18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance

Larry Holzwarth - October 31, 2018

On July 20, 1944, a bomb exploded during a meeting between senior German military officers and Adolf Hitler in a conference room at Wolf’s Lair, a high-security site near Rastenburg, in what was then East Prussia. It was the most famous of the attempts and plots to kill Adolf Hitler. As did all the others, it failed, though Hitler suffered serious injuries which plagued him over the ten remaining months of his life. It also set off a wave of “trials” and executions of those involved in the conspiracy. Several generals and other officers were executed or offered the opportunity to commit suicide in its aftermath, as with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. That assassination attempt was part of a failed coup to depose Hitler and negotiate peace with the Western Allies.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Claus von Stauffenberg literally gave his right hand, as well as an eye and fingers on his left hand, before joining a conspiracy to kill Adolf Hitler. Wikimedia

It remains the most famous attempt on Hitler’s life, but it was far from the only one, both while he was in power as head of the German state and before he achieved that status. There were numerous plots to kill Hitler, using various means, among them poisoning his food, causing his airplane to crash, bombs, shooting him, and even stabbing him. While the majority of the plots were to have been executed within the boundaries of the Reich, there was at least one scheme to kill Hitler in Warsaw, and another in Ukraine, neither of which were put into operation. The Gestapo and SS security broke up several other plots against Hitler which never saw the light of day.

It isn’t possible to list all of them within the bounds of this article, but here are some of the plots and assassination attempts directed against Adolf Hitler.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Hitler was the target of multiple attacks on his life during his rise to power, in part leading him to purge the SA of his enemies. Bundesarchiv

1. Numerous attempts were made during Hitler’s rise to power.

In the early days of the rise of the Nazi party, its rallies were notable for their rowdy audiences, and its demonstrations in the streets frequently descended into violent clashes with communists and other opponents of National Socialism. So it is no surprise that Hitler frequently was exposed to violence during these events. As early as 1921, shots were fired from the crowd in the direction of the platform on which Hitler was speaking; no one was injured and the assailant was never identified. Shots were fired at Hitler in Thuringia and in Leipzig during the 1920s, including at his car as he rode through the Leipzig streets, though again no injuries were sustained and nobody was arrested for the assault. Hitler used repeated attempts to amplify the dedication of his life to the German people and nation.

In 1930, after dining at the Hotel Kaiserhof, all of the staff who joined Hitler for the meal were stricken with the symptoms of severe food poisoning. Hitler too was taken ill, but his symptoms were far less severe, likely because of his vegetarian diet, which caused him to avoid meats and many sauces. Yet again, no culprit was found. None of the staff was fatally stricken in the attempt to poison Hitler if, in fact, that is what it was. In other attempts which occurred before Hitler achieved the Chancellor’s office, shots were fired at Hitler’s car in the streets of Munich, Nuremberg, and even in Berlin. The Gestapo later learned of plots to kill Hitler in his car using a grenade, in a manner similar to that used to attack Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia. On at least one occasion shots were fired at Hitler’s railroad car as he traveled with Wilhelm Frick and Joseph Goebbels; once more no arrests were made.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Despite attempts on Hitler’s life before his election as Chancellor, security around the Nazi leader remained relatively loose. Bundesarchiv

2. Kurt Luttner and the Luttner Group

Kurt Luttner was a carpenter by trade, a communist by political persuasion, and rabid-anti Nazi and Adolf Hitler by temperament. As the Nazis gained seats in the Reichstag, the German parliamentary house, Hitler gained power as the unchallenged leader of the party. Luttner and his group of like-minded anti-Nazis were dismayed at the increasing power of the Nazis, and of the Nazi SA with which the communists clashed on the streets of German cities. The group devised several different plans to kill Hitler and other senior Nazi party officials, determined to prevent the party from achieving a majority in the Reichstag, though Hitler had been elected Chancellor, or head of the government, while President Hindenburg remained head of state. Their plots were continuously foiled by one incident or another, such as changes in Hitler’s schedule.

March 5, 1933, Reichstag elections looked as if the Nazis, while not receiving a clear majority in the parliamentary body, would achieve a plurality sufficient to give them the power to form a coalition government at the expense of the communists. Hitler was scheduled to give a speech the day preceding the election in a last attempt to obtain as many votes as possible. Luttner planned to attend, bomb, and if necessary shoot Hitler as he was delivering the speech. Unfortunately for Luttner, the preceding activities of his group had drawn the attention of the German authorities and one of the Luttner group was arrested in late February. During interrogation, the plot was exposed and Luttner and the remaining members of the group were quickly rounded up. They vanished into the concentration camp at Dachau.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Nazi leaders together, as here at the funeral for Horst Wessel, were a desired opportunity for plotters to kill Hitler and overthrow the regime. Bundesarchiv

3. The Potsdam church plot of 1933

In 1933, Hitler pushed the Enabling Act through the Reichstag. Intended to be (according to Hitler) a temporary measure which enabled the Chancellor to enact laws without the need to have them passed by parliamentary action, it was in fact the Enabling Act which gave Hitler the dictatorship over Germany. With the passage of the act, Hitler held full dictatorial powers and the Nazi propaganda machine immediately began a campaign to gain the support of the German people for the new order. As part of the campaign, a speech given by Hitler, and attended by nearly all of the senior Nazi officials was scheduled to be held in Potsdam. Hitler was to be honored for his success in obtaining the new authority, and the ceremony and attendant proceedings were scheduled for March 21, in a Potsdam church.

In the days before the ceremony, security forces inspecting the church and the surrounding area discovered a tunnel, evidently newly excavated, running beneath the church and under the areas in which the senior Nazi officials, including Hitler, were to be seated. From the shape of the tunnels and the direction in which they were laid out the officials inferred that an individual or group planned to pack them with high explosives and detonate them during the ceremony. From the size of the tunnels, the security officers surmised that the explosion would have been large enough to probably kill everyone in the church at the time. Despite rigorous investigation by civilian and military police, whoever dug the tunnels was never found. While it is possible the tunnel was dug for another purpose, the timing of its excavation convinced the authorities it was an attempted assassination.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
A plot to infiltrate the SS with men in opposition to Hitler and the Nazis was foiled when it grew too large to remain secret. Bundesarchiv

4. The attempt to infiltrate the SS and Hitler’s bodyguards

In 1935, various members on the far-right of German politics were growing increasingly concerned over Hitler’s strengthening grip over all political power in Germany. It became evident to many that the only way to remove Hitler from power was to kill him and at the same time eliminate several of the more prominent Nazi leaders. A German industrialist name Helmuth Mylius was the head of the German far-right Radical Middle-Class Party as well as the editor and publisher of a right wing newspaper. He joined forces with a retired officer of the former Imperial German Navy, Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, to create a complicated scheme in which members of their cabal would infiltrate the SS at the highest levels of Hitler’s personal security details, from which they could both recruit supporters within the SS and monitor the personal activities and itinerary of the Fuhrer.

The plotters were successful in placing more than 150 of their supporters in the ranks of the SS using various means. As with any plan which involves so many people operating clandestinely under the watchful eyes of secret police and counterintelligence, the chances of the operation remaining secret were remote at best. The plotters also attempted to recruit support within the upper ranks of the army, and it wasn’t long before the SS security units and the Gestapo had wind of it and were investigating, using the tried and true techniques of torture and threats to the suspect’s family to extract confessions. Most participants were rounded up by the Gestapo and other security organizations, to vanish in the growing concentration camps. A few senior Army officers managed to steer themselves away from suspicion, some of these participated in later threats to Hitler’s life during the ensuing Second World War.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Hitler was targeted by assassins on different occasions while staying at his home at Obersalzberg. Bundesarchiv

5. Berghof attack in 1935

Although the debate over whether the SA was attempting to initiate a coup against Hitler with its leader, Ernst Rohm, replacing him as Chancellor is ongoing, there is no debate over the strike made by Hitler and the SS in the Night of the Long Knives, and the execution of Rohm and other SA leaders. One SA member, Heinrich Grunow, contacted Otto Strasser and the Black Front in the aftermath of the Night of the Long Knives, with a proposal to exact revenge. Grunow wanted to assassinate Hitler as he was being driven by his usual chauffeur at the time, Julius Schreck, to Berchtesgaden. The route to Hitler’s retreat was a winding, narrow road which offered concealment for an assassin at points where the car was forced to slow to speeds as low as ten miles per hour. With Strasser’s approval and support, Grunow concealed himself in one such location.

When Hitler’s car approached, Grunow fired three shots at the figure in the backseat of the car. According to Strasser, Grunow was convinced he had killed the Fuhrer and rather than face Gestapo arrest and torture, committed suicide. The person in the back of Hitler’s car was Julius Schreck, who had been hit in the jaw, the temple, and the chest and was quite dead. Hitler had decided that he wanted to drive himself on the fine day. There is another version of the Berghof road shooting incident, involving another SA assassin who was shot at and killed by Berchtesgaden guards, as related by Bridget Hitler, Adolf’s sister-in-law. What is unquestioned is that an assassination attempt occurred on the road to his retreat, and immediate steps to bolster security along the route were undertaken. Officially, the Nazis claimed that Julius Schreck died of sepsis from an infected tooth.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Nuremberg was the spiritual home of the Nazi Party and a site where attempts to destroy the party were made on several occasions. Wikimedia

6. The Black Front Bomb plot

This one is being included here because it is frequently cited as an attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler, though in fact, it was not. It was instead an attempted attack on the Nazi Party headquarters in Nuremberg, and a prominent Nazi propaganda vehicle, the anti-Semitic newspaper Die Sturmer. The Black Front was an organization of anti-Nazi German exiles in Prague, which was led by Otto Strasser. Strasser recruited another German exile, Helmut Hirsch, who was to have placed explosive laden suitcases at the target sites in Nuremberg. Hirsch was in Prague because as a Jew he was proscribed from attending German universities; as a student at the German Institute of Technology in Prague, he was first approached by Black Front. After his family joined him there he agreed to participate in the bomb plot and was informed that if he found approaching the selected targets was too difficult to select others in Nuremberg on his own.

Hirsch purchased round trip train tickets to Stuttgart under the guise of traveling to visit his ailing mother and checked into a hotel to await contact by a Black Front agent, who would provide the explosives. The Gestapo, who had agents within Black Front, arrested him there. Charged with high treason, Hirsch stated during questioning, and again later during testimony, that although Hitler had not been a target of the plot, he would willingly participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He was convicted in March 1937. American diplomatic efforts (Hirsch’s father was a naturalized American citizen) to gain his release failed and he was executed by beheading. His testimony that he was willing to participate in an attempt to kill Hitler is all that links him to an assassination attempt during a plot which, in the end, included no explosives and no attempts to plant them.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Gregor Strasser, brother of Otto Strasser, was one of the victims of the SA purge known as the Night of the Long Knives. Wikimedia

7. Otto Strasser and the Black Front

Although the Nuremberg bomb plot was not an attempt on the life of Adolf Hitler, there is no doubt that Otto Strasser and the Black Front participated in many such attempts, and instigated a few more. The only question is how many, the conspiratorial nature of such plots has kept many of them hidden from the eyes of investigators. Otto Strasser had many motives for eliminating Hitler. Strasser was a former member of the Nazi party who supported the workers, unlike Hitler, who paid lip service to the workers and the “simple German folk” while gaining the support of wealthy industrialists and the financial sector. When Hitler and Strasser could not reconcile their differences, Strasser was dismissed from the party and went into exile in Prague, where he founded the Black Front. When Hitler eliminated Ernst Rohm and his followers in the Night of the Long Knives, he also eliminated Gregor Strasser, Otto’s brother.

Otto Strasser was forced to remove himself from other places of exile many times, staying just ahead of the SS and the Gestapo before the war began, eventually spending most of the war in Canada. Before fleeing the continent, he directed various plots against Hitler between 1937 and 1940, nearly all of which were infiltrated by the Gestapo and foiled before they could be executed. Goebbels eventually declared Strasser as Germany’s Public Enemy Number One, and placed a half-million-dollar bounty on his head. The exact number of plots against Hitler which were instigated by the Black Front in the last three years of the 1930s will likely never be known, the Nazi security apparatus suppressed public information of the plots against Hitler, not wanting to admit that total support for the Fuhrer was a sham. At least two dozen cases against individuals connected to the Black Front were pursued by the Gestapo during the 1930s.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Wilhelm Canaris, who served as the head of Hitler’s military intelligence known as the Abwehr, was a long-standing member of the resistance to the Fuhrer. Wikimedia

8. The Oster Conspiracy of 1938

As evidence grew that Germany was lurching towards war over the issue of the Sudetenland with Czechoslovakia, France, and England, a group of conservative German soldiers, politicians and diplomats hatched a plot to overthrow Hitler and the Nazi government and restore the former Kaiser Wilhelm II to the throne in a conservative parliamentary monarchy. The plot was named for its leader, Major General Hans Oster, head of the German Abwehr, the military intelligence officer of the Wehrmacht. It included German military leaders Ludwig Beck, Walther von Brauchitsch, Wilhelm Canaris, and several others, and was intended to create strong opposition by the British to German occupation of Czech territory by military means. With that in mind, German diplomats involved in the plot attempted to encourage Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to oppose Hitler.

Instead, Chamberlain, fearful of war, negotiated with the German Chancellor and eventually conceded territorial gains to Germany. Rather than overthrowing and executing Hitler, the plotters found themselves faced with a Fuhrer considered by the majority of the German people as a great statesman, with German international prestige completely restored. The plotters were forced to discard their plans though several, including Canaris when he assumed the role of head of the Abwehr, continued to act as a secret resistance to Hitler and the Nazis, narrowly avoiding the Gestapo and the SS throughout most of the war. Several of the Oster Conspiracy later joined in the plans for Operation Valkyrie, an attempted coup and assassination of Hitler and leading Nazis in 1944. The irony of the Oster Conspiracy and its attempt to eliminate Hitler is that it was foiled by the British, rather than by the German secret police and security forces.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Swiss student Maurice Bauvaud’s attempts to kill Hitler were thwarted by bad timing and too little money. Wikimedia

9. Maurice Bauvaud and the planned Munich assassination attempt

That Hitler led a sometimes charmed existence is evident in the attempted assassination of the Fuhrer by Maurice Bauvaud, a Swiss Catholic theology student and strident anti-communist. Through the teachings of a mentor who held a Svengali-like grip on the young man, Bauvaud grew to believe that the destruction of communism in the Soviet Union would lead to the return of the Romanov Dynasty to the throne of the Tsar of all the Russias. Bauvaud believed that killing Hitler would somehow expedite the fall of communism and in October 1938 he journeyed by train to Basel, Germany, where he purchased a semi-automatic pistol. He then journeyed to Berlin, where a conversation with a policeman revealed to him that he would need a letter of introduction from a foreign dignitary to obtain an audience with the Fuhrer. Instead of seeking an introduction, Bauvaud traveled to Munich for the annual observation of the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, which Hitler invariably attended.

Bauvaud purchased a seat on the reviewing stand used by reporters, using false credentials as a Swiss correspondent, carrying his pistol, intent on shooting Hitler when he passed by the stand. When Hitler did appear, well within range, he was surrounded by other Nazi leaders and Bauvaud, not wanting to injure anyone else, did not fire. Bauvaud then attempted to obtain an interview with Hitler at Berchtesgaden using forged documents, but when he arrived Hitler was still in Munich. Out of money, Bauvaud hopped a train and was caught, still carrying the forged documents and pistol. Under Gestapo questioning, he broke down and admitted the attempted assassination. Despite strong protests from the Swiss government and attempts to obtain his release through the exchange of a German spy held by the Swiss, Bauvaud was executed by guillotine in Berlin in May 1941.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
A bust in Berlin commemorating Georg Elser, who missed killing Hitler by 13 minutes. Wikimedia

10. The 1939 Beer Hall assassination attempt

When Adolf Hitler attended the 1939 Beer Hall Putsch commemoration in Munich on November 9, Germany was at war with England and France, though little warlike activity between the Allies had occurred. Hitler spoke berating his enemies and crowing over Germany’s victory over Poland. As he spoke a bomb was just a few feet away from the Fuhrer, planted there days before. The timers were encased in cork to muffle the sound of their ticking and had been set to detonate while Hitler was speaking since he always started his speech at the commemoration at the same time of day. Unfortunately for the assassin – a carpenter from southern Germany named Georg Elser – Hitler started his speech early that day since he needed to return to Berlin and a war conference with his military leaders. Just 13 minutes after Hitler left the bomb exploded, collapsing the ceiling under which he had stood, killing eight and causing numerous injuries to survivors.

The Gestapo were quickly on the trail of the carpenter, who attempted to flee to Switzerland only to be accosted by German border guards. His interrogation revealed that he had worked as a carpenter at the Beer Hall, while building the bomb at his rented rooms. At the Beer Hall, he carefully hollowed out a pillar near the spot where Hitler spoke each year, concealed the bomb within, and used his considerable carpentry skills to cover the evidence of his work. Surprisingly, the Gestapo did not execute the confessed bomber immediately, retaining him in custody until 1945 before finally sending him to his death. For the rest of the war, the Gestapo suspected that Elser was part of a larger conspiracy, refusing to accept that one man could come so close to success in such an elaborate scheme. If Elser was part of a conspiracy it was a secret which he took with him to his grave, and no evidence of such a conspiracy has ever been found.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Nikolaus von Halem’s attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer were, like so many others, foiled by bad timing. Wikimedia

11. The Nikolaus von Halem assassination conspiracy

Nikolaus von Halem was a German lawyer who originally joined with the Nazis, participating in the Beer Hall Putsch and Nazi marches and demonstrations in the 1920s. He later renounced Nazism and Hitler, eventually resigning his position as a legal intern when it became a requirement for those holding such positions to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler. During the Anschluss, Halem conspired with – or at the very least was aware of – plotters who were planning the assassination of Hitler when he arrived in Austria. Halem was also involved with plots from surviving SA members who attempted to find ways to kill Hitler following the Night of the Long Knives, but none of the plans came to fruition. One of the conspirators, Josef Romer, was arrested and sent to Dachau for several years. He was released in late 1939 after no concrete evidence was found against him, even during Gestapo interrogation.

Upon his release, Romer was approached by Halem and given money with which the former was to hire a sniper to assassinate the Chancellor. After the passage of several months, Halem again contacted Romer, who agreed to continue with the plot, but wanted to wait several more weeks because the Gestapo was keeping him under close surveillance. Halem agreed and discontinued contacting Romer to avoid suspicion. Early in 1942, Romer was again arrested by the Gestapo, and at that time the interrogation techniques proved more effective. Under torture, Romer revealed the details of the assassination plans. Halem was arrested in February and was likewise tortured at Sachsenhausen, but he did not provide the Gestapo with any information regarding the German resistance (Halem had also been aware of the Oster plot). Halem was executed in the fall of 1944, by guillotine, at Brandenburg-Gordon prison after a trial before the People’s Court.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Many of the plots against Hitler centered around his frequent visits to meet with his generals at the Russian front. Bundesarchiv

12. Plan Lanz was created to arrest Hitler

By early 1943, German leaders on the Eastern Front were aware of the improbability of prevailing over the Red Army. They were equally aware that their view was not shared by Hitler, who was increasingly interfering with operations, usually to their detriment. The officers who created the plan known as the Lanz Plan did not commit it to paper, therefore its long suspected existence has never been proven, but enough circumstantial evidence exists to include it in a list of plots to overthrow Hitler. The plan was to place Hitler under arrest, which required the suppression of his SS guards, an action which would have undoubtedly led to gunfire and many casualties, including most likely the Fuhrer. Such a possibility was of no consequence to General Hubert von Lanz and Colonel Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz who planned the operation set for execution in February 1943, during a visit by Hitler to the Eastern Front.

Elements of the German army under the command of Strachwitz were to surround Hitler and his SS security troops when they arrived at Lanz’s headquarters at Poltava. Once Hitler was surrounded he was to be ordered to surrender and in the event of resistance the armored units of Strachwitz’s battalion were to open fire with heavy machine guns, eliminating the entire SS unit and Hitler’s personal guards, as well as Hitler. Hitler was scheduled to arrive at Poltava during the third week of February, but in the event, he decided to shorten his visit to the Eastern Front after inspecting the situation at Zaporizhzhia on February 17, in order to return to Berlin. Thus Hitler and his delegation escaped the planned coup and likely assassination, and the Gestapo and other German security forces never learned of the plan’s existence, nor the growing resistance to Hitler within the ranks of senior Army officers.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge (center) was aware of numerous plots against Hitler but did nothing to expose them. Bundesarchiv

13. The planned assassination at Smolensk

Less than a month after unwittingly avoiding arrest and probable death on the Eastern Front, Adolf Hitler again escaped an attempt on his life. Henning von Tresckow was actively involved – in fact in many cases the instigator – in several plots against the Fuhrer, including a planned assassination of Hitler while he and several of his aides were having lunch with senior officers at Smolensk in March of 1943. The plan was a simple one, as Hitler arrived to have lunch following a conference with senior officers those officers were to simply draw their sidearms and start shooting, killing Hitler and any who arose to defend him. The plan was known at the highest level of German military leadership, but to date, there has been no evidence to suggest that the Gestapo or SS were aware of its existence or even suspected such a level of disloyalty among the ranks of the Army.

It was the commander of Army Group Center, Gunther von Kluge, who had been informed of the plan to assassinate Hitler during the visit, who took Tresckow aside and pleaded with him not to execute the plot. To Kluge, the assassination of the Fuhrer was not yet a military necessity, and he was concerned about the reaction of the SS. Kluge told Tresckow, “It’s still too soon for that”, believing that the German people would react negatively to a military coup. Kluge also noted to Tresckow that SS leader Heinrich Himmler had not accompanied Hitler to Smolensk as planned and that Himmler would seize the opportunity to take over all power in Berlin, supported by SS troops. Tresckow listened to Kluge’s arguments and canceled the assassination on March 13, 1943, though unknown to Kluge at the time was the existence of a backup plan to kill Hitler during the trip, also orchestrated by Tresckow.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Kluge, seen here with Hitler in France, managed to stop a shooting attack on Hitler while unaware that a bomb was to be placed in the Fuhrer’s airplane. Bundesarchiv

14. The Cointreau bomb on Hitler’s airplane

During the lunch at Smolensk, Tresckow approached Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Brandt, a member of Hitler’s entourage who would fly with the Fuhrer later that day. Asked if he would as a personal favor carry a bottle of Cointreau to be delivered to Colonel Helmuth Stieff. Tresckow explained that the Cointreau was payment for a friendly wager he had lost. Lieutenant Colonels in any army are always willing to do favors for senior generals and Brandt was no exception, placing the bottle in his personal luggage. The bottle contained a bomb with a timed fuse. The bombing attempt was known to other conspirators though the named recipient of the Cointreau was not one of them. It was manufactured from British explosives and timers and encased in a container also of British manufacture. Once Hitler’s aircraft had taken off the other conspirators were notified that the operation was underway.

Hitler arrived safely at his headquarters in East Prussia, to the consternation of the conspirators, not only because it had failed but because the bomb was now to be delivered to an officer presumably still loyal to Hitler. An aide to Tresckow, Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff, flew to East Prussia to retrieve the Cointreau. It was determined that the bomb had failed to explode due to the extreme cold in the unheated cargo hold of Hitler’s plane, which had it crashed would have been attributed to Soviet fighter aircraft since the timer would have caused it to detonate near Minsk. Through sheer luck, Hitler had survived another attack on his life, though this one too was undetected by his security personnel. The plotters decided to attempt the more reliable concept of suicide bombers to kill Hitler.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Lieutenant Colonel von Gersdorff (second from left) volunteered to kill Hitler with a suicide bomb. It too failed due to a change in Hitler’s schedule. Bundesarchiv

15. Two attempted suicide bomb attacks on the Fuhrer

On March 21, 1943, a collection of captured Soviet equipment was put on display in Berlin, and Adolf Hitler was scheduled to attend the opening. Colonel Rudolph-Christoph von Gersdorff, an Abwehr intelligence liaison officer working for Tresckow, volunteered to be a suicide bomber, killing himself and Hitler while he viewed the display of Soviet equipment (and an untold number of other spectators). Gersdorff wore his full-length army topcoat (the museum had no heat) and triggered the timers of the two bombs he wore underneath it just before Hitler’s scheduled arrival at the museum. When Hitler arrived Gersdorff stayed near him, the bomb timers ticking beneath his coat. Hitler’s stay was shortened for security reasons; he rushed through the display in less than five minutes, and with his prey gone Gersdorff barely had time to find a place where he could deactivate the bombs. He succeeded.

The winter of 1942-43 had proven that German uniforms were inadequate to face the harshness of the Russian winter, and when new uniforms were designed to be worn by the army, the Luftwaffe, and the SS, a showing was arranged, to be attended by Hitler, SS leader Himmler, and Luftwaffe leader Herman Goering, providing an opportunity to assassinate the three leading Nazis at once. The model for the uniforms, Axel von dem Bussche, volunteered to wear a bomb fashioned from a land mine beneath the coat. When Bussche was wounded in battle a second officer volunteered to replace him, Ewald von Kleist. The difficulty scheduling the three Nazi leaders at the same time delayed the plan repeatedly, and eventually the assassination by suicide bomber plot was canceled while Tresckow and his fellow conspirators sought other means by which they could kill their Fuhrer.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Several plots to kill Hitler centered around his presence at his home the Berghof near Salzberg. Bundesarchiv

16. The assassination attempt in the Berghof

Eberhard von Breitenbuch was recruited by Tresckow and his fellow conspirators to serve as an aide to Gunther von Kluge, to provide a liaison between Tresckow and Kluge and to attempt to lure Kluge into actively supporting the conspiracy. In late October 1943, Kluge was severely injured when his car overturned between Minsk and Smolensk, rendering him temporarily unfit for duty (he returned to duty in July 1944). Breitenbuch was re-assigned as an aide to Field Marshal Ernst Busch. Busch was assigned to replace Kluge in command of Army Group Center, which was preparing to receive the expected Soviet attacks over the coming winter of 1943-44. In that capacity, he was summoned to appear at the Berghof to meet with Hitler and other commanders to discuss the situation on the Russian Front in the late winter.

Tresckow learned of Busch and his aide Breitenbuch being summoned to the Berghof and met with the latter, trying to persuade him to wear a suicide bomb to the meeting. Breitenbuch refused, but agreed to shoot Hitler at close range in the head. Officers were no longer allowed to wear their side arms in the Fuhrer’s presence, but Breitenbuch agreed to hide the small pistol in his trousers pocket. Busch and his aide were flown to the area and transferred to the Berghof by car. When he arrived, Breitenbuch was allowed to enter the Berghof, but an order issued only that same morning, March 11, 1944, forbade the presence of junior officers in the conference room with the Fuhrer, unless he specifically ordered their presence. Hitler did not order Breitenbuch to attend and once more avoided an attack which likely would have cost him his life.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
Several attempts to kill Hitler were postponed because of the plotters’ desire to get the three leading Nazis, Hitler, Himmler, and Goering, together at the same time, a rarity as the war went on. Wikimedia

17. Assassination attempts in Berlin

The attempts to kill Hitler in Berlin, both at the museum displaying captured Soviet military equipment and during the modeling of new winter uniforms, were hampered by the desire of the conspirators to eliminate simultaneously Hitler, Goering, and Himmler, thus decapitating the nation and the SS simultaneously, and leaving a power vacuum at the head of the Nazi party. The three Nazi leaders were difficult to get into the same place at the same time, which caused multiple delays and frustration among the conspirators, who were well aware that they were committing high treason. Even those officers who were aware of the plots but did not expose them to the Gestapo and the SS were guilty of treason, as many would discover in the aftermath of the July 20 plot, in which assassins came the closest to actually killing the Fuhrer.

General Helmut Stieff had been committed to the assassination of Hitler and the overthrow of the Nazis since 1943, but by the spring of 1944, his commitment wavered. The many failures and delays completing the plots discouraged him and when the final attempt to kill Hitler by suicide bomb when he was inspecting new uniforms was canceled, Stieff withdrew from the conspiracy. No other conspirator had routine access to the physical presence of Hitler but one, Claus von Stauffenberg. Stauffenberg was a wounded veteran of combat, having lost an eye, his right hand, and two fingers of his left. It fell to Stauffenberg to both plant a bomb at Wolf’s Lair and return to Berlin to activate the replacement army as part of a coup designed to kill Hitler and overthrow the government. The plan, prepared by Stauffenberg and Tresckow, was called Operation Valkyrie.

18 of the Many Attempts to Assassinate Adolf Hitler by the German Resistance
How much Rommel (left) knew of the July 20 bomb plot remains under debate, but he was offered the choice of a trial for high treason or suicide. He chose the latter. Bundesarchiv

18. Operation Valkyrie was the assassination attempt which came closest to success

The July 20 bomb plot was just one facet in the overall attempted coup launched by the conspirators led by Tresckow, Stauffenberg, and others known as Operation Valkyrie. Though the bomb planted in the conference room by Stauffenberg detonated, severely injuring Hitler and killing several others, the plot failed when delays initiating the rest of the plan in Berlin allowed the SS and others loyal to the Fuhrer to respond in time. Stauffenberg, who flew to Berlin after successfully planting the bomb at Wolf’s Lair, was executed that same night for treason. Several other conspirators were shot by the firing squad before the next morning. Upon learning of the failure of the coup and the fact of Hitler’s survival of the bombing, Tresckow committed suicide at his post on the Eastern Front. Hitler’s vengeance was immediate and deadly.

Hitler ordered those connected with the plot to be hanged by piano wire, their executions filmed, and he spent long hours watching the films. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was discovered to have been aware of the plot and was offered the opportunity to commit suicide rather than face trial for treason, which he accepted. The trials of conspirators and the execution of those accused, very few of whom were acquitted, continued until the end of the war. The Gestapo dragnet even produced evidence which was sufficient for them to name Pope Pius XII as an active member of the conspiracy, allowing the Gestapo to thus implicate every member of the Catholic clergy then active in the Reich. Valkyrie was the last known attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler during his career, and it had the most impact on the eventual destruction of the Nazi regime.

 

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Killing Hitler: The Plots, the Assassins, and the Dictator Who Cheated Death”. Roger Moorhouse. 2006

“The Secret War against Hitler”. Fabian von Schlabrendorff. 1994

“Nazi Spymaster: The Life and Death of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris”. Michael Mueller. 2017

“History of the German Resistance”. Peter Hoffmann. 1996

“Hitler’s Personal Security: Protecting the Fuhrer 1921-1945”. Peter Hoffmann. 2000

“Leaders & Personalities of the Third Reich, Volume 1”. Charles Hamilton. 1984

“Otto Strasser: The Life and Times of a German Socialist”. Troy Southgate. 2010

“The Oster Conspiracy of 1938: The Unknown Story of the Military Plot to Kill Hitler and Avert World War II”. Terry M. Parssinen. 2003

“The German Opposition to Hitler: The Resistance, the Underground, and Assassination Plots, 1938-1945”. Michael C. Thomsett. 1997

“The man who missed killing Hitler by 13 minutes”. Chris Bowlby, BBC News. April 5, 2015

“The Ulrich von Hassel Diaries: The Story of the Forces Against Hitler Inside”. Ulrich von Hassel

“All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust”. Jonathan Steinberg. 2002

“Withstanding Hitler in Germany, 1933-1945”. Michael Balfour. 1988

“Plotting Hitler’s Death”. Joachim Fest. 1997

“Disobedience and Conspiracy in the German Army”. Robert B. Kane. 2008

“Henning von Tresckow: A Prussian Against Hitler”. Bodo Scheurig. 2004. (in German)

“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. William Shirer. 1973

“Valkyrie: An Insider’s Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler”. Hans Bernd Gisevius. 2008. Abridged and translated from the two-volume “To the Bitter End”. 1947

“Killing The Fuhrer: The Many Attempts on Hitler’s Life Before WWII”, Nikola Budanovic, War History Online, Jul 13, 2016

“10 Would-Be Assassins Who Tried to Kill Hitler”, MARK MANCINI, Mental Floss, MARCH 24, 2015

“The Complete List of Everyone Who Tried (And Failed) To Assassinate Hitler”, Genevieve Carlton, Ranker, December 20, 2021

Advertisement