bureaucracybusters

A BRIEFCASE, A GUN–AND FATE: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Uncategorized on September 3, 2012 at 12:05 am

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

For Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the moment of destiny had almost come.

He had just delivered a bomb–hidden in a briefcase–to a concrete building where Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Fuehrer, was holding a conference with his generals.

Ironically, Stauffenberg had chosen a spot where Hitler should have been absolutely safe: His military headquarters in East Prussia, known as “Wolf’s Lair.”

Hitler’s headquarters: “Wolf’s Lair”

The war was not going well for Nazi Germany.  On June 6, 1944, American, Canadian and British forces had landed en masse on the coast of Normandy, France.  After facing brutal resistance from well-emplaced German troops, the Allies had broken through.

They now had a base on French soil.  And it was growing ever larger as seemingly inexhaustible quantities of American troops and material continued to unload.

Meanwhile, on the Eastern front, German armies continued to be pushed back–ever closer to Germany.  The German Army and Air Force had killed millions of Russians–postwar estimates would put the figure at 25 million.

Most of Western Russia had been turned into a wasteland.  Buildings that hadn’t been destroyed by the Germans had been torched by the Russians–following a “scorched earth” policy to deny any shelter to the enemy.

And Germany’s two major allies–Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan–were doing just as badly.

In 1943, Benito Mussolini had been deposed by a coup and imprisoned.  Hitler had sent a commando squad to rescue him, and it had done so.  But despite being re-installed in power, Mussolini was now only a shadow of his former shelf–and now seen as entirely Hitler’s creature.

In the Pacific, Japan’s winning streak had ended in 1942 at the battle of Midway.  Planes from U.S. aircraft carriers had devastated a Japanese naval task force.  From then on, the U.S. Navy relentlessly pressed Japanese ships ever closer to their own homeland.

So Stauffenberg now stood outside the concrete building where Hitler and his generals were holding yet another military conference.  He waited for his bomb to go off–and for the Third Reich to literally go up in smoke.

At 12:42 p.m. on July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg’s briefcase bomb erupted.

But the Third Reich didn’t come to an end–because, as if miraculously, Hitler had survived.

Hitler shows off the site of the explosion

What had happened?

First, the conference location had been changed–from a wooden building to a concrete one.  The concrete absorbed much of the blast.

Second, owing to the summer’s heat, Hitler had ordered all the windows–about ten–opened to let in a breeze.  This allowed much of the force of the blast to be dispersed.

Third, and perhaps most important: Stauffenberg had carefully placed his briefcase near Hitler, who was standing next to a heavy oaken support of the conference table.

But after Stauffenberg left the room, Colonel Heinz Brandt, who stood next to Hitler, found the briefcase blocking his legs.  So he moved it–to the other side of the havey oaken support.

When the bomb exploded, Hitler was partially shielded from its full blast.  Brandt died, as did two other officers and a stenographer.

Not only had the conspirators missed their chance to assassinate Hitler, they failed to seize the key broadcast facilities of the Reich.  This allowed Hitler made a late-night speech to the nation, revealing the failed plot and assuring the Germans that he was definitely alive.

He swore to flush out the “traitorous swine” who had tried to kill him.  And he promised to wreak a terrible vengeance on them.

He proved as good as his word.  Among the first victims discovered and executed was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.  Standing before a makeshift firing squad at midnight, he cried: “Long live our sacred Germany!”

At least 7,000 persons were arrested by the Gestapo.  According to records of the Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 were executed.

Had the conspiracy succeeded:

  • Erwin Rommel, Germany’s famed “Desert Fox,” might have been persuaded to assume command of the government.
  • His reputation as a military hero might have convinced the German armed forces to stand down.
  • If Germany had surrendered in July or August, 1944, the war would have ended eight to nine months earlier.
  • The Russians would not have been able to occupy the Eastern part of Germany.  (They did not reach Germany until April, 1945.)
  • As a result, many of the future conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union over access to West Berlin and/or West Germany would have been avoided.
  • Untold numbers of coming Holocaust victims would have probably survived because the extermination camps would have been shut down.
  • Untold numbers of Allied and German soldiers would have been spared from being wounded and/or killed.

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