This was a German overall designation of plans by anti-Nazi elements to assassinate Adolf Hitler (early 1940s).
The name was decided by Generalmajor Henning von Tresckow, chief-of-staff of Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ on the Eastern Front, who believed that only the ‘spark’ of Hitler’s death would persuade otherwise wavering collaborators to launch a domestic coup d’état to stop the war. Other than von Tresckow, the primary conspirators were Generaloberst Ludwig Beck, chief-of-staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht; Oberst Rudolph-Christoph von Gersdorff, Tresckow’s Abwehr liaison officer; Oberst Werner von Schrader; Hauptmann Eberhard von Breitenbuch, a former aide to Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben and Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge; Hauptmann Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche, who had served on the Eastern Front and witnessed the mass execution of Jews in Dubno in 1942; and Leutnant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, von Tresckow’s adjutant.
Several attempts on Hitler’s life were planned. In December 1943, von dem Bussche planned to assassinate Hitler by exploding a bomb placed inside a planned demonstration of a new winter uniform, but on the night before the scheduled demonstration, the railway carriage in which the new uniforms were being stored took a direct hit during an Allied bombing raid.
On 13 March 1943, the collaborators planted a bomb on the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor aeroplane which was to carry Hitler between his military headquarters in Rastenburg in East Prussia and the headquarters of Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ in Smolensk in the German-occupied western part of the USSR. The bomb was simple: triggered by a timer fuse, a glass bottle would break to release acid which would eat through the wire holding back the spring-loaded hammer that would detonate the bomb. The conspirators ensured that the bomb (in the form of two bottles of Cointreau liqueur), was safely taken aboard the aeroplane. But the bomb did not explode and Hitler arrived safely. von Schlabrendorff retrieved the bottles and discovered that the bomb had remained as it was: the fuse had worked, the glass cover had been broken, the acid had severed the wire, the hammer had hit the bomb, but the explosive had not been initiated.
On 21 March 1943 Heeresgruppe ‘Mitte’ organised a display of Soviet flags, seized on the Eastern Front, at a weapons museum in Berlin. von Gersdorff volunteered to be the human time bomb, and would embrace Hitler as the bombs exploded, entailing his own as well as Hitler’s deaths. He had with him bombs with 10-minute fuses, knowing that Hitler would be in the museum for 20 minutes. However, just before Hitler was to appear, the length of his visit was trimmed to just eight minutes as a security precaution, and in fact Hitler was present for only two minutes. As a result von Gersdorff could not accomplish his mission, and the assassination plan failed again, von Gersdorff barely managing to get out and defuse the bombs.
In another attempt two army conspirators smuggled a bomb into Hitler’s ‘Wolfsschanze’ Eastern Front headquarters and lowered it into a water tower. But the bomb mysteriously exploded a few weeks later, jolting the SS guards. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler immediately launched an inquiry into the incident, which was deliberately blocked by von Schrader, who was the investigative officer in charge.
On 11 March 1944 von Breitenbuch volunteered to walk into Hitler’s conference room and shoot the Führer at point-blank range, knowing that he himself would be killed by the SS guards. But von Breitenbuch never had his chance because, as a result of a Führer directive issued on the very day he planned to carry out his mission, officers of his rank were no longer allowed to attend Führer briefings.