Stauffenberg, left, with Hitler (centre) and Wilhelm Keitel, right,   at Rastenburg on 15 July 1944, when he aborted an assassination attempt.

Stauffenberg, left, with Hitler (centre) and Wilhelm Keitel, right, in an aborted assassination attempt at Rastenburg on 15 July 1944.

By the middle of July 1944 Germany’s war situation had gone from bad to worse. The collapse of the Eastern Front and the evident strength of the Allies in Normandy meant that many senior German officers believed that the war was lost. A relatively small group of them chose to take action. It was obvious that only the removal of Hitler could bring the war to an end.

After several abortive attempts Claus von Stauffenberg, a Staff Officer with access to Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair HQ Conference room came very close to succeeding. Several things went wrong. Stauffenberg only had one eye and three fingers on his left hand so could only arm one of the two bombs, then, because of the hot day the meeting was transferred from an underground bunker to a wooden hut. Finally after depositing his briefcase bomb as close to Hitler as possible and making an excuse to leave, Staffenberg’s briefcase was moved by another officer. It was placed on the other side of a solid wooden trestle table leg, yet still only feet away from Hitler.

Heinrich Bucholz was one of the stenographers present, recording the discussions at the conference:

I remember it as a clap of thunder coupled with a bright yellow flash and clouds of thick smoke. Glass and wood splintered through the air. The large table on which all the situation maps had been spread out and around which the participants were standing — only we stenographers were sitting — collapsed. After a few seconds of silence I heard a voice, probably Field Marshal Keitel, shouting: “Where is the Fuhrer?” Then further shouts and screams of pain arose.

The wrecked conference room at the "Wolfsschanze" near Rastenburg in East Prussia after the explosion on 20th July.

The wrecked conference room at the “Wolfsschanze” near Rastenburg in East Prussia after the explosion on 20th July.

Paul Schmidt, Hitler’s interpreter, was one of the first people to see Hitler after the explosion. He arrived to be present for Hitler’s meeting with Mussolini that had previously been arranged. Because of the heightened security he had difficult getting into the private railway station nearby, where Mussolini was due to arrive:

I did finally succeed in getting past the sentries, and reached this station, where I was to meet Mussolini on his arrival early in the afternoon. At the station I heard what had actually happened from Hitler’s physician, Professor Morell, who had not himself fully recovered from the shock of the explosion.

He told me that Hitler had, miraculously, escaped practically unhurt, whereas other people in the room had been severely wounded. He expressed great admiration for Hitler’s complete calm; he had found his pulse quite normal when examining him for injuries.

While the doctor was telling me this, Hitler himself suddenly appeared on the platform to welcome Mussolini. There was no evidence of what had happened, except that his right arm was rather stiff. When the train came in, I noticed that he held out his left hand to Mussolini, and that he moved much more slowly than usual; it was as though one were watching him in a slow-motion film.

During the three-minute drive to his quarters Hitler told Mussolini what had just happened, quietly and almost in a monotone as though he had had no part in it. Mussolini’s naturally prominent eyes seemed to start out of his head with horror.

We went straight to the conference room, which looked like a bombed house after an air-raid. For a while the two men looked round in silence, and then Hitler related some of the details. He showed Mussolini how he had been bending over the table to see something on the map, and was leaning on his right elbow, when the explosion occurred, almost exactly beneath his arm.

The top of the table had been blown off and it was this which had hurt his right arm. In a corner of the room was the uniform which Hitler had been wearing that morning, and he showed Mussolini the tattered trousers and the slightly torn tunic, and also showed the back of his head, where his hair was singed.

Mussolini was absolutely horried; he could not understand how such a thing could happen at Headquarters; his face expressed utter dismay. In the ruins of this office, the nerve centre of the Italo-German partnership, he must have seen the ruins of the whole political structure of the Rome-Berlin Axis.

At first he could only think of the event as a bad omen, and some time elapsed before he pulled himself together enough to congratulate Hitler on his escape.
Hitler’s reaction was completely different.

“I was standing here by this table; the bomb went off just
in front of my feet. Over there in the corner of the room colleagues of mine were severely injured; just opposite me an officer was literally blown through the window and lay outside severely injured. Look at my uniform!

Look at my burns! When I reflect on all this I must say that to me it is obvious that nothing is going to happen to me; undoubtedly it is my fate to continue on my way and to bring my task to completion. It is not the first time that I have escaped death miraculously. First there were times in the first war, and then during my political career there were a series of marvellous escapes.

What happened here today is the climax! And having now escaped death in such an extraordinary way I am more than ever convinced that the great cause which I serve will be brought through its present perils and that everything can be brought to a good end.”

Hitler had talked himself with these words into a state of fine enthusiasm, as he was always able to do; he had passed from the quiet reporting tone in which he had related the details of the event, into that kind of rhetoric which seldom failed of its effect on the man to whom he was talking. It was something quite different from the raging and ranting of his public speeches. Outbursts of rage like those which occurred in the speeches, which he has often been credited with in private conversations, never took place at any conversation where I was present as interpreter.

See Paul Schmidt: Hitler’s Interpreter

Another account comes from Hitler’s masseur, A. J. Weinert, who was tracked down by Wolfe Frank, employed by the New York Herald Tribune after the war:

I was at Hitler’s Rastenburg headquarters at the time of the attempted assassination of 20 July 1944.

I must say I haven’t much respect for the people who bungled that affair. If you plan to pull off something like that, you should go ahead boldly, prepared to go down the drain yourself. But Graf von Stauffenbergg wouldn’t have it that way. He simply plonked the briefcase containing the bomb down on a chair in Hitler’s conference room, and beat it.

What happened next was miraculously lucky for Adolf. He somehow pushed the chair with the loaded briefcase on it under the heavy conference table and stood behind the chair while talking to the assembled group.

At the moment the bomb exploded, Hitler’s hand was outstretched over the table, making a gesture. The top of the table was blown upward, against his arm, which was badly sprained and bruised. But that was just about his only injury.

By some freak, the main force of the explosion was directed away from Hitler and blew the legs off some of the people who were standing on the other side of the table. Four people were killed in the explosion.

I saw Adolf less than five minutes after it happened. His trousers hung in shreds. In fact, all the horizontal threads seemed to have been blown away, leaving only the vertical ones hanging down. He controlled himself pretty well, I must admit, under the circumstance. He sat on the couch and laughed and laughed for quite a long time. And he kept slapping his thigh with his uninjured arm as he laughed. All his entourage crowded around to tell him he had been saved by an act of God. He seemed to believe it…

See The Undercover Nazi Hunter: Exposing Subterfuge and Unmasking Evil in Post-War Germany

Shortly afterwards Hitler made a radio broadcast to the German nation to confirm to all that the coup had failed and that he lived:

At the very moment when the German armies are engaged in a most difficult struggle, a small group formed in Germany, as happened in Italy, which thought that as in 1918 it could now deliver the stab in the back. However, this time they totally miscalculated.

The claim by these usurpers that I am no longer alive, is at this very moment proven false, for here I am talking to you, my dear fellow countrymen.

The circle which these usurpers represent is very small. It has nothing to do with the German armed forces, and above all nothing to do with the German army. It is a very small clique composed of criminal elements which will now be mercilessly exterminated.

An aide holds up Hitler's trousers to show how close he was to the explosion.

An aide holds up Hitler’s trousers to show how close he was to the explosion.

Hitler shows Benito Mussolini the scene of his narrow escape.

Hitler shows Benito Mussolini the scene of his narrow escape.

{ 5 comments }

Jul

19

1944

Light Auster aircraft duels with Tiger tank


19 July 1944: Light Auster aircraft duels with Tiger tank
That damned English crow is hanging in the sky again. Doesn’t he know there’s a war on? He’s got a nerve, flying in curves and circles over the front like that!. A machine—gun could easily bring him down. But nothing stirs in our front line. The infantryman there knows that the slightest sign of life will bring down the shells from the enemy batteries — and they will be bang on target. Throughout the intense heat of the July afternoon our infantry lie motionless in their holes in the ground, following with their eyes every movement in the sky above.

Jul

19

1944

Last stand of the Wehrmacht in St Lo


19 July 1944: Last stand of the Wehrmacht in St Lo

Question or statement I didn’t know, either way it struck us both. I held him until he died. The whole event only took a few moments. Willi’s last words may have been the trigger for Kalb’s next action. He took off his helmet and placed it over Willi’s face, then broke off the bottom of Willi’s identity disc. He took this, his watch, medals, wedding ring and the pictures of his family and wrapped it all in his handkerchief, which he thrust down the front of his trousers. No one would look here. He placed his battered cap on his head and told us to do the same.

Jul

18

1944

Badly wounded pilot’s determination sinks U-Boat


18 July 1944: Badly wounded pilot’s determination sinks U-Boat

During the next five and a half hours of the return flight he several times lapsed into unconsciousness owing to loss of blood. When he came to his first thought on each occasion was for the safety of his aircraft and crew. The damaged aircraft eventually reached base but it was clear that an immediate landing would be a hazardous task for the wounded and less experienced second pilot. Although able to breathe only with the greatest difficulty, Flying Officer Cruickshank insisted on being carried forward and propped up in the second pilot’s seat.

Jul

17

1944

Red Army reaches the Russian border


17 July 1944: Red Army reaches the Soviet border

For just a few minutes, people became completely different – unfettered, they straightened their backs and stood taller; pride appeared on their faces, and their eyes sparkled. If only for a short while, the terrible memories of the days of retreat and death slipped away, the years we endured together, the tears over those who passed away — all vanished in this moment of common triumph and joy! How splendid that we had lived to see this hour! That we were among the first of the first to cross this fixed geographical boundary, which was so precious to us all, and toward which we had all been striving so long! It seemed to all of us that the end of the war was now just a stone’s throw away.

Jul

16

1944

The bloody battle for Hill 112


16 July 1944: The bloody battle for Hill 112

If single German infantrymen can pop in and out of ditches within fifty yards of our tank, single German infantrymen may be crawling through the hedges alongside us or through the long grass behind us. And some of those infantrymen carry the notorious Panzerfaust, a simple, throwaway bomb-projector, known to us as a Bazooka and looking something like an outsize bassoon, an innocuous-looking instrument but one which, at fifty yards range, can blow our turret to smithereens.

Jul

15

1944

Rommel’s last report on the battle in France


15 July 1944: Rommel’s last report on the battle in France

The destruction of the railroad network, and the great danger of enemy air attacks on all the roads and paths for 150 kilometres behind the front has made the supply position so difiicult that only the absolutely essential things could be brought up, and above all artillery and mortar ammunition was at a premium. These conditions are not likely to improve, as convoy vehicles are decreasing as a result of enemy action, and with the enemy capturing airfields in the bridgehead it can be expected that their air activities will increase.

Jul

14

1944

Bradley faces criticisms of ‘slow’ Allied advance


16 July 1944: Bradley faces criticisms of ‘slow’ Allied advance

Those who had awaited Monty’s assault on Caen as the signal for an Allied breakthrough trooped back disheartened to their gloomy press camps when the British went no farther. Weeks of intermittent rain had shrouded the beachhead with a dismal gray cloud cover, pinning the air forces to the ground while the enemy dragged up reinforcements.

Jul

13

1944

Starving Wehrmacht flees west across the steppe


13 July 1944: Starving Wehrmacht flees west across the steppe

Men died for very little — for the possibility of a day’s food. When everything had been eaten, down to the last sprout in the meagre gardens, twelve thousand soldiers stared at the village, which had been abandoned by its terrified inhabitants. Living corpses wandered here and there, staring at the tragic shreds of existence which remained to them.

Jul

12

1944

Sherman tanks move up to the line in Italy


12 July 1944: Sherman tanks move up to the line in Italy

I reported back to our RHQ and it was arranged that I should take a half-Squadron, i.e. two Troops of tanks, my own and a support tank, making a total force of eight, and move up forward and to go and deal with this. We moved up to about 800-1,000 yards behind the infantry positions and I moved further forward still and got Lance-Corporal Shapcott, my gunner, to range on the target. He was a damn good gunner and, after having bracketed it, his fourth or fifth shot appeared to be a direct hit and when he repeated his aim I said, “that’s it.” (The Sherman 75mm was extraordinarily accurate and one could put a round through the window or down through the door of a ’casa’ at a good range – something the 25-pdrs couldn’t do).