Operation Walküre (ii)

Valkyrie

This was a German contingency plan for implementation in the event of an internal rising by slave labourers working in Germany and used to cover military preparations for the 'July Bomb Plot' to assassinate Adolf Hitler (20 July 1944).

The designation is generally used, however, for the failed plot by German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler on 20 July 1944 within the context of a larger scheme to complete a coup d’état. The plot’s most important military officer was Oberst Claus von Stauffenberg, and others involved in the undertaking included Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben, Generals Ludwig Beck and Erich Hoepner, Carl Goerdeler, Alfred Delp, Oberstleutnant Robert Bernardis, Carl Szokoll, Hans-Jürgen Graf von Blumenthal, Adam von Trott zu Solz, Gottfried von Bismarck and Prinzessin Marie Vassiltchikov. Many other persons, including Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel and Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge, were peripherally involved and later forced to commit suicide.

The plan was for Stauffenberg to place a briefcase, containing a time-fused bomb, near Hitler at the ‘Wolfsschanze’ headquarters in Rastenburg in East Prussia, and then to travel by air to Berlin to command troops in the uprising. A new shadow government had already been formed with Beck as head of state and Goerdeler as chancellor, although most of the plotters hoped for an eventual restoration of the German monarchy under the Hohenzollern dynasty.

The military side of the plan was known as ‘Walküre’ (ii), and was based on the scheme for the retention or recovery of Berlin in the event of an uprising by slave labourers. This cover allowed the coup plotters to plan detailed troop deployments.

Because of construction work and high summer temperatures at the ‘Wolfsschanze’, Hitler’s scheduled meeting was moved from the bunker in which such meetings were generally held to a wooden structure in airier conditions above ground. Moreover, von Stauffenberg was able to arm only one of the two prepared bombs, which he placed in a briefcase. von Stauffenberg, who was missing a hand and wore an eye patch because of war injuries, managed to get himself next to Hitler by telling him his hearing had been damaged during combat, and put the briefcase by Hitler’s feet before quietly leaving the meeting.

von Stauffenberg saw the resulting explosion and could not imagine that anyone had survived it. He talked his way through the security perimeter and, with his aide flew to Berlin to meet fellow conspirators in the war ministry. Shortly before the device went off, however, a general, thinking the briefcase was in an awkward place, had moved it out of the way behind a heavy table leg. This shielded Hitler from the explosion, which was further weakened by the inability of the wooden building to contain the blast pressure of the bomb’s detonation. Although four people were killed and almost everyone present was wounded, Hitler was badly shaken but only lightly injured.

Orders were given to shoot down von Stauffenberg’s aeroplane, but passed through the hands of a fellow conspirator on the air staff, who ignored them. von Witzleben was arrested when he arrived at the headquarters of the Oberkommando des Heeres in Berlin to assume command of the coup forces. In the confusion, General Friedrich Olbricht failed to launch ‘Walküre’ (ii) immediately and what was left of the coup was delayed by four hours until the arrival of von Stauffenberg. The conspirators failed to capture any radio stations, so news of Hitler’s survival was not suppressed. At first, reserve army troops in Berlin did carry out Stauffenberg’s orders but their officers soon baulked and the coup collapsed.

The leaders of the plot, namely von Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Oberst Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim and von Haeften, were arrested after a brief skirmish late in the evening of 20 July and shot by firing squad in the courtyard of the war ministry. Many Germans, including Hitler, believed that the hasty executions were intended to silence the plotters so they would not implicate others. Hitler responded with a purge which resulted in the execution of nearly 5,000 known opponents of the Nazi regime.