Operation “Valkyrie”: 20 July 1944

On this date in 1944, a group of patriotic German Army officers made their final – and most daring attempt – to assassinate Hitler, depose and arrest the Nazi government and security forces, establish a new goverment and negotiate an end to the war.  This was the famous briefcase bomb attempt that took place at Hitler’s East Prussian headquarters known as the Wolfsschanze (the Wolf’s Lair – “wolf” having been Hitler’s codename for the attempted Putsch in Munich in 1923).

The plot centred around a modification of “Unternehmen Walküre” (Operation Valkyrie), which was developed in case the Allied bombing of German cities or an uprising of forced labourers resulted in a breakdown in law and order. The conspirators modified the plan so that reserve troops in Berlin could seize key government buildings, telephone and signal centers and radio stations. The conspirators plan required Hitler’s death in order to free German soldiers from their oath of loyalty to him, they also hoped to be able to kill Himmler and Goering at the same time in order to elminate resistance from the para-military security forces of the SS, SD and Gestapo.

If you’ve seen the recent film “Valkyrie” you’ll know the basic story – thanks to the fact that the film-makers were forced to make an accurate film in order to get permission to film at many of the actual historical places.  The only major thing the film got wrong is that it portrays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg as the originator of the idea to alter and expand the plans for Operation Valkyrie.  It was actually General Friedrich Olbricht and Colonel Henning von Treschow who made these significant alterations to Valkyrie in August and September 1943.  Other than this glitch (presumably becuase of Tom Cruise’s involvement with the film), “Valkyrie” is a very good film and the level of detail is superb – even down to the fact that the troops patrolling the woods around the Wolf’s Lair are wearing mosquito nets over their helmets. 

The critical importance of Stauffenberg in the plot – both in terms of planting the bomb and then also rushing back to Berlin to play a key role in the orchestration of what followed – is accurately depicted in the film.  As is General Friedrich Fromm’s desperate attempt to cover his tracks by having General Olbricht, his chief of staff Colonel Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim, Colonel von Stauffenberg, and his adjutant Lieutenant Werner von Haeften summarily executed in the courtyard of his Bendlerstrasse headquarters.

Over the next few months most of the group of conspirators, including; Wilhelm Canaris, Carl Goerdeler, Julius Leber, Ulrich Hassell, Hans Oster, Peter von Wartenburg, Henning von Tresckow, Ludwig Beck, Erwin von Witzleben and also Friedrich Fromm, were either executed or committed suicide.  Hitler also decided that the leaders who were caught should have a slow death – hung with piano wire from meat-hooks.  These executions were filmed and shown to senior members of both the Nazi Party and the armed forces, as a lesson for all who dared to oppose the new order.

In all, it is etimated that over 7,000 Germans were arrested and almost 5,000 were executed becuase of the July Plot. 

A further consequence of the July Plot was that the the new Army Chief of Staff, Blitzkreig hero General Heinz Guderian, demanded the resignation of any officer who did not fully support the ideals of the Nazi Party. Over the next few months Guderian sat with Gerd von Rundstedt and Wilhelm Keitel on the Army Court of Honor that expelled hundreds of officers suspected of being opposed to Nazi policies. These officers were in then handed over to the Nazi-controlled “People’s Court” to be tried for treason, crimes against the state, crimes against the people – and anything else they could dream up.

As today marks the 65th Anniversary of the assassination attempt, let’s pause for a moment and remember these men who decided to risk everything and take action when so many others wouldn’t.  These men were true patriots who showed us all that sometimes a soldier must realise that his or her loyalty is to a higher and more noble thing than an evil and inept leader or political system – even if that awareness comes a bit late…


General Friedrich Olbricht



Major General Henning von Treschow



Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg:  “Fate has offered us this opportunity, and I would not refuse it for anything in the world. I have examined myself before God and my conscience. It must be done because this man is evil personified.”



Colonel Albrecht von Quirnheim

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 146III-347, Werner Karl v. Haeften.jpg

1st Lieutenant Werner von Haeften


File:Bendler Block Memorial.jpg 

Memorial for those executed by firing squad at Brendlerblock.

Full list of members of the 20 July Plot.

Recommended further reading:

Amazon’s product description:
When the Second World War broke out, Philipp von Boeselager fought enthusiastically for his country, leading a cavalry unit first in France and later on the Russian Front. However, when he discovered what the SS were doing to Jews and Gypsies in the summer of 1942 his enthusiasm quickly turned to disgust. Along with his brother Georg, he joined a group of conspirators in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. After several abortive assassination attempts, including one in which von Boeselager was supposed to shoot the Fuehrer with his own pistol while Hitler ate lunch in an officers’ mess.  When the plotters finally decided on a plan to blow Hitler up with a bomb, von Boeselager transported the explosives and passed them on to Claus von Stauffenberg. He and his brother then moved their cavalry units to Berlin to take control of the city. When the plot failed, the Boeselager brothers hurried back to the eastern front with their units. One by one their fellow plotters were found out, tortured and executed, and it is a testimony to their fortitude that they never gave away the Boeselagers’ names. Georg von Boeselager eventually died in battle on the Russian Front, but Philipp survived the war and outlived all his fellow conspirators. His family still owns the pistol with which he was supposed to shoot Hitler.

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