‘Valkyrie’ – 20 July 1944 Part II

1. Adolf Hitler

2. Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel

3. Gen Alfred von Jodl

4. Gen Walter Warlimont

5. Franz von Sonnleithner

6. Maj Herbert Buchs

7. Stenographer Heinz Buchholz

8. Lt Gen Hermann Fegelein

9. Col Nikolaus von Below

10. Rear Adm Hans-Erich Voss

11. Otto Günsche, Hitler’s adjutant

12. Gen Walter Scherff (injured)

13. Gen Ernst John von Freyend

14. Capt Heinz Assman (injured)

15. Stenographer Heinrich Berger (killed)

16. Rear Adm Karl-Jesco von Puttkamer (injured)

17. Gen Walther Buhle (injured)

18. Lt Col Heinrich Borgmann (injured)

19. Gen Rudolf Schmundt (killed)

20. Lt Col Heinz Waizenegger

21. Gen Karl Bodenschatz (injured)

22. Col Heinz Brandt (killed)

23. Gen Günther Korten (killed)

24. Col Claus von Stauffenberg

25. Gen Adolf Heusinger (injured)

The following day, the day Rommel was shot up, the Security Service issued a warrant for Goerdeler’s arrest. Goerdeler was in Leipzig at the time, but immediately left for Berlin, where he went underground.

Soon after, orders came for Stauffenberg to attend a meeting at the Wolf’s Lair on 20 July to report on the recruitment of new People’s Grenadier Divisions – a kind of last-minute Home Guard. He was calm, at least outwardly, but possibly inwardly too, all day on the 19th. He smoked neither more nor fewer cigarettes than usual, and he fulfilled his desk duties at the Bendlerblock with his habitual punctiliousness. At 8p.m. he left the office for home, but stopped off on the way to attend Mass. Once back at Tristanstrasse, he packed the explosives in a case, concealing them under a clean shirt. His thoughts must have turned to Nina, now three months pregnant with their fifth child. He spent the evening quietly with Berthold.

Stauffenberg left the apartment at 6a.m. the following morning and drove with his brother to Rangsdorf airfield, south of Berlin. There he met his ADC, Werner von Haeften, and General Stieff, who was returning to Mauerwald. The courier aircraft, a Junkers JU 52, left at 8a. m., an hour late, for the 400-mile journey. They arrived at Rastenburg aerodrome at about 10.15a.m. where Stauffenberg parted company with Haeften until noon. The meeting with Hitler was due to take place at 1p. m. Haeften took charge of the briefcase with its two 2-kilogram packages of hexogen plastic explosive.

At 11.30 Stauffenberg had a meeting at the Wolfs Lair with Keitel, who told him that the meeting with Hitler had been brought forward to 12.30. Hitler had done this in order to make room for a meeting with Mussolini at 2.30p. m. The Italian dictator had been sprung from prison in a daring raid led by SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny and was now a guest of the Führer. Haeften arrived from Mauerwald half an hour later, on schedule, but now they had only half an hour to get ready. Stauffenberg asked for a room to freshen up in before the meeting, and there, aided by Haeften, he began to repack the two bombs in his own briefcase. Before they could finish the job, however, they were interrupted by an NCO with a message from General Fellgiebel. The message turned out not to be urgent, but Stauffenberg had no time now to pack the second bomb. Nevertheless, he was confident that one would be adequate for the purpose of blowing Hitler up in a confined space.

There was, however, another problem about which he could do nothing. Owing to the building works at the Wolf’s Lair headquarters, the meeting was not to be held in the usual concrete bunker (Hitler by now was very much concerned by enemy air attacks), but in a large wooden hut, where the shock waves on which the bomb depended for its main effect would have considerably less effect, since they would not be contained and reflected by unyielding walls. Still Stauffenberg thought he could bring the plan off, if he could place the bomb close enough to Hitler. Neither Göring nor Himmler was to be at the meeting, which was unfortunate, but there could be no question of deferring the attempt any more.

Punctually at 12.30, the meeting began. The room was dominated by a huge map table on two heavy oak supports. Twenty-four senior officers were in attendance, including Hitler and Keitel. Stauffenberg managed to get a place at the table very close to the Führer. He had set the ten-minute silent fuse and shoved the briefcase under the table next to Hitler, against one of the oak supports. On the excuse of making a telephone call, he left the meeting a few minutes later, leaving his cap and belt in the antechamber deliberately to indicate that he would be returning. In the meantime, Haeften had ordered a car. The two men departed at 12.42, at about the same time as the explosion. That the game was now being played for all or nothing is indicated by the fact that Haeften got rid of the redundant packet of explosive by merely throwing it from the car as they drove to the airfield. It was discovered later by Gestapo investigators.

There was total chaos in the wrecked hut, but the windows had been blown out, taking the force of the blast with them, and as the smoke cleared they found that the damage was not as great as it might have been. Neither Keitel nor Hitler was seriously wounded. Keitel embraced Hitler with the words, `My Führer! You’re alive! You’re alive!’ Among the severely wounded were Rudolf Schmundt, who had been so suspicious of Gersdorff s attempt, and Heinz Brandt, who had innocently carried the `Cointreau bomb’ for Operation Flash. Both died within days. Everyone present except Hitler and Keitel suffered burst eardrums. Hitler had been protected by the massive table support.

By now, Stauffenberg and Haeften were speeding towards the Rastenburg aerodrome, where a Heinkel HE 111, organised by General Eduard Wagner, was waiting to take them back to Berlin. At 12.55, five minutes after they had taken off, General Fellgiebel contacted his Chief of Staff at nearby Mauerwald: `Something terrible has happened. The Führer’s alive!’ Kurt Hahn, the Chief of Staff, and also a conspirator, promised to pass the message on to the Bendlerstrasse. Fellgiebel did what he could to block telecommunications, but quickly headquarters security ordered the main switchboard to stop all outgoing calls except for those from Hitler, Keitel and Jodl. Hitler himself, who had escaped with minor cuts and burns, was euphoric with relief. His trousers had been shredded by the blast, but otherwise even his dignity was intact. While his loyal signals officers hastened to put matters back in order, he took his scheduled tea with Mussolini after only a slight delay, having shown the Duce the wreckage of the hut. Göring and Ribbentrop were in attendance.

By 1.30, just before the clampdown on communications, both Hahn and Fellgiebel managed to relay a message to Berlin about the failure of the assassination attempt. The call was received at the Bendlerblock by Signals officer Lieutenant-General Fritz Thiele. Thiele told Olbricht, but they took no action. Fellgiebel’s message had lacked detail. They decided that they could not risk unleashing `Valkyrie’ again until they knew more. If they did, and the whole thing had aborted, they could not pass the `Valkyrie’ order off as an exercise a second time. Precipitate action now might jeopardise any future chance for the conspiracy. Their decision was based on sound reasoning; but it was a fatal error.

At 3.30p. m., Stauffenberg arrived back in Berlin, to find that no action had been taken, and `Valkyrie’ had not been set in motion. Instead, he was met by confusion and doubt at the Bendlerstrasse. Grimly insisting that Hitler was indeed dead, he took over, galvanising his fellow conspirators into action. Three crucial hours had been lost, during which the conspirators could have seized the initiative irrespective of whether Hitler was dead or not.

At 6.20p. m. Fellgiebel managed to get a frantic call through to Berlin: `What are you up to over there? Are you all crazy? The Führer is now with the Duce in the tea room. What’s more, there will be a radio communiqué soon.’ But a mark of the chaos was that conspirators were by now being obliged through the nature of their official functions to operate against the coup in order not to give themselves away. Men like Hahn and Thiele had to help the telecommunications clampdown, and Artur Nebe, the brilliant detective, was summoned to Hitler’s headquarters to investigate the assassination attempt.

Nevertheless, as soon as Stauffenberg arrived at the Bendlerblock, coded `Valkyrie’ orders were set in train and soon telephone lines and teleprinters were humming in Berlin. Mertz von Quirnheim, who had been straining at the leash since early afternoon, rushed into action. Meanwhile Fromm, still in his own office in the Bendlerblock, would not participate. At about 4p.m. he telephoned Keitel who confirmed his suspicion that the Führer was alive. From then on, Fromm refused to co-operate with the conspirators, despite anything Stauffenberg said. In a stormy scene, Fromm declared that all the conspirators were under arrest, whereupon Stauffenberg retorted that, on the contrary, they were in control and he was under arrest. He was relieved of his pistol and kept under guard. The conspirators constantly showed a remarkable degree of mercy to their prisoners. They would have been better advised to have shot Fromm out of hand, but such action would not have occurred to them.

In the course of the afternoon, both Hoepner and Beck arrived in civilian clothes, and so, later on, did Witzleben, who was scathing about the muddle. A group of junior officers involved in the conspiracy, Ludwig von Hammerstein, Ewald Heinrich von Kleist, Georg von Oppen and Hans Fritzsche, were summoned by Karl Klausing from the Hotel Esplanade where they were awaiting orders. Not all the conspirators knew each other, and they were operating in a vast building where there were many staff officers who had nothing to do with the coup, so the confusion continued to be great. Fritzsche mistakenly helped Hoepner on with a uniform jacket destined for Beck – an unimportant detail, but an indication of the problems the conspirators were faced with. When General Joachim von Kortzfleisch, the commander of the Berlin district, arrived in response to a summons from Olbricht, and refused to join in the conspiracy by putting his troops at their disposal, he too was arrested. He ran off, but was detained by Kleist and turned over to Hammerstein, who guarded him in an empty office. He ranted and raved for some time, but then subsided and as the hours passed wondered what they were going to do with him overnight. Hammerstein asked Beck’s advice, who said bitterly, `He can stay where he is. He’s the least of our worries.’ Kortzfleisch said pathetically that as far as he was concerned he would rather go home and do a bit of weeding in his garden. But by then it was clear to Hammerstein that things had gone seriously wrong.

Later in the evening, a senior SS officer, Humbert Achamer-Pifrader, arrived with an adjutant to invite Stauffenberg to accompany them to Gestapo Headquarters for an interview. News of the attempted coup had been telephoned to Berlin from Rastenburg but the Berlin Gestapo clearly had no idea of the number of men involved at the Bendlerblock. Himmler was flying from Rastenburg to Berlin to liaise with Goebbels. Pifrader and his aide were arrested but time was running out for the conspirators. Already orders countermanding those sent out to the various military districts from Berlin were being issued from the Wolfs Lair. Such was the confusion that some of these counter-orders arrived at their destination before the Berlin commands!

Meanwhile in the city, the commandant, General von Hase, had failed to take control on behalf of the Resistance. The Guard Battalion under a relatively junior officer, Major Ernst Remer, had started to carry out its orders to cordon off the government quarter, but unfortunately Remer was in personal contact with a Nazi lieutenant who worked in Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, Hans Hagen. Hagen deduced from the troop movements in the city that a coup was in train, and persuaded Remer to accompany him to see Goebbels. Goebbels had already spoken to Hitler on the telephone and knew what was afoot. When Remer appeared, overawed but still suspicious about what precisely was going on, the Propaganda Minister saw his chance to turn the tables on the conspiracy. Having assured himself that Remer was a `good National Socialist’, he put through another call to Hitler. Remer spoke to the Führer in person, recognised his voice, and stood to attention at the telephone. Hitler told him that the future of the Third Reich was in his hands. He was directly responsible for security in Berlin until Himmler arrived, with orders to take over the Reserve Army. Remer was won over, and the coup was doomed. It was about 7p.m.

Soon the Bendlerblock was sealed off by troops who now knew that Hitler was still alive and that the orders they had been given were unauthorised. The news spread and within the building itself several officers not involved in the conspiracy began to ask awkward questions about what was going on. Stauffenberg was exhausted. He had spent hours driving the others along by the sheer force of his will, but now he knew he had not carried the day. He took off the black patch he habitually wore over his dead eye – a sign with him of fatigue and irritation.

Ludwig von Hammerstein was making his way back to the office where General Kortzfleisch was locked when he heard the first shots. He drew his own pistol but a plump staff officer who had appeared in the corridor next to him said, `Put it away, there’s no point.’ Hammerstein did not know whose side the plump officer was on, or what was happening, though he noticed that the officer wore `brain reins’ on his cap – a silver chain issued as a service award by the regime.

In the event there had been a shoot-out in which Stauffenberg had been wounded. Hammerstein had taken the precaution on the advice of Kleist of removing the Infantry Regiment 9 badges from his lapels, since they would be an indication of whose side he was on. He managed to escape through back corridors and staircases. He knew the building intimately since, as the son of Kurt von Hammerstein, he had lived in his father’s service flat there when Hammerstein senior had been Commander-in-Chief. But he was lucky that the counter-coup officers did not know him; had the coup succeeded, he would have become Beck’s ADC. Nevertheless, he had to go underground; he had had to abandon a briefcase containing incriminating papers with his name on them and his .08 service pistol in Olbricht’s office. Much later, after Berlin had been occupied by the Russians, he had to throw away the gun he had with him – `it was a lovely little thing, a 7.65 automatic my father had given me which I’d had throughout the war.’ But to have been caught by the Russians in civilian clothes with a gun could have meant instant death.

Meanwhile, Fromm had been released and had taken control. He conducted a summary court martial at which he sentenced Stauffenberg, Mertz von Quirnheim, Olbricht and Werner von Haeften to death. Hoepner, an old friend, he spared to stand further trial. Beck, also condemned, asked permission to commit suicide, and this was granted him, but he had to do it immediately while the others waited in the same room. According to Hoepner’s later testimony, Beck used his own Parabellum (Luger) pistol first, but only managed to give himself a slight head wound. In a state of extreme stress, Beck asked for another gun, and an attendant staff officer offered him a Mauser. But the second shot also failed to kill him, and a sergeant then gave Beck the coup de grace. He was given Beck’s leather overcoat as a reward.

The others were conducted into the vast grey courtyard of the Bendlerblock and shot dead. Haeften threw himself in front of Stauffenberg as the rifles thundered. Stauffenberg cried out `Long live Germany!’ as he died.

It was about midnight.