20 July Plot

The July Bomb Plot or Operation Valkyrie was one of the biggest 'what if' moments in history. Only a thick wooden table leg stopped the assassination of Adolf Hitler and the end of The Second World War.

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    The July Bomb Plot, aka Operation Valkyrie

    This plot was an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. German Army officers Friedrich Olbricht, Henning von Tresckow, and Claus von Stauffenberg orchestrated a plan to kill Hitler and seize control of Germany using the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany.

    July Bomb Plot

    Below is a timeline outlining the July Bomb Plot and other attempts on Hitler's life:

    Year DateEvent
    1943AugustClaus von Stauffenberg and German Resistance leader Henning von Tresckow met. As a result of the meeting, Stauffenberg joined the resistance.
    SeptemberTresckow modified Operation Valkyrie as a means to seize control of Germany.
    16 NovemberAxel von dem Bussche-Streithorst agreed to suicide-bomb Hitler when modelling new Nazi uniforms for him. Unfortunately, the train carrying said uniforms was bombed by the Allies, and the event was called off.
    194414 FebruaryEwald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin agreed to suicide-bomb Hitler when modelling new Nazi uniforms for him. Unfortunately, the uniform inspection was delayed.
    9 MarchEberhard von Breitenbuch planned to shoot Hitler at a conference. Unfortunately, Breitenbuch wasn't allowed into the conference.
    JulyStauffenberg was promoted. This meant he could attend conferences with Hitler.
    11 JulyStauffenberg took a briefcase bomb with him to one of Hitler's conferences. He backed out as Himmler and Goering were not in attendance.
    20 JulyStauffenberg placed a briefcase bomb next to Hitler at a conference. The bomb detonated, but the large wooden table leg saved Hitler from the blast. Not knowing whether Hitler survived, the conspirators were too slow in putting Operation Valkyrie into action.

    The Origins of Operation Valkyrie

    When Operation Valkyrie was conceived, it had nothing to do with assassinations or coups. It was created because the German government worried that the Allied bombings of German cities could cause civil unrest. Consequently, they created a plan (Operation Valkyrie) to see the Territorial Reserve Army of Germany take control and continue government in the event of civil breakdown.

    German Army officers Friedrich Olbricht, Henning von Tresckow, and Claus von Stauffenberg modified Operation Valkyrie, intending to use it to seize power, demobilise the SS, and detain the Nazi leadership after Hitler's planned assassination on 20 July.

    The German Resistance

    Although the 20 July Plot is the most famous assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler's life, there were 23 separate plots to eliminate the Führer throughout his leadership. The German Resistance planned all attempts on Hitler's life. Comprising members dissatisfied with the Nazi regime, the German Resistance was unlike resistance movements in France, Italy, and the Soviet Union. It was not a unified resistance movement but a series of isolated groups dispersed across Germany. Their lack of cohesion and collaboration ultimately stopped the German Resistance from having a significant impact.

    Operation Valkyrie

    By the summer of 1944, Germany was losing the Second World War; many German military leaders blamed their Führer and had begun to lose faith in Hitler's leadership.


    Translating as 'leader' in German, the term führer refers to a totalitarian leader; it is predominantly associated with Adolf Hitler.

    Several high-ranking politicians and military leaders hatched a plan to assassinate Hitler. They planned that Claus von Stauffenberg would set off a bomb during Hitler's meeting at the Wolfsschanze (the Wolf’s Lair).

    With Hitler dead, the conspirators would claim that the Nazi Party set off the bomb in an attempted coup. Using the Reserve Army, the conspirators would arrest the SS, take control of German institutions, and establish a new government led by Ludwig Beck as president and Carl Friedrich Goerdeler as Chancellor of Germany. Once the new government had been established, they would negotiate an end to the Second World War.

    Did you know? Ludwig Beck served as Chief of Staff of the German Army between 1935 and 1938.

    The July Bomb Plot Claus von Stauffenberg StudySmarterFig. 1 - Claus von Stauffenberg

    July 20 Plot Members

    Here is a brief table outlining the 20 July Plot members:

    NameRole in the plotDeath
    Colonel Claus von StauffenbergThe driving force behind the 20 July plot, Stauffenberg and Tresckow united the conspirators into taking action. He planted the bomb and initiated the second phase of the military coup.Executed by firing squad on 21 July 1944.
    Dr. Carl GoerdelerGoerdeler was the unofficial leader of the German opposition and spent five years trying to persuade military officials to depose Hitler. He was going to be Chancellor of Germany had the plan been successful.Sentenced during the show trials and subsequently executed by hanging.
    General Ludwig BeckPlanned two attempts to kill Hitler in 1943. One of the driving forces of the 20 July plot, Beck would become President if the plot succeeded.Committed suicide with a pistol.
    General Friedrich OlbrichtDeveloped the original plan for Operation Valkyrie. Despite holding the rank of lieutenant general, Olbricht was in contact with the resistance and encouraged fellow military commanders to join their cause.Executed by firing squad on 21 July 1944.
    General Henning von TresckowHelped organise the German resistance and modified Operation Valkyrie, so it could be used to take control of Germany.Committed suicide upon the failure of the plot.
    General Friedrich FrommCommander in Chief of the Reserve Army, Fromm knew of the plot to kill Hitler but kept quiet. When the coup failed, he ignored Hitler's orders to take the conspirators alive and sentenced them to death. It was believed that Fromm quickly killed the conspirators to hide his own role in the plot.Executed by firing squad on 12 March 1945.

    July 1944 Plot

    On 20 July 1944, Claus von Stauffenberg arrived at Hitler's military conference at the Wolfsschanze. The bomb was concealed in his briefcase. Due to the hot weather the conference location was changed from the underground bunker to the main meeting room.


    Translating as 'Wolf's Lair' in German, Wolfsschanze was Hitler's Eastern Front military headquarters.

    After planting the briefcase bomb, Stauffenberg took his pre-arranged phone call and left the Wolfsschanze. Whilst leaving the compound, an officer unwittingly moved Stauffenberg's briefcase, propping it against a thick oak table leg.

    At approximately 12:45 PM, the bomb exploded, killing three officers and destroying the room. However, Hitler was shielded by a solid-wood table leg and survived with nothing but a perforated eardrum and a few scrapes.

    The July Bomb Plot The WolfsschanzeStudySmarterFig. 2 - The Wolfsschanze after the bomb explosion

    Stauffenberg travelled to a nearby airfield and flew three hours to Berlin. Whilst travelling, however, Stauffenberg's fellow conspirators failed to act; they were unsure whether Hitler was, in fact, dead or not. By the time Stauffenberg landed in Berlin, it was already too late.

    The July Bomb Plot Aftermath StudySmarterFig. 3 - Hitler's tattered trousers after the assassination attempt

    The Second Stage of the July Bomb Plot

    Discovering that the bomb had not killed Hitler, Fromm refused to initiate Operation Valkyrie; Olbricht, however, had already initiated the plan in Fromm's name. Fromm declined to cooperate with the plan and was detained.

    Although Hitler had survived, the conspirators managed to disarm the SS and the Nazi intelligence organisation. However, Heinrich Himmler had taken control of the situation by this time and revoked Operation Valkyrie. With Hitler alive and the coup in tatters, the less adamant conspiracy members began to change sides.

    After a brief firefight, Fromm was freed from his imprisonment and managed to take control.

    20 July Plot Executions

    In a desperate bid to cover his involvement, Fromm swiftly sentenced and ordered the executions of Stauffenberg and Olbricht by firing squad. Beck and Tresckow committed suicide, and Goerdeler was sentenced to death by hanging during the show trials. Fromm himself was eventually executed for his failure to prevent the assassination attempt. As well as the plot's leaders, some 180 out of 200 conspirators were executed.

    The Gestapo arrested 7,000 people in the wake of the 20 July Plot.

    July Bomb Plot Summary

    Despite meticulous planning, the July Bomb Plot failed for two simple reasons: the bomb failed to kill Hitler, and the conspirators failed to act when it mattered. Still, such elementary faults don't detract from the significance of such a plot nor diminish what it could have achieved. Had the coup been successful, the 175,000 troops who lost their lives during the Battle of the Bulge and 450,00 military personnel who lost their lives during the Allied invasion of France would have lived.

    Immediately after the assassination attempt, Hitler spoke to the German public via a radio address. For six minutes, Hitler attacked the group of conspirators whilst asserting that he remained unhurt. After addressing the German public, Hitler turned his attention to the conspirators. Some 800 Germans were rounded up in connection with the plot and humiliatingly tried during a series of public show trials.

    A year later, the aims of the Valkyrie conspirators were achieved; Adolf Hitler was dead, and Germany was negotiating a peaceful surrender with the Allies. Those who had arrested, tried, and executed the July Bomb Plot Conspirators were now themselves being tried.

    The July Bomb Plot – Key takeaways

    • The July Bomb Plot, or Operation Valkyrie, was a plot created by German military leaders to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
    • With Hitler dead, the German Territorial Reserve Army would seize control and negotiate peace with the Allies.
    • The plot failed for two reasons: The bomb didn't kill Hitler, and the conspirators were too slow to take action.
    • The conspirators in the July Bomb Plot were executed on 21 July 1944.


    1. Fig 2. The Wolfsschanze after the bomb explosion (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1972-025-12,_Zerst%C3%B6rte_Lagerbaracke_nach_dem_20._Juli_1944.jpg) from German Federal Archive (http://www.bundesarchiv.de/) licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)
    2. Fig 3. 'Hitler's tattered trousers after the bomb blast' (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1972-025-64,_Hitler-Attentat,_20._Juli_1944.jpg) from German Federal Archive (http://www.bundesarchiv.de/) licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about 20 July Plot

    What was the July bomb plot?

    The 20 July Bomb Plot was a plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler and seize power with the German Reserve Army.

    Who was involved in the July 20 plot?

    The main conspirators in the 20 July Plot were Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, Dr. Carl Goerdeler, General Ludwig Beck, General Friedrich Olbricht, and General Henning von Tresckow.

    Why did the July 20 plot fail?

    The July 20 Plot failed because the bomb failed to kill Hitler and the conspirators were too slow to react after the assassination attempt.

    What happened to the valkyrie conspirators?

    The main Valkyrie conspirators were executed immediately, with a further 800 arrested shortly after.

    Was operation valkyrie a success?

    No, Operation Valkyrie was a failure because the coup failed to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi government. 

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