In the early years of the 20th century, the colonial powers of Britain and France became increasingly concerned with Germany’s military growth. France had suffered defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and was concerned about its growing military power. Britain was concerned as well about Germany’s growing navy bringing both countries together in an agreement. Africa was the main point of contention with British, French, Belgium and Germany all having colonial territories. Belgium, Italy, Portugal and Spain also had territory in Africa.
On 8 April 1904, both countries declared that they recognized certain territorial claims of the other in Africa. The British agreed that France had control over Morocco and France agreed to recognize Egypt as under British control. The declaration became known as the Entente Cordial and the beginnings of an alliance between the two powers. Although there was an agreement to diplomatically support the other, there was no requirement they provide military assistance if they were attacked.
Why This is Important
While not a formal alliance, it put the world on notice and in particular Germany that Britain and France recognized each other’s colonial territories. Germany saw the agreement exactly for what it was and would take steps to challenge it. Germany supported the Sultan of Morocco in 1905 against France. Britain however sided with France and resulted in an international conference that confirmed France’s control over Morocco. Germany decided to send troops to Morocco in 1911 precipitating another crisis. This forced both Britain and France into an informal military alliance to counter Germany. Rather than break up the two parties, Germany’s actions only brought them closer together. And it would result in more formal military agreement that would include Russia as well. By 1912, Europe was divided into two main blocks: Britain, France and Russia and Germany, Austria-Hungary.
The aftermath of World War I left Germany in a national crisis. Its new government, the Weimar Republic, had to deal with the staggering terms of the Versailles Treaty imposed on it by the victorious allies. The economy was in shambles, hyperinflation made buying even the ordinary items expensive, and discontent was in the air. This is where many different groups vied to convince Germans it had the solution to the country’s woes. One of these was a new party called the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) led by Adolf Hitler. It would become known as the acronym Nazi Party.
On the evening of 8 November 1922, Hitler and the Nazi Party attempted to seize power in the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. Storming a meeting of 3,000 people where the state commissioner was speaking, Hitler proclaimed the revolution was underway to the surprised attendees and speakers. The next day Hitler with Hermann Goring, General Ludendorff and about 3,000 supporters marched to the center of Munich. At first, they pushed aside the small number of police sent to stop them. However, the police firmed up and ordered the march to stop. And then the shooting began which ended with Nazi’s lying dead on the street and many (like Hitler) forced to flee. Most of the chief perpetrators like Hitler would be arrested and brought to trial.
The attempted coup was a failure, but it brought a lot of attention on Hitler and the party. The trial was covered by German and international newspapers. It gave Hitler and his party a chance to express their views on many things as to why the tried the coup. It was a case where the defendant was winning in the court of public relations even while losing it by being convicted of a crime. Hitler was sentenced to five years but only served nine months in Landsberg am Lech before being released. During that time, he wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf, the bible of the National Socialist movement. Designed to appeal to dissatisfied elements in Germany, its influence spread beyond Germany’s borders and its virulent anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, and anti-Catholic (to name a few) still finds approval today in some places where hatred of Jews and democracy exists.
Snyder, Louis Dr, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York 1976.
On 12 Mar1938 German troops marched in Austria and formally annexed the German-speaking nation.
The movement to unify Germany and Austria (Anschluss) began after the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved in 1919 (by the Treaty of Saint German-en-Laye). There was sentiment to a union with Germany but it was barred by the Treaty of Versailles. Anschluss became an issue during the 1920’s and in 1931 the German and Austrian governments proposed a customs union. Austria had been weakened by the collapse of the Loan Bank (Kreditanstalt) and anarchy in politics. France opposed it as did Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Romania. The International Court of Justice in The Hague decided it was illegal.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Anschluss was revived. Hitler considered it a cornerstone of his foreign policy. Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was murdered in the Chancellery in Vienna by Austrian Nazis trying to stage a coup’état. It failed but Hitler backed the Austrian Nazi Party (illegal in Austria) even though he by treaty in 1936 guaranteed independence for Austria. In 1938, the Austrian Nazis were plotting another attempt to seize Austria and unite with Germany. Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg was invited by Hitler to meet with him in February, 1938. Hitler demanded concessions that involved appointing Nazi sympathizers into positions of power.Schuschnigg, knowing he had no support from Britain or France, gave in. Arthur Seyss-Inquart as Minister of Public Security, who had control of the police, was the key appointment that Hitler sought. Seyss-Inquart was an Anschluss supporter.
Schuschnigg called for a national vote on 9 March on Austrian independence. Meanwhile German troops began massing at the border. Hitler demanded that Schuschnigg resign in favor Seyss-Inquart. Under intense pressure, he resigned and the vote was cancelled. Seyss-Inquart was ordered by Hermann Goering to request German troops be sent in restore order. With that, German troops entered the country on 12 March 1938. Enthusiastic crowds greeted Hitler and the troops. A new Nazi government was created and the Anschluss was proclaimed. Jews in Vienna and other parts of Austria were subject to new harsh measures and many were imprisoned. Known opponents of the unification were also arrested. Many Jews tried to emigrate or flee Austria as well.
The reaction of Britain and other powers was mostly moderate to the annexation. And this emboldened Hitler to use more aggressive tactics to expand as neither Britain or France were going to stop him. Austria would remain a German federal state until after World War II when Austria was made independent again.
In the aftermath of World War II, there was debate about how to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and especially the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels were already dead by suicide. Churchill had the simplest approach of wanting to simply execute them but it was decided that tribunal would be a better method. The tribunal would reveal to the world the extent of the crimes upon humanity the persons were responsible for.
The concept of an international tribunal was novel and had never been done before. Then again, no nation had before committed to full scale extermination of whole peoples as the Nazi’s had tried to do. An international tribunal composed of representatives from Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States was formed. Defendants faced charges that varied from war crimes to crimes against humanity. Twenty- four were indicted along with six Nazi organizations such as the Gestapo that were also determined to be criminal. One was declared medically unfit to stand trial and another committed suicide before the trial began.
Each defendant was allowed to choose their own lawyers. They all pled not guilty and either argued that the crimes they committed were declared crimes after the London Charter (meaning ex post facto) or that they were applying harsh standards as they were the victors. The trials would last under October 1946 when verdicts were handed down. Twelve were sentenced to death and others got prison terms. Hermann Goering committed suicide the night before he was to be executed.
On November 9-10 1938, a violent wave of anti-Jewish pograms broke out in Germany, Austria and Sudetanland. Called Kristallnacht (means literally Night of Crystal but commonly called Night of Broken Glass) violent mobs destroyed synagogues, looted Jewish owned businesses, homes and schools, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men who were sent to concentration camps. Police and fire were ordered to stand down and only act to prevent damage to German buildings. Nearly all the Jewish synagogues were torched, except those close to historical sites or buildings.
Thanks to the presence of foreign reporters in Germany at the time, this event became known to the world changing perceptions about the Nazi regime.
Nazi officials depicted the event as a genuine response of the people to the assassination of German diplomat Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan on 7 Nov 1938, Grynszpan, a 17-year old boy, was distraught over his family’s deportation from Germany to Poland. Vom Rath’s death two days later coincided with the anniversary of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. The Nazi Party leadership assembled in Munich used the occasion to push for demonstrations against the Jews arguing that “World Jewry” had conspired to commit the assassination. However, Hitler ordered that the demonstrations should not look they were prepared or organized by the Nazis’. They had to look spontaneous. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was the chief instigator following Hitler’s orders in his speech to the assembled party officials.
The regional Nazi party leaders issued instructions to their local offices about how to proceed. Reinhard Heydrich, as head of the Security Police, send instructions to headquarters and stations of the State Police and SA leaders about the upcoming riots. The SA, Hitler Youth and others were ordered to wear civilian clothes so it would like genuine public reaction. Heydrich ordered the rioters to not endanger non-Jewish German life or property. The rioters were also ordered to remove all synagogue archives prior to vandalizing and destroying them. Police were ordered to arrest as many young Jewish men their jails would hold.
Violence began to erupt in the late evening of 9 November and in the early morning hours of 10 November. The two largest Jewish communities, Berlin and Vienna, would see massive destruction. Mobs of SA and Hitler Youth shattered store windows. They attacked Jews in their homes and looted. They publicly humiliated Jews in the streets. Many Jews were killed as well though numbers vary but likely in the hundreds. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. Those who were arrested by the SS and Gestapo ended up in Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen and other camps as well. Many would die in the camps and many who were released had promised to leave Germany. Kristallnacht would spur Jews to emigrate from Germany.
German leaders blamed Jews for the riots and fined the Jewish community one billion Reich Marks. To pay the fine, Germany seized property and insurance money. This left Jewish owners personally responsible for repair costs. Kristallnacht accelerated more laws and decrees to deprive Jews of the property and their ability to make a living. The Aryanization of businesses required many Jewish owned businesses and property to be transferred to non-Jews. Usually they got paid a fraction of the true value of the business or property. By this time, Jews could not be government workers or in any aspect of the public sector. Now many professions in the private sector were unavailable as well (doctors, lawyers, accountants etc.). Jews were no longer allowed to have a driver’s license, expelled from any German school they were still attending, be admitted to German theaters (movies and stage) or concert halls.
Kristallnacht was covered by newspapers in the United State and elsewhere. It was front page news in the United States in large banner headlines and perhaps the largest story of Jewish persecution to be reported during the Nazi years. Despite attempts by German censors to prevent images from getting to newspapers in the United States, pictures got out and got printed in the 28 November 1938 issue of Life magazine. A telling heading published on the front page of the Los Angeles Examiner says it all:
Nazis Warn World Jews Will Be Wiped Out Unless Evacuated By Democracies (23 Nov 1938)
President Roosevelt denounced the attack on Jews at a press conference on 15 November 1938 and recalled the US ambassador to Germany (the US was the only one to do this) and not replaced till 1945. A chargé d’affaires would handle diplomatic relations with Germany until war was declared in 1941. The US and other countries had restrictive immigration quotas in place at the time. However, 12,000 German Jews already in the United States were allowed to stay and not be sent back to Germany. Attempts to allow refuge for children under 14 were introduced in Congress but despite widespread support did not get voted into law.
Kristallnacht is rightly seen as the turning point in Nazi policy and world-wide opinion of the regime. The Nazi’s began concentrating their pogroms into the hands of the SS and more restrictive policies on the Jews. They radicalized and expanded the measures to remove Jews from the economic and social life of Germany. It would lead to policies of forced emigration and deportations to the East and the goal of Judenrein-a Germany free of Jews.
When World War II came to an end, it was decided to hold accountable officials and others responsible for crimes of war and the Holocaust. Some like Martin Bormann were tried in absentia. It was the first time in history this ever had been done. Usually when wars ended, treaties were signed, and prisoners of war released. In this case an international tribunal comprising representatives from France, Great Britain, United States, and the Soviet Union (USSR), held trials for defendants who faced a wide range of charges.
The defendants were both high ranking officials of the Nazi government as well as military and SS leaders. 199 defendants were tried in Nuremberg. 161 were convicted and 37 were sentenced to death (there were some tried by the US outside of the tribunal, namely those involved with the Einsatzgruppen). Unfortunately, Hitler and some of his closest aides (like Joseph Goebbels) committed suicide so they were never brought to trial.
Many Nazi’s fled Germany and were never held accountable for their crimes. Trials of Nazi’s would continue after the tribunal ended in many countries as they were brought to justice. Adolf Eichmann, who helped plan and carry out the deportations of Jews, was found in Argentina. Israeli agents captured him and brought him to Israel in 1960 where he stood trial. He was found guilty and executed in 1962.
By 1938 there was no doubt anymore about the intentions of Germany’s Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. European nations were generally worried about a major war and to that end the two biggest powers in Europe: France and Great Britain, sought to avert it. It was based on the experience of the First World War in which millions had died. The aftermath of that war was a sentiment that total war must be averted at all costs. So far all of Hitler’s violations of treaties, such as occupying the Rhineland in 1936, had caused no major retribution even if it was a major violation of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany had agreed to in 1918.
In spring 1938, Hitler claimed that German-speaking people living in Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer ties with Germany and began agitating that unless this was done it would be taken by force. Hitler claimed that this region was part of a Greater Germany. Needless to say, the Czechoslovakian government was concerned. Hitler had annexed Austria in 1938 and he might just do the same to Sudeten. Czechoslovakia had a pact with both France and Great Britain to come to its defense. Neither power was interested in having to defend Czechoslovakia on the battlefield. Both Britain and France sought to avoid a war and both agreed, without bothering to consult with the Czechoslovakians, they would give Hitler what he wanted. The deal was that in areas of fifty percent or more German Sudetens would go to Germany.
Hitler though, sensing he could get a lot more, wanted to put German soldiers in Sudeten and that Czechoslovakian army had to leave by 28 Sept 1938. This caused a crisis resulting in the Munich Conference of 29 Sep 1938. In attendance were British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, French premier Édouard Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini presented a plan (that imitated a German proposal) which allowed German military occupation and an international commission to resolve disputes. It was formally agreed to on 30 Sep 1938. Czechoslovakia was presented with this agreement and had no choice but to accept or face immediate invasion. Chamberlain would get Hitler to sign a treaty and proclaim later, upon arrival in Britain, that he delivered “peace for our time.”
Germany acquired not only territory but the industrial resources that it needed (raw ore, steel and iron production, electrical plants). Czechoslovakia was diminished as a result. While many in public in Britain and France heralded the agreement as avoiding war, there were warnings it was wrong. Winston Churchill was critical of the deal and how they had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The British Labor Party opposed the deal as well. A view began to emerge and would continue long after, that Britain and France wanted to get out of the military pact as they were not ready for war. Was Hitler bluffing or not also is discussed as well. The evidence is that Germany could have invaded but got what it wanted without firing a shot. And it was handed to Hitler on a platter by two powers that in the last war had been Germany’s enemies. It could not have been a greater present for Hitler.
Czechoslovakia was doomed by the pact. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill’s warning had come true. With his policy of appeasement now deemed a total failure, Neville Chamberlain realized that it was time to mobilize for war. The French would likewise make preparations (but so entrenched was the avoidance of total war doctrine failed to act when it had the option to do so when most of the German army was invading Poland). In September 1939, World War II would officially begin with the invasion of Poland and declaration of war by Britain and France on Germany.
The lesson of the Munich Pact is that making short term deals with dictators to gain a moment of peace comes at a high cost. The Czechs were abandoned by Britain and France to their fate because neither one wanted to stand up to Hitler. Both Chamberlain and his French counterpart would live to see how badly it would turn out. After war broke out, Chamberlain’s popularity fell and would resign on 10 May 1940 and replaced by Winston Churchill though remained in the Cabinet. He would die in November 1940. Édouard Daladier, who was under no illusions as to Hitler’s goals (but knew support for standing up to Hitler was thin),had resigned his position in March 1940 but was still minister of defense when Germany invaded. He would be arrested and charged with treason by the German supported Vichy government and imprisoned. He would be imprisoned in several places, including the Buchenwald concentration camp and ended up in Itter Castle in Tyrol with other French dignitaries until liberated on 5 May 1945 after the Battle of Itter . He would return to the Chamber of Deputies after the war, served as mayor of Avignon, and died in Paris in 1970.
On 1 September 1939, German forces using the pretext they were acting in self-defense against Poland, invaded. The German infantry was not fully mechanized but had Panzers and fast-moving artillery that included truck mounted artillery. The German strategy was to quickly concentrate forces and encircle an enemy quickly. Thanks to the relatively flat terrain of Poland, it made it easy to move mobile infantry about.
The invasion came one week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact on 23 August. This non-aggression pact meant neither side could assist the enemy of the other. A secret protocol to the agreement defined German and Soviet spheres in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland. This protocol would not be proved until the Nuremberg Trials. So, when Germany invaded, Poland was already split with defined borders between the two countries.
With this pact, Poland signed defense agreements with Britain and France. Talks between those powers and Germany did take place and the invasion was held up until they were concluded. Hitler did not believe they would declare war, and if they did would be willing to compromise after the invasion of Poland. Germany wanted the restoration of Danzig (in Polish Gdansk) as a free city (it had a large German population), the Polish Corridor, and the safeguarding of Germans in Poland. Germany demanded that a Polish representative with the power to sign such an agreement be present. The British, remembering what happened before when Czechoslovakia was forced to capitulate to the Germans, did not like that demand. When the Polish representative met with Ribbentrop on 31 Aug, he was dismissed when he had no power to sign. The Germans then claimed that Poland had rejected their demands and Hitler ordered the invasion for 1 September.
The Germans were better prepared for war than the Polish. They had higher numbers of troops and had air superiority. Poland had older fighters while the bombers were more modern. They waited too late to upgrade so newer fighters and bombers would not be there when the Germany invaded. Poland had two armor brigades and its 7TP light tank was better armed than the German Panzer. But they only had 140 of those and 88 tanks they imported from Britain and France. The Polish Navy was a small fleet with destroyers, submarines and support vessels. Most of the surface vessels escaped and joined the British Royal Navy. Submarines did engage German shipping in the Baltic Sea but it was not successful. Polish merchant ships that did escape or elsewhere would join the allies and take part in wartime convoys.
By 3 October both German and Soviet forces had secured their spheres ending the Second Polish Republic. Both German and Soviet governments quickly took control of their territories, organizing and annexing, and setting up regional controls. Government and military leaders who did escape would form a military force in support of the Polish government-in-exile. In response to the invasion of Poland, Britain and France formally declared war on Germany on 3 September but little else (France did invade the Saar but quickly withdrew).
On 1 September 1985 history was made in the early morning hours. A combined expedition of Woods Hole Institute and the French national oceanographic agency IFREMER would locate the wreck of Titanic lying approximately 12,500 feet south-southeast off the coast of Newfoundland. Using a remote controlled deep-sea vehicle Argo equipped with sonar and cameras, it was towed by Knorr over the area. Robert Ballard of Woods Hole Institute had used this system to locate the sunken submarines Scorpion and Thresher. An earlier attempt by the French ship to locate by sonar had failed. So now he was focusing on finding a debris field, similar to how he found those submarines. Finally after a week of searching, at 12:48 am on Sunday, 1 September 1985 pieces of debris began to appear on Knorr’s screens. It brought both cheers and a somber moment of remembering Titanic’s sinking. The boiler found was identical to pictures from 1911. The next day the main part of the wreck was found showing Titanic had split in two.
On the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the Japanese formally surrendered ending World War II. By this time Japan was no longer the military power it once was. The Battle of Midway in June 1942 had been the turning point when four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk. Since then Japanese control over its captured territories were pushed back under massive effort of U.S. and Allied forces. By the summer of 1945, and with the capture of Okinawa, Japan was being blockaded and being bombed often. Plans for the invasion of Japan had been drawn up. After the bloody experience of capturing territory such as on Iwa Jima, it was expected to be a difficult invasion that would cost a lot of allied lives. However, the dropping of two atomic weapons on Japan in August on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed things dramatically.
Members of the Japanese War Council and Emperor Hirohito favored accepting the peace terms; some objected and acted to stop a surrender. On 15 Aug a coup was attempted against Prime Minister Suzuki, but it was crushed. At noon that day, and for the first time in Japanese history, Emperor Hirohito addressed the nation by radio. “We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.” The US and the allies accepted the surrender.
With the death of German president, Paul van Hindenberg on August 2, 1934, Adolf Hitler would become the undisputed leader of Nazi Germany. Hitler had been appointed Chancellor by Hindenberg in January 1933. Hitler and the Nazi Party channeled discontent with the post-war Weimar government. In the July 1932 elections the Nazi Party got 232 seats with the Communists coming in second. Hindenberg declined to appoint Hitler chancellor instead preferring General Kurt von Schleicher who tried negotiating with dissident factions within the Nazi Party. The next elections in November saw the Communists gain more seats while the Nazis lost seats.
Ironically the Communists gaining seats just made the case for ardent Nazis, prominent German businessman, and the conservative National People’s Party to ally and convince Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Hindenburg did not like Hitler and Hitler had disdain for the old general. Once in place, Hitler asked Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag. This allowed the Nazis and the National People’s Party to become the majority. It allowed for the passage of the Enabling Act, which allowed the Nazis to rule by decree for the next four years. Hitler and the Nazi Party swiftly enacted measures to take full control of Germany by severely curtailing individual liberties, freedom of the press and of course, and dismissing Jews from all public offices. Elections from that point on became mere rubber stamps for the Nazi Party and there was nothing to stop Hitler.
There was only one obstacle for Hitler. Hindenberg could dismiss him from office and would command the support of the German Army. So, Hitler always treated Hindenberg with great deference and respect until he passed away. With the death of Hindenberg, Hitler became Fuhrer (leader) and the German military all took an oath of allegiance to the new commander-in-chief. And the last remnants of the old democratic government were dismantled and absorbed into the new Nazi state.
On 20 July 1944 a plot to kill German leader Adolf Hitler was undertaken. It has become known as Operation Valkyrie though that was originally part of the overall plan. The goal was to take control of Germany from the Nazi’s and to seek peace with the Allies. It failed in killing Hitler and resulted instead with thousands arrested and many executed as a result. One of the conspirators turned out to be Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was forced to commit suicide to avert a public court martial and save his family from being arrested as conspirators.
Plans to kill Hitler went back to 1938 when officers in the German Army and Military Intelligence began formulating plans to assassinate Hitler. Soon it joined with others in the civilian, intellectual, and political leadership to become known as Kreisauer Kreis (Kreisau Circle). Some disagreed about killing Hitler; others wanted to overthrow him to prevent plunging Germany into a disastrous world war. Attempts to kill Hitler had failed in the past leading to loss of morale. While many high-ranking German officers were involved in discussions (many of them Field Marshals), they did not report it to the Gestapo.
If the goal had been achieved, a restored government would not necessarily been like the previous Weimar Republic. It would likely would have been a conservative-authoritarian government with elections but skewed more towards the old elite class. There might have been even the restoration of a monarchy though in a limited manner.
By mid-1943, it appeared to many the tide had turned against Germany. Many in the German high command had become convinced Germany was being led to disaster. Both the military and civilian plotters realized Hitler had to be removed to prevent a likely invasion of Germany by the Soviet Union. Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, severely wounded in North Africa was recruited to the group. He like many were swept up in the nationalist goals of the Nazi Party and was a supporter though never a member of it. He did express views that were sympathetic to the Nazi position on Polish Jews. But by 1943, he had seen what the Hitler had done to Germany. His strong Catholicism opposed Hitler’s suppression of it and other religions. And he had come to see what the persecution of Jews looked like and did not like it either.
Stauffenberg was not the designer of Valkyrie but certainly had a hand in some of its components. By 1944 several attempts to assassinate Hitler had failed and Hitler was rarely seen in public. The Gestapo was now starting to dig deeper into the conspirators. Even so a few thought Heinrich Himmler might be persuaded to come over to them. He did not report a conversation when he was approached by a conspirator. It is likely Himmler had deemed the war unwinnable and saw himself as the successor if Hitler was removed from power. With Hitler now out of the public eye, killing him became more difficult. When Stauffenberg was appointed Chief of Staff to General Fromm of the Reserve Army, he would be attending military conferences where Hitler would be present.
On 20 July 1944 he set off with a bomb in a briefcase to Hitler’s Eastern Front military headquarters Wolf’s Lair. After priming one bomb in the bathroom before the conference (he had to handle a second one to his aide Werner von Haeften). Once inside the briefing, he placed the briefcase under the table near Hitler. Colonel Heinz Brandt likely moved it aside with his foot which deflected the blast but resulted in his death from injuries sustained when the bomb detonated at 12:42 pm.
The blast destroyed the conference room and killed the stenographer. Everyone else was severely injured and hurt (some like Brandt would die later). Hitler and the others had their legs singed, trousers tattered, and a perforated eardrum. Stauffenberg bluffed his way out of Wolf’s Lair thinking Hitler was dead. Confused reports about whether Hitler was dead or alive resulted in confusion with the plotters. They could not move forward if Hitler was still alive. A call to Field Marshal Keitel by General Fromm confirmed Hitler was still alive. Operation Valkyrie was now being done in many places believing Hitler was dead. Arrests were being done as if Hitler was dead. Himmler took control and shut down Valkyrie. At 7 pm Hitler made phone calls and it was clear he was quite alive.
The coup quickly fell apart. Orders were issued to secure areas and arrest the plotters. Conspirators turned on each other in some cases rather than face arrest by Gestapo. By midnight some of the top conspirators, including Stauffenberg, had been arrested and tried quickly by a court martial and executed. Further executions were halted as Hitler wanted them alive for trial.
The Gestapo rounded up nearly all the conspirators and through seized documents learned of others as well. Some included former German Army Chief of Staff Franz Halder. He was not involved in the 20 JulyPlot but was involved in several earlier ones. He was arrested and was imprisoned in Flossenbürg and Dachau concentration camps. Under new Blood Guilt laws by Himmler, family members of plotters were also arrested and sometimes executed as well. Erwin Rommel’s name came up since his chief of staff, Hans Spiedel, had connections to the conspirators.
It is not truly known to what extent Rommel was involved in 20 July Plot. He certainly did not support Hitler by 1944 and would have supported a coup to remove him. However it is not certain what his involvement was. His chief of staff Hans Spiedel was connected to the plotters and may have learned of their plans from him but that is not clear either. At best he may have had a general idea of what they wanted to do but opposed assassination as it would result in a civil war. However some plotters said he was involved (under torture) and would be part of the new government.
Branding Rommel, a very popular figure in Germany, a traitor would have been a major shock and caused serious questions about the stability of the regime. Rommel knew that public trials were rigged for the prosecution and he would have no chance of winning. And his family would suffer as well by being imprisoned. He was offered a chance to commit suicide (a honorable practice from ancient Rome that allowed important people to take their lives to spare their families) which he did by taking cyanide. He was buried with full military honors and the true circumstances of his death not revealed until after the war.