Operation Foxley – British Plan to Assassinate Hitler

achurch001p1Operation Foxley was a plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler (most likely, on July 13th or 14th, 1944). The plan was conceived (no surprise here) by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Nicknamed “Churchill’s Secret Army” and “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” this top secret outfit (only a few individuals outside SOE knew of its existence) was tasked with espionage, sabotage and terrorism (yes, they wanted their adversary to tremble with terror) in occupied Europe, and to aid local resistance movements with weapons, technologies, advisers, etc.

Normally it was a highly efficient organization but, as you already know, there was nothing even remotely normal with attempts on Hitler’s life. Although detailed preparations were made, no attempt was made to execute the assassination plan.

Actually, any of the plans (in plural) – as it was customary in SOE to develop several different plans and then chose the best one (i.e. the one with the highest probability of success) for implementation.

The first route considered by the SOE was derailing the special train “Brandenburg” he travelled in (when he chose not to fly). Technical aspects were not a problem as by that time SOE had extensive experience of derailing trains using explosives.

The plan was dropped because (1) Hitler’s schedule was too irregular and unpredictable: stations were informed of his arrival only a few minutes beforehand and (2) even derailing the train did not guarantee Hitler’s demise.

Irregularity of Hitler’s schedule was the result of his chaotic management style, not some kind of a security protocol. By that time Hitler was more than hundred percent sure that he was protected by the Providence and hence had a relaxed attitude (to put it mildly) to his personal security. It turned out that it was exactly the right approach.

The next plan was to put some tasteless but lethal poison in the drinking water supply on Hitler’s train. The obvious problem was finding an inside man willing and able to do it. Unfortunately for SOE, all Hitler’s staff was fiercely loyal to him so finding such an individual turned out to be an exercise in futility. No money in the world (let alone other incentives) could convince anyone on that train to kill his or her Führer.

In summer of 1944, a German who had once been part of Hitler’s personal guard at the Berghof (Adolf Hitler’s home near Berchtesgaden in Bavaria) had been taken prisoner in Normandy. He claimed that at the Berghof, Hitler always took a 20-minute morning walk at around the same time (after 10:00).

According to the guard Hitler liked to be left alone during this walk, leaving him unprotected near some woods, where he was out of sight of sentry posts. When Hitler was at the Berghof, a Nazi flag visible from a cafe in the nearby town was flown.

There was only one problem with this information – there was no way to know whether the guard was telling the truth. Most likely, he did not as all Hitler’s staff, including his guards (especially his guards) were fiercely loyal to him and would never ever betray their Führer.

Still, it was decided to use a highly skilled sniper who would assassinate Hitler (with a single shot – he would have never have a chance to fire a second one) during the  Führer’s morning walk, as he strolled unprotected to the Teehaus on the Mooslahnerkopf Hill from the Berghof residence.

The key problem, obviously, was to find a sniper capable of (1) infiltrating the heavily guarded environment of Berghof and (2) fire an accurate shot from a distance of over 1,000 yards.

Even for extremely audacious and daredevil SOE men (and women) this plan was either wishful thinking or a pure fantasy. Whenever Hitler was in residence, members of the RSD (Reich Security Service responsible for the personal protection of Nazi leaders) and Führerbegleitkommando (Führer Escort Command; FBK) covered the Berghof with a security blanket thick enough to make sure that no one could take a shot at Hitler with any weapon. Ever.

In addition, several Wehrmacht mountain troop units were housed nearby and were trained to provide immediate support to Hitler’s security. Hence, the whole Foxley endeavor was a colossal waste of time. The verdict that, I am sure, the SOE officers who had both the brains and the balls conveyed to Winston Churchill in no uncertain terms.

Unfortunately, the latter hated Hitler so much that he told them to keep their opinions to themselves and “just do it”. Incredibly, such a sniper was finally found (although by that time the year was already 1944 and assassinating Hitler was no longer a priority for any Allied nation).

Even an “inside man” was recruited: the uncle of a prisoner of war named Dieser, who was a shopkeeper living in nearby (20 km) Salzburg, identified as “Heidentaler”, who was vehemently anti-Nazi (or so he said).

Heidentaler would shelter the agents and then transport them to Berchtesgaden disguised as German mountain troops where they would make the approach to the vantage point, shoot the target and (hopefully) kill it.

Solving myriads of other problems took a few more months so the final version was submitted to Winston Churchill only in November of 1944. By that time it was not worth the paper it was written on, because (unbeknown to the British intelligence), four months earlier, on July 14th, 1944, Adolf Hitler left the Berghof for the last time on 14 July 1944, never to return.

Having no idea that they were only wasting their highly valuable time, Churchill and his co-conspirators continued to debate whether to go ahead with Operation Foxley or unceremoniously dump it and move to more valuable projects.

Finally, it was decided to cancel the whole thing by that time Hitler was universally considered such a poor strategist that it whoever replaced him (even Goering, let alone Himmler) would probably do a far better job of fighting the Allies. Which meant thousands and thousands more casualties suffered by Allied troops. And no one wanted that, of course.

Deputy head of SOE’s German Directorate, Lt Col Ronald Thornley made another point in favor of ditching the whole thing. In his (and everybody else’s by that time) opinion Germany was almost defeated anyway – with or without Hitler.

But if he were assassinated, he would become a martyr to some Germans, and possibly give rise to a myth that Germany might have won if Hitler had survived. Since the idea was not only to defeat Germany but to destroy Nazism in general, that would have been a highly undesirable development.

However, the strongest argument against the implementation of Operation Foxley (which should have been taken seriously years ago) was that there was no reliable intelligence on what was really going at Berghof. Hitler’s daily routine, strength, deployment and protocols of his security, etc., etc. Hence the plan was unceremoniously terminated (it should not have been even considered in the first place). Hitler committed suicide in Berlin on 30 April 1945, a few days before the war in Europe ended.

There is a common saying that “a camel is a horse deigned by a committee”. Well, Operation Foxley was definitely developed by a committee. A committee headed by a hateful individual (hateful to the point of periodic insanity). Which predictably led to a colossal waste of highly valuable time, effort and other resources.

 

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