July 20th plot was not just an assassination attempt – it was a full-fledged military coup (not just a plan, or an attempt at a coup – but an actual coup). The coup that failed miserably. It did, however, include an attempt on Hitler’s life – this time it was an even closer call than the Elser bomb in 1939.
It was the ninth attempt to blow up Hitler to kingdom come; the second bomb that actually went off – and the first (and only) one that exploded in the presence of Der Führer.
However, end the result was exactly the same – Adolf Hitler survived (he suffered only the loss of his beloved trousers and a perforated eardrum) and the plotters were more or less promptly arrested (all 7,000 or so of them) with most (almost 5,000) more or less promptly executed – by hanging on meat hooks with a piano wire.
The latter looked a like a really horrible method of execution as it took the condemned individual almost half an hour to die (the classic method of hanging kills the condemned in a few seconds). However, in reality it felt almost exactly the same as the loss of consciousness was pretty much instantaneous in both cases.
Although this coup was numerically far stronger than the Oster/Halder conspiracy of 1938, in reality it was far less powerful. This time, the Chief of the General Staff (Adolf Heusinger) had no clue about the plot (he was standing right next to Hitler when the bomb went off); the plotters had no control over any armored division (or Berlin garrison for that matter), etc., etc. So instead of issuing direct orders to German troops they had to rely on deception (a radically modified Operation Valkyrie)
And, of course, this time Hans Oster played no role in the coup – he was arrested by the Gestapo… for helping Jews escape Nazi Germany disguised as Abwehr agents (the guy really did not know how to prioritize his treason).
However, the list of key conspirators was still pretty impressive:
- Colonel General Ludwig Beck – one of the key participants in Oster/Halder Conspiracy as well. Both then and in July of 1944 he was a civilian, having resigned from the position of Chief of the German General Staff and retired from the Wehrmacht on August 31st, 1938
- Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Director of Abwehr – German Military Intelligence
- General Alexander Freiherr von Falkenhausen, Military Commander of Belgium and Northern France
- General Erich Fellgiebel, Chief of the Military Communications
- Colonel (General Staff) Wessel von Freytag-Loringhoven – provided the explosives for the assassination attempt
- Colonel General Friedrich Fromm, commander of the Reserve Army – the key tool of the plotters. Aware of the conspiracy, he refused to take any part in it; and when the plot failed, arrested and executed conspirators, including Stauffenberg, on the same day. Arrested on orders of Himmler the next day, he was executed by firing squad for “cowardice” (an appropriate charge, IMHO) on March 12th 1945
- Major General Reinhard Gehlen, Chief of Intelligence-Gathering on the Eastern Front. His participation in the plot was not detected by the Gestapo, he survived and after the war he became the spymaster of the CIA-affiliated anti-Communist Gehlen Organization and the first director of the Federal [Foreign] Intelligence Service of West Germany. There were rumors that Himmler was perfectly aware of Gehlen’s role in the plot (the latter provided protection for key plotters) but instead of arresting and executing him, SS-Reichsfuhrer chose to recruit Gehlen into ODESSA
- Hans Bernd Gisevius, a diplomat, an officer of the Abwehr and a key participant in both Oster/Halder conspiracy and July 20th After the latter failed miserably, he went into hiding, then fled to Switzerland. This mysterious character previously worked for Gestapo (!) but was fired over disagreements with then-chief of the latter Rudolf Diels. He went to work for the Reich Interior Ministry from where he was fired by Himmler in 1936. Or became a deep undercover agent of the latter as some conspiracy theories claim. It was rumored that Gisevius not only informed SS Reichsfuhrer on his fellow plotters but was also the liaison between Himmler and Allen Dulles – then OSS station chief in Zurich. IMHO, his miraculous survival and escape are highly suspicious, to put it mildly
- Carl Friedrich Gördeler, ex-Mayor of Leipzig and ex-Reich Price Commissioner; he was to become the Chancellor of Germany had the plot succeeded. After his arrest on August 12th, he betrayed everyone he knew, freely giving names of numerous co-conspirators to the Gestapo (which did not lay even a finger on him), thus causing the arrests and executions of hundreds or even thousands of plotters. During his time in prison, Gördeler was asked by Himmler to assist with writing the constitution of a future SS-Staat (undoubtedly, for ODESSA/Die Neue SS)
- Lieutenant Werner von Haeften – adjutant to Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and fellow conspirator. Executed 20 July 1944, by firing squad on orders of General Fromm
- Lieutenant General Paul von Hase, Commander of 56. Infanterie-Division and City Commandant of Berlin. He was an active participant in the Oster/Halder Conspiracy and the uncle of a famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (also a member of the conspiracy)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a prominent Lutheran pastor, theologian and a key founder of the anti-Nazi “Confessing Church”. His older brother Klaus was also a member of the plot and was also arrested, tried, convicted and executed by the Nazis
- Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf, Chief of the Berlin Police and an active participant in the Oster/Halder Conspiracy as well
- Colonel General Erich Hoepner, Commander of the 4th Panzer Army. Another key participant of the Oster/Halder Conspiracy
- Field Marshal Günther von Kluge – commander-in-chief of German Armed Forces on the Western front (OB West). While not directly involved knew about the plot and so committed suicide when the plot failed miserably. Probably made the right decision given the subsequent fate of Erwin Rommel.
- Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Like von Kluge, he was not directly involved but knew about the plot. He also committed suicide – but on Hitler’s orders on October 14th, 1944
- Colonel Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim – one of the four conspirators executed by firing squad at Bendlerblock on July 20th, 1944 on the order of General Fromm
- SS-Gruppenführer (!) Arthur Nebe, Head of the National Police (Kripo) and a commanding officer of Einsatzgruppe B (!!). Probably the most mysterious and controversial Nazi leaders
- General Friedrich Olbricht, who as a Chief of the Armed Forces Reserve Office initiated Operation Valkyrie. Executed on orders of Colonel General Fromm on July 20th, 1944
- Johannes Popitz, Prussian Minister of Finance. In the summer of 1943, Popitz conducted secret talks with Heinrich Himmler, whose support he sought to win for a coup d’état and whom he tried to convince to take part in attempts to negotiate with the Western Powers for an acceptable peace deal. Thus becoming an important source of information about the plot for SS Reichsfuhrer. For some time Himmler protected him, but then decided to get rid of a dangerous witness – so Popitz was hanged on 2 February 1945 at Plötzensee Prison, in Berlin.
- First Lieutenant Fabian von Schlabrendorff. Now this guy was lucky big time. On 13 March 1943, during a visit by Adolf Hitler to Army Group Center Headquarters in Smolensk, Schlabrendorff smuggled a time bomb, disguised as bottles of Cointreau, onto the aircraft which carried Hitler back to Germany. The bomb failed to go off, however (no one really knows why). Schlabrendorff managed to retrieve the bomb the next day and elude detection. He was put on trial (by the infamous Volksgerichtshof), but the trial was aborted when an allied bomb killed the presiding judge. He was sent to concentration camps but survived. After the war he became a Member of the Federal Constitutional Court in West Germany
- Friedrich Werner Graf von der Schulenburg, the last German Ambassador to the Soviet Union before the invasion of June 22nd, 1941. He was a firm opponent of Operation Barbarossa and one of its fiercest critics
- Colonel (General Staff) Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, plot leader and an unsuccessful assassin of Adolf Hitler. Executed by firing squad at Bendlerblock on July 20th 1944 on the order of General Fromm
- Major General Henning von Tresckow – leader of several unsuccessful plots against Hitler in 1943 (but not of July 20th plot). Committed suicide on July 21st, 1944 after learning of a miserable failure of the latter
- General quartermaster of the army Eduard Wagner, supplied a plane for von Stauffenberg that took the latter to Berlin
- Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben the highest ranking general actively involved in the plot (also one of the leaders of Oster/Halder conspiracy)