Defying the Odds

The following excerpts come from Defying the Odds, my final paper for AP European Cultures when I was a high-school sophomore. With little doubt, the World War II period intrigued me the most.

Valkyrie (2008) starring Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg

Valkyrie (2008) starring Tom Cruise as Stauffenberg

Assassination Attempt on Adolf Hitler — July 20, 1944

The Decision

It was 1942. Germany had suffered its greatest defeats in the Egyptian city of El Alamein and in the Russian city of Stalingrad. German cities were being devastated by massive bomb attacks.[1] And German armies were breaking under the tremendous pressure applied from all directions by the Allied forces.[2] They had lost the war. Germany had lost the war. And most of Hitler’s generals knew it.[3]

But Hitler was determined to defy the odds. Although the war was lost, Hitler’s armies still fought on foreign soil.[4] Although German losses were tremendous, he ordered his troops to “fight to the last man.”[5] And although generals urged that he either surrender or send sufficient relief to his armies, Hitler did not change his mind.[6] Naturally, these generals who had doubts about the war now had doubts about the Fuhrer and his sanity. The plot to eliminate Adolf Hitler had been decided.[7] They had made their decision.

It was April 7, 1943. It was in Africa. A car carrying an important man could be seen. Without warning, the car struck a mine. The mine exploded taking with it the left eye, right arm and two fingers on the left arm of the man. But the man survived.[8] The man was Count Claus von Stauffenberg.[9]

Stauffenberg was a soldier. He put being a soldier first and devoted himself to winning glory for the German armies.[10] And like so many other German officers, he cheered Hitler’s great victories.[11] But after his transfer in June 1940 to Russia, where he had come to realize the slaughter of countless Russians, Jews, and prisoners of war behind the lines, he discovered the real Adolf Hitler.[12] In late 1941 or early 1942, Stauffenberg joined the conspiracy.[13] Following the Stalingrad disaster, Stauffenberg had also come to realize that it was imperative that Hitler and the Nazi regime be removed, otherwise the chance for any kind of peace with the Allies would vanish and Germany would be overrun and annihilated.[14] With the conspiracy, there was a chance to obtain that peace. With Stauffenberg, there was a better chance.

Stauffenberg’s Strategy

After the terrible accident in Africa, Stauffenberg became convinced that he alone could assassinate Hitler. He believed that he had survived the accident by a stroke of good luck. From his childhood, he had felt that he was destined for something out of the ordinary, and he felt that this had now been surprisingly proven.[15] He told his wife, “I feel I must do something now to save Germany.”[16]

Between September 1943 and February 1944, four attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler had failed. But Stauffenberg was not discouraged. He was determined to defy the odds. The last failure had given him a new idea. This time, the plan would be more demanding. This time, assassination would be followed by a well-planned military takeover in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and other cities.[17]

Stauffenberg had strongly emphasized the timing of the plan to gain control of Berlin. The first two hours would be the most important. Within that brief period of time, the conspiracy’s Home Army troops must occupy and secure the national broadcasting headquarters’ and the city’s two radio stations, the telegraph and telephone controls, the Reich Chancellery, the ministries, and the headquarters of the Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS). In the meantime, the moment Hitler would be killed, his headquarters at Rastenburg, East Prussia, must be isolated from Germany so that none of the Nazi generals could take over and attempt to rally the police or the troops behind a continued Nazi regime.[18]

Only then, after all these tasks had been completed within the first two hours, could the next step take action. The messages would be sent out by radio, telephone, and telegraph to the commanders of the Home Army in other cities and to the top generals commanding the troops at the front and in the occupied areas, announcing that Hitler was dead and that a new anti-Nazi government had been formed in Berlin. The revolt would have to be completed within 24 hours and the new government firmly established. Otherwise, the hesitant generals might have second thoughts. And those loyal to the Nazi regime might be able to rally them. A civil war would result. The fronts would disintegrate. And chaos and collapse would become inevitable. This was what the plotters hoped to prevent.[19] This was their plan. This was their strategy.

The Due Date

The time was 12:36 p.m. The date was July 20, 1944. The place was Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair), Hitler’s headquarters at Rastenburg. A man with one eye and one arm with three fingers had entered the conference room carrying a brown briefcase. The briefcase contained a ten-minute-fuse bomb.[20]

Stauffenberg had already started the fuse four minutes before. The bomb would explode in six minutes.[21] All that remained was the positioning of the briefcase near Hitler. But this would not be so simple. The conferees gathered around a 5-foot by 18-foot oak map table. Solidly constructed, it had a thick top and two massive supports placed near the ends. Hitler, the only one seated, was at the center of the long side of the table.[22] Stauffenberg had to squeeze his body forward to get close enough to the table. However, the best he could manage was the near corner of the table to Hitler’s right. So he put his briefcase down. He shoved it under the table. And he slipped out of the room.[23]

The time was now 12:37. The bomb would explode in five minutes. The briefcase it was in, leaned against the inside of the solid support only six feet away from the Fuhrer on his right. But it would not remain that way. One officer had become so absorbed in what his general was saying that when he leaned over the table to get a better look at the map, he discovered that Stauffenberg’s briefcase was blocking his way. He tried to move it with his foot. But he could not. So he bent down. He lifted the briefcase. And placed it outside the heavy support. The support now stood between the bomb and Adolf Hitler.[24]

Another four minutes had passed. It was 12:41. The bomb would explode in one minute. The Fuhrer, too, was absorbed. He stood up, leaning far over the table to check the map. The general was saying, “If our army group around Lake Peipus is not immediately withdrawn, a catastrophe–“[25] The bomb had exploded. It was 12:42.[26]

Aftereffects of the Attempt

He came out of the conference room bewildered. His hair had been singed, his legs burned, his right arm bruised and temporarily paralyzed, his eardrums punctured, and his back lacerated by a falling beam. But he had not been fatally injured. Another assassination attempt had failed. Adolf Hitler still survived.[27]

After the confusion and shock, Stauffenberg was eventually discovered. It was strange that he had been the only one not present when the explosion occurred, and after the explosion occurred, he had quickly passed out of Wolfsschanze.[28] Hitler ordered his arrest and within a few hours, Stauffenberg and the plotting generals had been captured. It was about 10:50 p.m., a little more than ten hours after the explosion.[29]

It was 12:30 a.m. The proud leader of the conspiracy stood against the wall. The rifles of the firing squad were trained on his grey tunic stripped of his medals.[30] At the order to fire, he cried, “Long live our sacred Germany!”[31] The six bullets pierced his body.[32] He crumpled to the ground. Stauffenberg died.

This was the end. The plan to successfully take over Berlin within 24 hours, had completely failed within 12. The conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and eliminate the Nazi regime had been crushed. Too many of its leaders had been executed.[33] Too many others who had participated had been captured. Too many of them had died.[34] No one ever again could do anything against the Nazi regime. It was over.


[1] Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p.933-934
[2] Toland, Adolf Hitler, p.729
[3] Devaney, Hitler: Mad Dictator of World War II, p.196
[4] Toland, op. cit., p.729
[5] Klein, Hilter’s Hang-Ups, p.65
[6] Shirer, op. cit., p.1012
[7] Devaney, op. cit., p.194
[8] Shirer, op. cit., p.1029
[9] Hoffman, The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945, p.315
[10] Ibid., p.319
[11] Toland, op. cit., p.790
[12] Shirer, op. cit., p.1029
[13] Hoffman, op. cit., p.319
[14] Shirer, op. cit., p.1033
[15] Hoffman, op. cit., p.320
[16] Shirer, op. cit., p.1029
[17] Toland, op. cit., p.790
[18] Shirer, op. cit., p.1034
[19] Ibid., p.1035
[20] Shirer, op. cit., p.1051
[21] Ibid.
[22] Toland, op. cit., p.796
[23] Hoffman, op. cit., p.400
[24] Ibid., p.796-797
[25] Shirer, op. cit., p.1052
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid., p.1054
[28] Ibid., p.1055
[29] Hoffman, op. cit., p.503
[30] Devaney, op. cit., p.201
[31] Toland, op. cit., p.809
[32] Devaney, op. cit., p.201
[33] Toland, op. cit., p.810
[34] Shirer, op. cit., p.1070


Devaney, John, Hitler: Mad Dictator of World War II, New York, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1978, p.194-201

Hoffman, Peter, The History of the German Resistance 1933-1945, Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 1977, p.315-797

Klein, Mina C., Hilter’s Hang-Ups, New York, E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1976, p.65

Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1960, p.933-1070

Toland, John, Adolf Hitler, New York, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1976, p.729-810

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