20 July, 2011

20 July, 1944


438th AAA AW BN
APO 403 % Postmaster, N.Y.
20 July, 1944
Dearest darling –

Good morning! I’m getting an early start today because I expect to be busy a little later. No mail yesterday and probably none today.

Yesterday was another easy day at the hospital and it may be like that for another day or two. In the evening several of us went to a nearby quartermaster shower and saw something new in the line of Army efficiency. Before entering, we passed thru a tent and told a soldier what size underwear, and socks we wore. We were given new socks, underwear – shirts and shorts – plus a large-sized Cannon bath towel. We could keep our dirty clothes or discard them – as we saw fit. How’s that for up to date service?

All is quiet at present, sweetheart, and we’re enjoying our relaxation. I thought a great deal about you yesterday, dear, and last year and our meeting each other and of the first night I poked my head thru your door – and lots of other pleasant things that happened last summer. Best of all – I ended up by realizing that you are really my fiancée and that I have something real and lovely to come home to – and boy! that thought makes me very happy! I love you very much – darling. Never forget that!! Love to all at home.
All my love for now –

The Route of the Question Mark

From Page 24 from The Route of the Question Mark:

July 20... St. Jean de Daye.  We lost S/Sgt COOK, our mess Sgt. There was a false gas alarm which threw everyone into a panic. We witnessed the spectacular bombing operation on 25 July 1944. Wave after wave of B-17's and B-24's dropping bombs on the German lines ahead of us at Saint Lo. Pvt DAVIES joined the Infantry here.

(A) Deville to (B) St. Jean-de-Daye, France
11 July to 20 July 1944


about the Failed Attempt on Hitler's Life

On 20 July 1944, an attempt was made to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Third Reich, inside his Wolfsschanze (Wolf's Lair) field headquarters near Rastenburg, East Prussia. The plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German Resistance to overthrow the Nazi-led German government. The failure of both the assassination and the military coup d'état which was planned to follow it led to the arrest of at least 7,000 people by the Gestapo. According to records of the Führer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 people were executed, resulting in the destruction of the organized resistance movement in Germany.

Since 1938, conspiratorial groups planning an overthrow of some kind had existed in the German Army and in the German Military Intelligence Organization. Early leaders of these plots included Brigadier-General Hans Oster, General Ludwig Beck and Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben. Oster was the deputy head of the Military Intelligence Office. Military conspiratorial groups exchanged ideas with civilian, political and intellectual resistance groups. Plans to stage an overthrow and prevent Hitler from launching a new world war were developed in 1938 and 1939, but were aborted because of the indecision of Army Generals Franz Halder and Walther von Brauchitsch, and the failure of the western powers to oppose Hitler's aggressions until 1939.

In 1942, a new conspiratorial group formed, led by Colonel Henning von Tresckow, a member of Field Marshal Fedor von Bock's staff. Their most important recruit was General Friedrich Olbricht, head of the General Army Office headquarters at the Bendlerblock in central Berlin, who controlled an independent system of communications to Reserve Units throughout Germany. Linking this asset to Tresckow's resistance group in Army Group Center created a viable coup apparatus. Tresckow systematically recruited oppositionists to the Group’s staff, making it the nerve center of the Army resistance. Tresckow and Olbricht formulated a plan to assassinate Hitler and stage an overthrow during Hitler's visit to the headquarters of Army Group Center at Smolensk in March 1943, by placing a bomb on his plane. The bomb failed to detonate, and a second attempt a week later at an exhibition of captured Soviet weaponry in Berlin also failed.

Henning von Tresckow

By mid-1943 the tide of war was turning decisively against Germany. The Army plotters and their civilian allies became convinced that Hitler must be assassinated so that a government acceptable to the western Allies could be formed and a separate peace negotiated in time to prevent a Soviet invasion of Germany. In August 1943 Tresckow met a young staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, for the first time. For some time this man's religious scruples had prevented him from coming to the conclusion that assassination was the correct way to achieve a negotiated peace. After the Battle of Stalingrad in December 1942, however, he had come to the conclusion that not assassinating Hitler would be a greater moral evil.

Olbricht now put forward a new strategy for staging a coup against Hitler. The Reserve Army already had an operational plan called "Operation Valkyrie" which was to be used in the event that the disruption caused by the Allied bombing of German cities caused a breakdown in law and order, or an uprising by the millions of slave laborers from occupied countries now being used in German factories. Olbricht suggested that this plan could be used to mobilize the Reserve Army for the purpose of a coup. In August and September 1943, Colonel Henning von Tresckow drafted the "revised" Valkyrie plan and new supplementary orders. A secret declaration began with the words: "The Führer Adolf Hitler is dead! A treacherous group of party leaders has attempted to exploit the situation by attacking our embattled soldiers from the rear in order to seize power for themselves." Detailed instructions were written for the occupation of government ministries in Berlin, Himmler's headquarters in East Prussia, radio stations, telephone offices, and other Nazi apparatus through military districts, and concentration camps.

During 1943 and early 1944 there were at least four failed attempts organized by von Tresckow and von Stauffenberg to get one of the military conspirators near enough to Hitler for long enough to kill him with hand grenades, bombs or a revolver: in March 1943, in late November 1943, in February 1944 and on 11 March 1944. But this task was becoming increasingly difficult. As the war situation deteriorated, Hitler no longer appeared in public and rarely visited Berlin. By the summer of 1944, the Gestapo was closing in on the conspirators. There was a sense that time was running out, both on the battlefield, where the Eastern front was in full retreat and where the Allies had landed in France on 6 June, and in Germany, where the resistance's room for maneuvering was rapidly contracting. The belief that this was the last chance for action seized the conspirators. By this time, the core of the conspirators had begun to think of themselves as doomed men, whose actions were more symbolic than real.

The conspirators scored a major coup in early July when they managed to initiate Erwin Rommel, the famed "Desert Fox," into their ranks. Rommel was by far the most popular officer in Germany, and was also the first active-duty field marshal to lend support to the notion of ending of Hitler's rule. However, although Rommel felt he had to, as he put it, "come to the rescue of Germany," he thought killing Hitler would make Hitler a martyr. Instead, he wanted him arrested and hauled before a court-martial for his many crimes.

On Saturday 1 July 1944 von Stauffenberg was appointed Chief of Staff to General Friedrich Fromm at the Reserve Army headquarters in central Berlin. This position enabled von Stauffenberg to attend Hitler's military conferences and would thus give him an opportunity, perhaps the last that would present itself, to kill Hitler with a bomb or a pistol. On 11 July von Stauffenberg attended Hitler's conference carrying a bomb in his briefcase, but because the conspirators had decided that Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring should be killed simultaneously, he held back at the last minute since Himmler was not present. By 15 July, when von Stauffenberg again flew to the Wolfsschanze, this condition had been dropped. The plan was for von Stauffenberg to plant the briefcase with the bomb in Hitler's conference room with a timer running, excuse himself from the meeting, wait for the explosion, then fly back to Berlin. Again on 15 July the attempt was called off at the last minute. Himmler and Göring were present, but Hitler was called out of the room at the last moment; von Stauffenberg was able to intercept the bomb and prevent its discovery.

Claus von Stauffenberg

On 20 July, around 12:30PM as the conference began, von Stauffenberg made an excuse to use a washroom where he used pliers to crush the end of a pencil detonator inserted into a 1 kilogram (2.2 pound) block of plastic explosive wrapped in brown paper. The detonator consisted of a thin copper tube containing acid that would take ten minutes to silently eat through wire holding back the firing pin from the percussion cap. He then placed the primed bomb quickly inside his briefcase, having been told his presence was required. He entered the conference room and placed his briefcase under the table around which Hitler and more than 20 officers had gathered. After a few minutes, von Stauffenberg received a planned phone call and left the room. It is presumed that Colonel Heinz Brandt, who was standing next to Hitler, used his foot to move the briefcase aside by pushing it behind the leg of the conference table, thus unwittingly deflecting the blast from Hitler, but causing his own death when the bomb detonated between 12:40 and 12:50, demolishing the conference room.

Conference Room Wreckage, 20 July 1944

Three officers and the stenographer were seriously injured and died soon after. Hitler survived, as did everyone else who was shielded from the blast by the conference table leg. Hitler's trousers were singed and tattered and he suffered from a perforated eardrum, as did most of the other 24 people in the room. Hearing the explosion and seeing the smoke issuing from the broken windows of the concrete dispatch barracks, von Stauffenberg assumed that Hitler was dead, climbed into his staff car with his aide Werner von Haeften and managed to bluff his way past three checkpoints to exit the Wolfsschanze complex. Werner von Haeften then tossed a second unprimed bomb into the forest as they made a dash for Rastenburg airfield, reaching it before it could be realized that von Stauffenberg could be responsible for the explosion.

Werner von Haeften

At 16:40 von Stauffenberg and von Haeften arrived at the Bendlerblock. Learning that Hitler had not died, Fromm, presumably to protect himself, changed sides and attempted to have von Stauffenberg arrested. As Remer regained control of the city and word spread that Hitler was still alive, the less resolute members of the conspiracy in Berlin also now began to change sides. Fighting broke out in the Bendlerblock between officers supporting and opposing the coup, and von Stauffenberg was wounded. By 23:00 Fromm had regained control, hoping by a show of zealous loyalty to save himself. Ludwig Beck, realizing the situation was hopeless, shot himself at the command of Fromm — the first of many suicides in the coming days. Although at first Beck only just managed to seriously wound himself, he was shot in the neck by soldiers. Fromm convened an impromptu court martial consisting of himself, and sentenced Olbricht, von Stauffenberg, von Haeften and another officer, Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim, to death. At 00:10 on 21 July they were executed in the courtyard outside, possibly to prevent them from revealing Fromm's involvement. Fromm went off to see Goebbels to claim credit for suppressing the coup. Goebbels' only reply to him was "You've been in a damned hurry to get your witnesses below ground." Fromm was immediately arrested and later, in March of 1945, was executed on charges he had failed to report and prevent the coup on 20 July.

Friedrich Fromm
Friedrich Olbricht
Albrecht von Quirnheim

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