‘Valkyrie’- 20 July 1944 Part I

1. Office and barracks of Hitler’s bodyguard

2. RSD command centre

3. Emergency generator

4. Bunker

5. Office of Otto Dietrich, Hitler’s press secretary

6. Conference room, site 20 July 1944 assassination attempt

7. RSD command post

8. Guest bunker and air-raid shelter

9. RSD command post

10. Secretariat under Philipp Bouhler

11. Headquarters of Johann Rattenhuber, SS chief of Hitler’s security department, and Post Office

12. Radio and telex buildings

13. Vehicle garages

14. Railway siding for Hitler’s Train

15. Cinema

16. Generator buildings

17. Quarters of Morell, Bodenschatz, Hewel, Voß, Wolff and Fegelein

18. Stores

19. Residence of Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary

20. Bormann’s personal air-raid shelter for himself and staff

21. Office of Hitler’s adjutant and the Wehrmacht’s personnel office

22. Military and staff mess II

23. Quarters of General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations of OKW

24. Firefighting pond

25. Office of the Foreign Ministry

26. Quarters of Fritz Todt, then after his death Albert Speer

27. RSD command post

28. Air-raid shelter with Flak and MG units on the roof

29. Hitler’s bunker and air-raid shelter

30. New tearoom

31. Residence of General Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, supreme commander of OKW

32. Old Teahouse

33. Residence of Reich Marshal Hermann Göring

34. Göring’s personal air-raid shelter for himself and staff, with Flak and MG on the roof

35. Offices of the High Command of the Air Force

36. Offices of the High command of the Navy

37. Bunker with Flak

38. Ketrzyn railway line

Colonel-General Friedrich Fromm was still an unknown quantity. He would not join the Resistance, but he did not oppose or betray it either. He does not emerge with great credit from this story; like so many of his colleagues, he was a man who wanted to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. His appointment of Stauffenberg as his Chief of Staff was a purely military matter. He had had his eye on the young officer for some time, and at his request Stauffenberg had written a report on the possible conduct of the Reserve Army in Total War which had so impressed Fromm that he had passed it on to Hitler, who remarked, `Finally, a General Staff Officer with imagination and integrity!’ In many ways, Stauffenberg was Hitler’s ideal. Though not obviously `Nordic’, he was handsome, young, and, above all, had been badly (and in Hitler’s eyes, romantically) wounded for the good of the cause. It is difficult to say whether the appointment to Fromm finalised Stauffenberg’s decision to attempt the assassination of the Führer, or whether he went after the posting as a means to that end. In any case, the effect was the same.

Stauffenberg’s first meeting with Hitler was at the Berghof on 7 June – the day after D-Day. He travelled there from Bamberg where he had been spending a week’s leave with his family prior to taking up his appointment with Fromm. At the meeting were Himmler, Göring and Speer: it is a pity the bomb could not have been planted then and there. He noted that, contrary to rumours, it was perfectly possible to get close to Hitler. It would not have been a problem to draw one’s pistol and shoot the Führer. The argument against such action was the strong rumour that Hitler wore body armour. Hitler, who habitually retired late and rose late, had not been told of the Normandy landings until he had woken, but the military situation was in any case quite hopeless. Supplies were all but used up, and factories were either bombed out or operating only partially. The German divisions were spread too thinly across all fronts and many were unfit for full combat. It is a testament to an insane courage that their forces held out against the enemy for so long. The paratroop regiments and the Waffen-SS divisions showed particular resilience.

Stauffenberg returned to Berlin after another brief stay at Bamberg, taking with him Forester’s Hornblower novel The Happy Return to read on the train. A few days later, he was persuading his cousin Yorck von Wartenburg of the Kreisau Circle to enter into active Resistance. By mid-June, Goerdeler was drawing up another of his potential Cabinet lists, and Wilhelm Leuschner was defining the hierarchy of a new trade union movement. Hopes, at least, were high. But on 16 June there was an unhappy meeting of the civilian Resistance at the Hotel Esplanade in Berlin. Leber, who had turned down Stauffenberg’s proposal that he be Chancellor in place of Goerdeler, and who was now in line for Interior Minister, attacked Goerdeler for his unrealistic foreign policy ideas – which still embraced a demand for Germany to retain her 1914 frontiers. Leber thought that East Prussia, the Sudetenland and Elsass-Lohringen (Alsace-Lorraine) would have to go. His homeland was Alsace, and there was no question of his patriotism, but he was still shouted down by the others.

Shortly afterwards, the Resistance was to suffer another cruel blow. Julius Leber and his close associate, Adolf Reichwein, had entered into negotiations with a view to Resistance and postwar co-operation with a Communist group led by three veteran freedom fighters, Bernhard Bästlein, Franz Jakob and Anton Saefkow. Leber knew the first two personally, having spent five years in the concentration camps with them before the outbreak of war. A series of exploratory meetings followed, but the Gestapo already had the group under observation, and Bastlein had been arrested on 30 May. Now the net closed, and early in July the Security Service raided a meeting at which the others were seized. Stauffenberg was appalled when he heard the news, and promised Leber’s wife Annedore that they would get her husband out of prison, whatever else happened.

One should remember that during these preparations, Berlin was being subjected to merciless air raids day and night. The battering had the effect of stiffening the resolve of the fanatical Nazis, who were in any case fighting to protect their own backs now. That such a man as Roland Freisler could continue to conduct trials in the name of a `law’ that had no value and had even lost the backing of power is evidence of this, and invites interesting psychological reflection. The members of the Resistance themselves knew that they had at the very most a 50 per cent chance of success, but the profound sense of Tresckow’s advice to fight for it whatever the cost went home to all of them. As late as the end of June, Adam von Trott zu Solz embarked on yet another journey to Sweden, in the faint hope of renewing contact with the British. In fact there was no hope at all.

Organisation was always a great problem for the Resistance. The arrangement of meetings was a matter of difficulty, since neither the telephone nor the post could be used. Fixed meetings often had to be aborted because of air raids and the resulting disruption of transport in Berlin. Often the conspirators used the Grünewald – the vast park in the west of the city – to meet, as houses were not always considered secure. Plans, too, had to be changed continually to keep up with the progress of the war. Schulenburg commented drily, `We’d have got further if Stauffenberg had made up his mind sooner.’

At the end of June, Kurt Zeitzler, the Chief of Staff, had a nervous breakdown. He was replaced by Heinz Guderian. By now, Stauffenberg had taken up residence in his office near Fromm’s in the Bendlerblock on Bendlerstrasse, the massive building – the size of a small estate – which housed Armed Forces administration. Fromm was astonished at the number of unfamiliar officers he saw coming and going, but he did not ask what they were doing, contenting himself with passing the remark to Count Helldorf, still chief of the Berlin police, that `it’d be best if Hitler committed suicide’. Like many officers, he would doubtless have considered himself released from the Oath of Loyalty by Hitler’s death, which he hoped for, without wishing to work for it actively.

Early in July Trott returned empty-handed from Stockholm, but with news of the efforts of the National Committee for Free Germany. Stauffenberg was chary of this. `I don’t think much of proclamations made from behind barbed wire,’ he remarked.

Meanwhile, complicated arrangements were in train to obtain the correct English explosives and fuses for the attempt on Hitler. Once again, Stieff was in the forefront of this dangerous undertaking. At the same time, arrangements were being made for the takeover of power. For a time Rommel, a very popular general at home who had also earned the respect of the Allies, was considered for the position of head of state. Rommel, however, was never more than on the fringes of the conspiracy. Although he was sympathetic, he was put out of action when his heavy unmanoeuvrable open-topped Horch staff car was strafed by British fighters on 17 July and he was seriously wounded. After the 20 July attempt, however, the ever-suspicious Hitler obliged this best of his generals to commit suicide in order to spare his family the concentration camps and himself disgrace. The Führer then gave him a state funeral, but everyone knew what had really happened.

The position of post-Nazi President, therefore, reverted to Beck. Goerdeler would be Chancellor. Erwin von Witzleben would take over the Army and Erich Hoepner the Reserve Army. Wherever possible conspirators would be placed in the various Army districts around Germany and in the occupied territories, but otherwise commands from Berlin would have to have the authority of Fromm’s signature initially to implement `Valkyrie’. If Fromm would not agree at the eleventh hour, Hoepner would have to announce that he had taken over and issue the orders, hoping that the regional commanders would still obey. SS divisions and units would have to be neutralised and then subsumed within the Army. In co-ordination with `Valkyrie’, Helldorf, Nebe and Gisevius (who travelled to Berlin from Zurich for the coup) would use the regular police to take over the Security Service and seize its files. They would also arrest all Nazi leaders then in Berlin, such as Josef Goebbels and Robert Ley. There were plans to take over all radio stations, for a broadcast to the nation would have to be made immediately after the coup to establish the bona fides of the conspirators. Also, telecommunications at the Wolf’s Lair would have to be neutralised for as long as possible. This daunting task was entrusted to the Army head of Signals, General Erich Fellgiebel.

The Resistance had not yet given up all hope of making peace with the West first in order at least to stall Stalin in the East, and they were especially well prepared in France. The weak Günther von Kluge had taken over general command in the West on 2 July, and he might still be swayed. The military commander was General Karl-Heinrich von Stulpnagel, a veteran of the Resistance, and he was backed up by other convinced conspirators like Lieutenant-General Hans Speidel. A reminiscence of Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager is an indication of the almost surreal circumstances of the time. Shortly before the 20 July attempt, Tresckow sent Philipp’s brother Georg (of the old `Boeselager Brigade’) to Paris with a message for Kluge. But Georg needed an excuse for the journey. Fortunately a good one presented itself: the Boeselagers owned a racehorse, Lord Wagram, due to run at Longchamps. Accompanying it provided the perfect cover; but, as Philipp remarks, it is astonishing that such things were still possible in mid-1944!

The whole plan was rickety and riddled with risk, but it offered the only possibility, and time was running out fast for a coup of any sort to be effected.

Stauffenberg attended a further meeting at Berchtesgaden on 6 July, and another on the 11th. On this second occasion, when he travelled with his adjutant and confidant Captain Friedrich Karl Klausing, he was prepared to make the attempt, the explosives packed in a briefcase, and equipped with a pair of pliers to set the fuse whose handles had been specially adapted so that he could manipulate them with his remaining crippled hand. However, Himmler was not present at the meeting and so, after a telephone call to Olbricht, Stauffenberg decided to abort the attempt. As no plans seem to have been laid to set `Valkyrie’ in motion on this occasion one wonders if he did indeed intend to make the attempt. It may have been a full dress rehearsal. Stauffenberg must have been aware that he would have several opportunities in the next few days to attend meetings with Hitler. Nevertheless, to take such a risk without intending action seems hard to believe.

On 15 July, Stauffenberg accompanied Fromm to another meeting with the Führer, this time at the Wolf’s Lair near Rastenburg. They had received the summons at midday on the 14th, so there was just time to activate `Valkyrie’. This was to be it. Everyone was on edge. Berthold Stauffenberg commented, `Worst of all is to know that we’ll fail; and yet we must go ahead, for the sake of our country and our children.’ In the West, the SS division generals Sepp Dietrich and Hausser put themselves fully under Rommel’s orders. Very few people indeed seemed to have any faith in Hitler’s new wonder weapons, the Vbomb rockets.

The Wolf’s Lair was a complex of compounds and buildings, admission to which involved various degrees of security check. At that time it was in a state of rebuilding. At least Stauffenberg had the opportunity to take this in, for there was no chance to use the bomb. Once again a last-minute change of plan by Hitler saved him. Fortunately, although Valkyrie’s initial stages had been set in motion in anticipation of Stauffenberg’s action, the conspirators managed to pass these off as an exercise.

Stauffenberg was deeply depressed by this setback, and those who saw him at that time recall his state of nervous exhaustion. On the 16th, he telephoned his wife in Bamberg to ask her to postpone a family visit she intended to make with the children to Lautlingen. She objected that she had already bought the railway tickets, and he did not press her. It was their last conversation. The same day, Rommel transmitted a message to Hitler via Kluge that the maximum time the West Front could continue to hold out was twenty-one days. That evening there was a meeting of `the young counts’, as Goerdeler called them, at the Stauffenberg brothers’ flat in Wannsee. Mertz von Quirnheim, Claus’s successor as Chief of Staff to Olbricht, was there, together with Fritz-Dietlof von der Schulenburg, Adam von Trott zu Solz, Peter Yorck von Wartenburg, Cäsar von Hofacker, the contact man with the Army in France, Georg Hansen, who had taken over from Canaris at the Abwehr, and Schwerin von Schwanenfeld. They decided that the only way to save Germany now would be to kill Hitler at the very first opportunity and immediately thereafter enter peace negotiations with the USSR and the Western Allies simultaneously. They had no idea that Germany had already been divided up and parcelled out. Events had long since overtaken them and they did not know.

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