30 occa­sions. On this date in 1943 in the German Reich’s capital, Berlin, 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. Another assas­si­nation attempt that same month when modeling new Army winter uniforms in Hitler’s presence at the Wolf’s Lair came to nothing when the rail­way truck con­taining the new uniforms was destroyed in an Allied air raid on Berlin.

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 (despite the fact that German troops were still in control of much of Europe), and that the Western powers at least might be open to nego­ti­ate a con­di­tional German sur­render once Hitler was out of the picture and before the Soviet Army had a chance to over­run their country and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe. 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, hand­some scion of a landed gentry mili­tary family, dis­abled veteran of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps, and 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 time-bomb-stuffed brown brief­case, which he had placed at the base of a table support a few feet away from Hitler before leaving a mili­tary briefing in a con­ference room to sup­posedly take a tele­phone 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, sounding for all the world like a 150mm incoming howit­zer blast, burst Hitler’s 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 wooden slats and beams. Of the 24 peo­ple (gene­rals, offi­cers, and aides) in the room, one died on the spot, three others later of their wounds. Rushing back to Berlin by air­plane 300 air miles away, 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. 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 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. That didn’t put a brake on dis­en­chanted pol­i­ti­cians, church­men, labor leaders, and intel­lec­tuals being drawn into alli­ances and plots, including the July 1944 conspiracy, to decapitate the Nazi leadership.

Right: Wolf’s Lair wooden, thinly walled conference hut (Lagebaracke) soon after the explo­sion of Stauf­fen­berg’s two-pound plastic-explosive bomb. Due to July’s hot and humid weather the mili­tary briefing was moved from Hitler’s own under­ground concrete bunker to the Wolf’s Lair main room, its windows open against the oppres­sive heat. (An explo­sion in the encased bunker would have killed every­one.) Showing visitors the damaged room, which had been refurbished just days earlier, is Reichs­marschal and Luft­waffe chief Hermann Goering in the khaki uniform. The shattered room leaves little argu­ment as to why Stauf­fen­berg believed Hitler was dead. Neither Goering nor Reichs­fuehrer Hein­rich Himm­ler, the two top-ranking offi­cials in the Nazi regime, was in the conference room when Stauffenberg’s bomb exploded

Hitler making a hospital call to injured following failure of Operation ValkyrieOperation 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 by 10 rifle­men and one offi­cer, a lieu­ten­ant. 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. Valkyrie, a cinematic retelling of the officers’ plot to assas­sinate Hitler and replace his regime with a new German govern­ment, was released in late 2008, starring the American actor Tom Cruise.

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