Operation Valkyrie: the attack on Hitler (July 20, 1944)

Operation Valkyrie: the attack on Hitler (July 20, 1944)

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TheOperation Valkyrie was a plot hatched by a group of high-ranking Wehrmacht officers, who sought to eliminate Adolf Hitler as early as 1943, to save Germany. The count Claus von Stauffenberg played an essential role in this conspiracy, which culminated, on July 20, 1944, in an attempted assassination of the Führer. The failure of the operation resulted in the arrest of most of the conspirators and their brutal physical elimination, but it was also the pretext for a great wave of repression launched by the Gestapo against alleged opponents who did not had nothing to do with the military who initiated the failed attack.

The origins of Operation Valkyrie

The attack of July 20 is the culmination of a chain of conspiracies whose origins can be traced back to the early years of the Third Reich. While most German officers take refuge from the Nazis in a convenient apolitical way, there are some for whom ethics (often Christian) still take precedence over the oath of loyalty taken to Hitler (instituted in 1934).

Generals such as Ludwig Beck or Franz Halder (both of whom were army chiefs of staff), although nationalist and conservative, believe that Hitler is leading Germany to ruin with too aggressive a policy. They see the Third Reich as too little prepared for the looming European war and cast serious doubts on Nazi ideology.

However, until 1942, these opinions and their proponents could not but be inaudible in a German army at the height of its power, moreover engaged in an "anti-Bolshevik crusade" which won the approval of nationalist and conservative circles. Military dissent finally took off only with the first serious setbacks of the Wehrmacht and notably Stalingrad.

Faced with the increasingly probable prospect of a German defeat, it seems essential for some officers to put an end to Nazi totalitarianism in order to be able to negotiate an acceptable outcome with the allies. In the year 43, they join forces with a circle of intellectuals who say " Kreisau circle And lay the foundations for a program for post-Nazi Germany. Conservatives, Christians and suspicious of liberal modernity, they still hope to be able to save most of the Greater Germany of 1940.

In March 1943, the military conspirators decided (in this way overcoming great moral reluctance) to suppress Hitler, an essential prerequisite for a coup. Attempts to Von Tresckow and Von Gersdorff, however facilitated by the complicity of the head of German military intelligence, Admiral Canaries, fail. Hitler, as always, seemed to be enjoying evil luck.

At the beginning of 1944, the situation became difficult for the conspirators. Around them the net of the Gestapo is tightening and the passage of time gradually robs them of any hope of negotiating from a position of strength with the allies. Killing Hitler remains a moral imperative, however, if only to prove to the world that Germany did not give in entirely to Nazi madness.

Later this spring, the conspirators believe they will have a solid coup plan with the operation. Valkyrie. Planned by Beck, Tresckow and the General Olbricht (which heads the Reserve Army in Berlin) it aims to turn a law enforcement plan in the event of a foreign worker uprising against the Nazis. After Hitler’s assassination, the armed forces must take over Berlin's hotspots and the regime’s caciques. Valkyrie relies largely on the (dubious) collaboration of the Commander of the Reserve Army: Friedrich fromm. The latter is ultimately only ready for action if he is confident that Hitler has been killed.

Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, the providential man

To suppress the Führer the choice of the resistance fell on the charismatic Colonel (and Count) Claus Von Stauffenberg. Having lost a hand (and two fingers of another) as well as an eye in North Africa, this deeply convinced cavalry officer is determined to see it through. Originally favorable to the Nazis (like so many of his comrades) he swung into the resistance after realizing the absolute disaster to which they were leading Germany.

Stauffenberg, besides his strong will, has the advantage of being named the 1er July 1944 as Chief of Staff to General Fromm, the Commander of the Reserve Army. This highly strategic position should give him personal access to Hitler. However, his mutilations make it impossible to use a firearm, so we have to resort to a bomb attack once again.

Three times, on July 6, 11 and 15, Stauffenberg will have to postpone the firing of his bombs because the ideal conditions for killing Hitler are not met. On the 20th, Stauffenberg, taking the plane to Rastenburg's "wolf den", knew he was playing his last card. The Gestapo has been looking for the leader of the civil branch of the conspiracy since the 17th: Carl Goerdeler (who is to become Chancellor after the successful coup).

The beginning of Valkyrie: the attack of July 20, 1994

July 20, 1944. Rastenburg, East Prussia. It was in the stifling heat, typical of Prussian summers, that the daily meeting of the German High Command was held. Hitler, who presides over it, pays no more attention than usual to the officer on his right: Claus Von Stauffenberg. Of the two bombs Stauffenberg took away that day, he only managed to arm one, which he placed at the Führer's feet in a briefcase. Bad luck, the latter is mechanically pushed back by an officer behind a thick table leg. When the latter leaves the barracks, pretending to make a phone call, no one is offended. A few seconds later, the bomb, deposited by Colonel Stauffenberg at the feet of the Führer, explodes ...

The movement of the single case and the ventilation of the wooden hut (which will reduce the blast effect) saves the life of the Führer who will only suffer superficial wounds (although the bomb kills 4 people, seriously injures seven. other). However, seeing the explosion ravage the barracks, Stauffenberg is convinced that the attack was successful. Believing the dictator dead, Stauffenberg rushes back to Berlin to help start the attack.Operation Valkyrie, a real military coup against the Nazi regime. For a short day, the German military resistance will experience the illusion of success before being ruthlessly crushed ...

The coup fiasco

Quickly Valkyrie is set up in a capital where confusion reigns. Although news of the attack quickly reached the government quarter, an artistic vagueness still reigns over its outcome. Hitler dead? Severly injured ? Is this a coup of the SS Himmler or the Soviets? The craziest rumors circulate.

All of this could have benefited the conspirators, but they failed to cut communications between Rastenburg and Berlin. As a result, General Fromm quickly learns that Hitler is alive and is turning against the conspirators, whom he has never supported except lip service. In order to cover himself, he orders the arrest of Stauffenberg, Olbricht and their collaborators, who after brief clashes are summarily executed (the dead do not speak ...). General Beck, who has twice failed to end his life, experiences the same fate.

Mussolini at the scene of the attack "/> In Paris, the general Von Stülpnagel won over to the conspiracy, he managed to arrest nearly a thousand SS officers. When his superior, Marshal Von Kluge, learns that Hitler is still alive, he stops all action and frees the SS. The scenario is reproduced more or less in Vienna and Prague.

The next day, Hitler regains control with a radio speech in which he asserts that " clique of officers of criminal stupidity Tried to delete it. Believing himself saved by the " Providence He promises to wipe out any remaining opposition. In this regard, the failure of Stauffenberg condemns the German resistance to a ruthless repression, masterfully organized by Himmler, the leader of the SS.

Five thousand people will be arrested in the following weeks. Military, but also civilians, they constituted a disparate set of opponents potentially dangerous for the regime. Often tortured after their arrest, they are then thrown to the people's court, including the President Roland friesler takes great pleasure in humiliating them. Many of them are then sentenced to the maximum sentence, hung from butchers' fangs during filmed executions, for example ...

Valkyrie: a conspiracy for nothing?

Paradoxically, the conspirators by trying to put an end to the Third Reich will only have reinforced its totalitarian character. After July 20, the army, one of the few areas of possible dissent within the regime, was brought under control. The Nazi salute replaced the traditional salute, Himmler took over as head of the reserve army, and political indoctrination reached unprecedented heights.

More seriously still, a number of soldiers shocked that comrades were able to bring themselves to an assassination, now reject any spirit of protest. An attitude which finds a disturbing echo within a population which trembles for its "leader". This is because the attack on Hitler took place as the Red Army launched its great summer offensive (Bagration) against the Wehrmacht.

In these difficult times, when Germany is preparing to defend its own soil, the actions of the conspirators appear all the more contrary to the mainstream sentiment. This will give one more pretext for the Nazi Party, to start a final ideological mobilization pledge of prolonged suffering for civilians.

However that may be by their sacrifice, Stauffenberg and his companions will have proved before the tribunal of history (and this was indeed their ultimate goal) that there were German officers to stand up against the horror of National Socialism ...

Non-exhaustive bibliography

  • Operation Valkyrie: Stauffenberg and the true story of Jean-Paul Picape's attack on Hitler, l'Archipel, 2009.
  • Joachim Fest, The German Resistance to Hitler, Perrin, Paris, 2009.
  • Ian Kershaw, Hitler. 1936-1945, Flammarion, Paris, 2001.

For further

- DVD: Operation Walkyrie. Documentary, 2009.

- DVD: Valkyrie, by Brian Singer. Fiction, 2009.

Video: Operation Valkyrie: The Plot to Assassinate Hitler