Alan Judd

Could they have tried harder?

The Stauffenberg plot of July 1944 was the most famous attempt to blow up the Führer. But there were several other equally botched schemes

Awareness of German opposition to Hitler is usually limited to Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg’s attempt to blow up the wretched man on 20 July 1944. Hitler was at a briefing in his Wolf’s Lair, a secret forested redoubt, when Stauffenberg entered the room with his briefcase bomb (containing British plastic explosive), placing it beneath the table where Hitler was due to sit. Stauffenberg withdrew, pleading an urgent call, but the unsuspecting subordinate who took his place moved the briefcase further under the table and away from Hitler.

Standing and smoking by his car, Stauffenberg — a one-armed, eye-patched veteran of the North African and Russian campaigns — watched as the wooden briefing hut erupted with a flash and roar. Minutes later, a body was stretchered out beneath Hitler’s cloak. Believing Hitler to be dead, Stauffenberg threw his cigarette into the grass and rushed for the airfield, signalling to his many fellow plotters throughout Germany and Europe that the coup they had prepared could now be launched.

Four men were indeed killed in the blast and others seriously injured, but Hitler less so. He was partially paralysed by shock, his right arm dislocated, his right leg burned, one eardrum perforated, his trousers shredded and his buttocks, in his own words, bruised ‘as blue as a baboon’s behind’. His secretary, one of the first on the scene, later wrote:

I almost laughed at the sight of Hitler. His hair was never particularly well cut but now it was standing on end so that he looked like a hedgehog. His black trousers were hanging in strips from his belt, almost like a raffia skirt…

Stauffenberg’s error was soon corrected but too late; the trail of telephone calls and signals was swiftly followed up by the Gestapo. In Paris the German high command arrested 1,200 SS and Gestapo personnel who were holding a celebratory party until silenced by Hitler’s next broadcast.

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