Why the British Air Force Tried (And Failed) to Assassinate Hitler

 In E3, UK, Air, Germany, Forces & Capabilities

Adolf Hitler believed in Vorsehung (prov­i­dence). The German leader felt that if any­thing was going to happen to him, such as assas­si­na­tion, there was noth­ing he could do about it. He had been select­ed by fate to achieve some­thing great; he would not die, either by acci­dent or assas­si­na­tion, until he had ful­filled that God-given mission.Time and time again in the past, prov­i­dence, not plan­ning, had taken care of him. In 1933, for instance, just before he became master of the Third Reich, he was involved in a ter­ri­ble car crash with a truck. He emerged from the wreck­age stat­ing that he could not die yet — his mis­sion had not yet been achieved.

It was the same with assas­si­na­tion attempts. Hitler explained that he had many ene­mies and expect­ed dis­grun­tled Germans and others to try to kill him. But they would never suc­ceed, espe­cial­ly if they came from the German work­ing class. He used to state to his staff quite cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly, “Mil tut kein deutsch­er Arbeiter was” (“No German worker will ever do any­thing to me.”). Once, when he was advised by wor­ried police to use the back entrance to a noisy and angry meet­ing of work­ers, Hitler snort­ed, “I am not going through any back door to meet my work­ers!”

As for those aris­to­crat­ic Monokelfritzen (Monocle Fritzes, those high-born, mon­o­cled aris­to­crats Hitler had hated with a pas­sion ever since the Great War), both civil­ian and mil­i­tary, whom he knew from his intel­li­gence sources had been trying to erad­i­cate him in these last years of the 1930s, he was con­fi­dent that this per­son­al prov­i­dence would save him. And in truth, until the very end, prov­i­dence did pro­tect Hitler from all the attempts on his life, includ­ing the gen­er­als’ plot to kill him in July 1944.

Naturally, ever since Hitler’s elec­tion as chan­cel­lor in 1933, his secu­ri­ty guards had taken secret pre­cau­tions to pro­tect him. Like some medieval poten­tate, all the Führer’s food was checked daily before it was served to him. Each day, his per­son­al doctor had to report that the Führer’s food sup­plies were free of poison. Party Secretary Martin Bormann ran daily checks on the water at any place where the Führer might stay to ascer­tain whether it might con­tain any toxic sub­stances.

Later, when Bormann, in his usual fawn­ing manner, start­ed to grow “bio-veg­eta­bles” in his Berchtesgaden gar­dens for the Führer’s con­sump­tion, Hitler’s staff would not allow the pro­duce to appear on the master’s veg­e­tar­i­an menu. Once, just before the war, a bou­quet of roses was thrown into the Führer’s open Mercedes. One of his SS adju­tants picked it up and a day later start­ed to show the symp­toms of poi­son­ing. The roses were exam­ined and found to be impreg­nat­ed with a poison that could be absorbed through the skin. Thereafter, the order was given out secret­ly that no “admir­er” should be allowed to throw flow­ers into Hitler’s car. In addi­tion, from then on, adju­tants would wear gloves.

“We Have not Reached the Stage in Our Diplomacy When We Have to Use Assassination as a Substitute for Diplomacy.”

On anoth­er occa­sion, Hitler, who loved dogs (some said more than human beings), was given a puppy by a sup­posed admir­er. It turned out that the cuddly little dog had been delib­er­ate­ly infect­ed with rabies. Fortunately for Hitler, and not so for­tu­nate­ly for the rest of human­i­ty, the puppy bit a ser­vant before it bit him. It seemed that Hitler’s vaunt­ed prov­i­dence had taken care of him yet again.

Thereafter, plan after plan was drawn up to kill Hitler by his German and Anglo-American ene­mies. All failed. Although back in 1939, the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, had stated, “We have not reached the stage in our diplo­ma­cy when we have to use assas­si­na­tion as a sub­sti­tute for diplo­ma­cy.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill decid­ed in April 1945, how­ev­er, that Hitler must die — by assas­si­na­tion! He gave the task to his most ruth­less and anti-German com­man­der, Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the head of Royal Air Force Bomber Command, whose air­crews often called him bit­ter­ly “Butcher” Harris.

Back in the summer of 1943, Harris had sworn that Berlin would be “ham­mered until the heart of Nazi Germany would cease to exist.” Hard man that he was, Harris had once been stopped by a young police­man and told if he con­tin­ued to speed in his big American car, he would kill some­one. Coldly, “Bomber” had replied, “Young man, I kill hun­dreds every night.” He now ordered that Hitler should be dealt with at last in his own home. The Führer had escaped, so Allied intel­li­gence rea­soned, from his ruined cap­i­tal Berlin. So where could he be? The answer was obvi­ous. “Wolf,” the alias Hitler had used before he achieved power in 1933, had returned to his moun­tain lair.

In that last week of April 1945, Allied intel­li­gence felt there were only two pos­si­ble places where Hitler might now be holed up since his East Prussian head­quar­ters had been over­run by the Red Army. Either he was in Berlin, or at his Eagle’s Nest in the Bavarian Alps above the town­ship of Berchtesgaden. Reports coming from Switzerland and relayed to Washington and London by Allen Dulles of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) stated that the Germans were build­ing up a kind of last-ditch moun­tain fortress in the Austrian-German Alps, so Allied intel­li­gence was inclined to think that Hitler had already headed for Berchtesgaden where he could lead the Nazis’ fight to the finish. The bulk of the Reichsbank’s gold bul­lion had already been sent to the area to dis­ap­pear in per­haps the biggest rob­bery in his­to­ry.

Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring had gone in the same direc­tion, fol­lowed by Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, who had taken up res­i­dence in his stolen Austrian castle. More impor­tant­ly, SS General Sepp Dietrich’s beaten 6th SS Panzer Army was retreat­ing from Hungary, fol­lowed by the Red Army, head­ing for Austria and the same gen­er­al area. Thus, the Allied plan­ners decid­ed that if they were final­ly going to assas­si­nate Hitler, they would find him in his moun­tain home — built for him over the last decade by Bormann. Prominent Nazis, the Prominenz, just like Mafia chief­tains, had erect­ed their own homes in Berchtesgaden to be close to Hitler.

Once it had simply been a rural beauty spot, with a couple of modest hotels sur­round­ed by small hill farms that had been in the same hands for cen­turies. Bormann changed all that. He bribed, threat­ened, and black­mailed the Erbbaueren (the hered­i­tary farm­ers, as they were called) to aban­don their farms. He sold their land at pre­mi­um rates to fellow Nazis and then, as war loomed, erect­ed a mil­i­tary com­plex to pro­tect the Führer when­ev­er he was in res­i­dence on the moun­tain among the “Mountain People,” as the Nazis called them­selves. After he com­plet­ed his 50th birth­day present for the Führer, the Eagle’s Nest, which Hitler vis­it­ed only five times and which cost 30 mil­lion marks to con­struct, Bormann turned his atten­tion to making the whole moun­tain com­plex as secure as pos­si­ble, both from the land and the air.

Bormann, the “Brown Eminence” as he was known, the secre­tive party sec­re­tary, who in real­i­ty wield­ed more power on the German home front than Hitler him­self, declared the whole moun­tain sper­rge­bi­et (off limits). A bat­tal­ion of the Waffen SS was sta­tioned there per­ma­nent­ly. Together with moun­tain troops from nearby Bad Reichenhall, the SS patrolled the bound­aries of this pro­hib­it­ed area 24 hours a day, some­thing the British plan­ners of Operation Foxley, a land attack planned by the British in February 1945, had not reck­oned with.

If Anyone Could, Harris Swore, He Would Blast Berchtesgaden Off the Map.

Then, Bormann turned his atten­tion to the threat of an air attack. Great air raid shel­ters were dug, not only for the Führer and the Prominenz, but also for the guards, ser­vants, and for­eign work­ers — there was even a cinema, which could hold 8,000 people. Chemical com­pa­nies were brought in and sta­tioned at strate­gic points on the moun­tain. As soon as the first warn­ing of an enemy air attack was given, they could pro­duce a smoke screen, which, in theory, could cover the key parts of the area in a matter of min­utes. Finally, there were the fight­er bases such as Furstenfeldbruck in the Munich area where planes could be scram­bled to ward off any aerial attack from the west or indeed over the Alps from the newer Allied air bases in Italy.

Whether it was because of Bormann’s pre­cau­tions, the prob­lem of flying over the Alps in a heavy, bomb-laden air­craft, or Allied scru­ples about bomb­ing an enemy politician’s home, the moun­tain had not been seri­ous­ly trou­bled by air raids until now. Bomber Harris was deter­mined to end all that. If anyone could, Harris swore, he would blast Berchtesgaden off the map.

To do so, he picked one of his most expe­ri­enced bomber com­man­ders: 24-year-old Wing Commander Basil Templeman-Rooke, who had begun his bomber career in 1943. By the end of that year, he had already been award­ed the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and more impor­tant­ly had flown over the Alps to bomb Turin in the hope that a bomb­ing raid on that city, so far away from England, would encour­age the Italians to sur­ren­der. After one tour of duty, Templeman-Rooke com­menced anoth­er one in May 1944. He took part in the D‑Day prein­va­sion bomb­ing of French rail­ways, stor­age depots, and other tar­gets, and then in the attacks on V‑1 buzz bomb sites after the inva­sion.

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