Killing Hitler: How the Allies Tried (and Failed) to Do in the Dictator

By USAF - USAF, Public Domain,
October 26, 2020 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: World War IIAdolf HitlerNazi GermanyMilitaryTechnology

Killing Hitler: How the Allies Tried (and Failed) to Do in the Dictator

There were many plots on the infamous leader’s life.

To do so, he picked one of his most experienced bomber commanders: 24-year-old Wing Commander Basil Templeman-Rooke, who had begun his bomber career in 1943. By the end of that year, he had already been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and more importantly had flown over the Alps to bomb Turin in the hope that a bombing raid on that city, so far away from England, would encourage the Italians to surrender. After one tour of duty, Templeman-Rooke commenced another one in May 1944. He took part in the D-Day preinvasion bombing of French railways, storage depots, and other targets, and then in the attacks on V-1 buzz bomb sites after the invasion.

The controversial bombing of Dresden followed in February 1945. Shortly thereafter, Templemann-Rooke had been given the command of the Royal Air Force’s 170 Squadron and awarded a Bar to his DFC. In March, he received the Distinguished Service Order. For Harris, the young squadron commander must have seemed the ideal leader for what he had in mind for 170 Squadron. He was young, brave, very experienced and, above all, lucky. In his two years of combat, he had survived over 40 missions, and even when he had been hit by flak over Gelsenkirchen, he had brought his Avro Lancaster bomber back on two engines and crash-landed the four-engine plane without injury. Now, Harris ordered Templeman-Rooke to fly his squadron’s last combat mission of the war, its target perhaps the most important one left in Germany during April 1945.

For days now, although the hilltops were still covered with snow down to 900 meters and causing fog, reconnaissance planes kept flying over the mountain, setting off the wail of the sirens and sending the populace scurrying for the shelters. Then, once again the smoke screen would descend on the deserted homes of the Prominenz. For even Hitler’s most devoted followers had reasoned that the mountain was no place to be at this stage of the war. Still, there had as yet been no attempt to bomb the area.

That changed at 0930 on Wednesday, April 25, 1945. On the half hour precisely, the pre-alarm sirens started to sound. Obediently, the locals began to file into their air raid shelters, believing that, as usual, nothing much would happen. This time they were wrong. Most of the mountain, right up to the Eagle’s Nest at 9,300 feet, was obscured by fog. This time, on Harris’s order, 170 Squadron, part of a force of 318 Lancasters, was determined to carry out its mission. Within half an hour of the pre-alarm being sounded, the first bombs were raining down on the twin heights of Klaus-and-Buchenhoehe.

Then came the second raid. According to German reports, the Lancasters swept in shortly afterward, dropping 500-pound bombs. Immediately, they hit Hitler’s Berghof, where back in what now seemed another age, the Führer had once received British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the “Umbrella Man,” as the Germans had mocked him due to his appearance. Afterward, as German eyewitnesses recorded, the interior looked like a landscape after an earthquake. Göring’s house, demolished together with his swimming pool, followed. Bormann’s house received a direct hit. The only place that was not destroyed or damaged was the Eagle’s Nest. It had been well camouflaged with tin leaves and was perhaps too small a target for Harris’s men. But as the bombers swept on to attack nearby Bad Reichenhall, where 200 people were killed that day, they left behind them only smoking wreckage, which would be added to when the SS guards retreated, setting fire to everything they could not loot.

But the RAF’s raid on the mountain had been in vain. Templeman-Rooke had been misinformed—the Führer was not in residence. He had remained in his bunker, spared yet again by the “providence” in which he believed so strongly. But he knew he could not go on forever. As he declared to anyone still prepared to listen to him in his Berlin bunker, he was not going to die at “the hands of the mob” like his friend and fellow dictator Mussolini. Nor was he going to allow himself to be “paraded through the streets of Moscow” in a cage. So, a broken man, embittered at the failings of his own people, and perhaps a little mad, the leader who had survived so many assassination attempts died by his own hand. His “providence” had run out at last.

Even today, at a certain angle, one can see the series of depressions leading up to where Göring’s house was, marking one bomber’s run into the attack. Of the house itself only a few steps remain next to some bushes where visitors allow their dogs to do their business—“Hundepissecke” the locals call it. One wonders what roly-poly Göring would have said. Probably, he would have reached for his shotgun and started blazing away; he was always very keen to shoot anything on four legs.

Author Charles Whiting first authored this piece for the Warfare History Network here.

This first appeared earlier in 2020 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia.