July 20

Operation Valkyrie fails

By the summer of 1944 it was evident to all but Adolf Hitler that Germany was soon going to lose the war. The western Allies were ashore in great numbers in Normandy and were headed for Paris. In Italy, Rome  had fallen. At sea, the Atlantic had been scoured of U-boats and Germany’s few remaining capital ships dared not leave port. The Vaterland’s cities were being incinerated night (RAF) and day (USAAF) while the relentless push of the Red Army was driving the Wehrmacht and its allies back toward Berlin. 

The doom that awaited those who bore responsibility for starting the war and the revenge that would be wrought on Germany was clear to the officer elite. Some hoped that a new government, cleansed of Nazis, might be able to get better terms than Unconditional Surrender and some may even have thought of an Anglo-American-German alliance against the Soviet Union. A group of officers, dominated by those with aristocratic or Christian connections, planned to kill Hitler in his Prussian Wolf’s Lair (as close as he ever got to the Eastern Front) on July 20. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, head of the Home Army, was to place a bomb in the conference room near the Führer, and then radio his fellow plotters in Berlin when the assassination had been successfully carried out. 

Unfortunately, Stauffenberg had suffered the loss of an eye, one hand and fingers on he other and from a war injury and he was unable to prime all the explosives in the case. Moreover, an aide had nudged the bomb farther under a thick oak table which shielded Hitler from the blast. Worse yet, Stauffenberg thought that Hitler had been killed in the explosion and told the Berlin cabal to carry out their coup. Within hours the truth was known, and the conspirators were either dead (the lucky ones) or arrested to await torture and execution. The war would continue.

The best short book on the subject is “Countdown to Valkyrie by Nigel Jones. Ben Pastor’s Night of Falling Stars is an entertaining fictional account. Of Tom Cruise’s portrayal of Stauffenberg in Valkyrie, it is best not to speak.

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