So Close: How German Generals Almost Killed Hitler and Saved Countless Lives
March 5, 2020 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Kill HitlerAdolf HitlerOperation ValkyrieCoupNazi Germany

So Close: How German Generals Almost Killed Hitler and Saved Countless Lives

The true story of Operation Valkyrie.

At 1 am July 21, a startling announcement was made over the Reich radio that the Führer would speak live. “By now, I do not know how many times an assassination has been planned and attempted against me. If I speak to you today … you should hear my voice and know that I am unhurt and well,” he said.

Reshuffling of the Org Chart

Because of the assassination attempt, Hitler radically altered the structure of the German Armed Forces. He announced in his speech the appointment of Himmler as Commander of the Reserve, thus introducing a military neophyte to the command of important German ground forces.

The next day, Hitler named Germany’s most famous panzer expert—tanker Gen. Heinz Guderian—as Chief of the German General Staff, an open acknowledgement that the German Army officer of the old school was a thing of the past. Hitler and the Nazi Party no longer trusted its own army officer corps at all, and officers were now compelled to surrender their sidearms before being shown into the Führer’s conference rooms.

The Fuhrer’s Payback

And what of the conspirators who survived the 20th? The Nazi People’s Court in Berlin tried and convicted most of them for treason against the state. Many were executed. Both Field Marshals von Kluge and Rommel committed suicide, and Gen. Fridrich Fromm was executed by the SS.

Some survived the war, however, such as Major Fabian von Schlabrendorff, who wrote a best-selling, first-person account entitled The Secret War Against Hitler.

Closing the Book on the Third Reich

The Zusammenbruch or “collapse” of the Nazi regime in May 1945 took care of the rest of the characters in the Wagnerian-style drama. Hitler, Goring, Goebbels and Himmler all committed suicide rather than face an Allied noose or firing squad, while Kaltenbrunner, Keitel, Jodl and von Ribbentrop all were hanged at Nuremberg on Oct. 16, 1946.

Skorzeny died of natural causes in 1975, as did Speer six years later—in London in the arms of a mistress! The wounded Gen. Adolf Heusinger went on to serve in the reborn German Army, the Bundeswehr, in the 1950s. The body of the last major participant, Martin Bormann, turned up in a grave in Berlin in 1972, after decades of speculation that he had escaped Allied justice and fled abroad. In reality, he was killed by Soviet fire while attempting to flee Berlin after Hitler’s death in the underground Führer Bunker.

Today, there are several public memorials in reunited Germany to the fallen heroes of the resistance plot of July 20, 1944. They may have failed, but at least they tried to do what they felt was both moral and right, and many lost their lives in the effort. As one of them, Nikolaus von Halem, said upon receiving his death sentence, “A ship may sink, but does not have to strike the flag.”

Originally Published September 27, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters