At 12:40 PM on a hot, sultry July 20, 1944, German Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler, 55, was seated on a wicker stool in a conference hut at his principal Eastern Front headquarters at Ft. Wolf, Rastenburg, East Prussia for the mid-day wartime map meeting. The Chief of the German High Command---Army Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel---introduced a man with a black eye patch and a yellow briefcase: “My Leader, this is Col. Count Claus Schenck von Stauffenberg, who is to brief you on the new divisions.” Of course, the Fuhrer already knew who he was, and indeed had even recommended him as a bright young man to his Minister of Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer. There were 24 men in the room.
As the conference resumed, the colonel set down his briefcase, told Keitel he was awaiting an urgent call from Berlin and left the hut. At exactly 12:42 PM, there was a dazzling sheet of bright yellow flame as two pounds of explosives went off with a roar less than six feet from an astonished Fuhrer.
Gen. Walter Warlimont, who was there, described the scene in his 1964 memoirs, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: “In a flash the map room became a scene of stampede and destruction…there was nothing but wounded men groaning, the acrid smell of burning, and charred fragments of maps and papers fluttering in the wind. I staggered up and jumped through the window.”
Several men were killed outright, or would die later of their wounds, but not the assassin’s main target, Hitler. As the blast occurred, his immediate thought was that the compound was under an Allied bombing raid. He found himself lying on the floor next to the left doorway. His eardrums had burst, his clothes and hair were on fire and he was covered with wood and debris from the ceiling. His right elbow hurt savagely, and smoke filled the room. His next thought was that a Russian paratroop attack was underway, as his top SS commando Col. Otto Skorzeny had told him the year before was possible. He heard Keitel yell out in the din “Where is the Fuhrer ?” and then was led by him out of the hut and back to his own bunker. Hitler exulted to his physician, Dr. Thedor Morell, “I am invulnerable! I am immortal!”
Afterward, he mused that perhaps one of Speer’s Organization Todt construction workers had planted a bomb, and then his trusty Secretary to the Fuhrer, Martin Bormann, identified the real culprit: the one-eyed colonel who been seen by a Signals sergeant leaving the hut just before the explosion.
Von Stauffenberg had gone to Bunker 8/13 to watch the expected explosion with the main conspirator assigned to FHQ, Gen. Erich Fellgiebel, Chief of Signals for the High Command of the Armed Forces, the most important communications man in the entire Axis Pact war effort. Together, they witnessed the blast, which the would-be assassin later described as resembling a direct hit from a 155mm artillery shell. He sincerely believed that everyone inside had been killed, and drove off with his aide to fly back to Berlin to launch Operation Valkyrie, an already-prepared plan to safeguard the Reich in case of an emergency.
There were two key factors thought necessary for the success of the military coup: Hitler’s death and the cutting off of the FHQ’s radio, telephone and teleprinter communications with the outside world. This was the responsibility of Gen. Fellgiebel, the man on the spot after von Stauffenberg’s departure.
Once he realized that the Fuhrer had survived, the General made light of the situation, tossing out the casual remark to Warlimont in passing him within the confines of HQ Area I, “That’s what happens when you put the headquarters so near the front,” but in fact he knew better.
The Fuhrer received the Duce of Italian Fascism, Benito Mussolini, for what was to be their last meeting at 2:30 PM that same day, giving him a guided tour of the map hut wreckage. By 4 PM, it was apparent that a full-scale military revolt was afoot not only in the Reich, but also in the German-occupied foreign territories in the West, especially in Paris, where all Gestapo men had been arrested by the Army. A bulletin had been issued at 3:50 PM by the War Ministry Building in Berlin asserting that Hitler was dead and that they, the Army conspirators, were in charge.
This order had been issued by the Chief of Army Signals, Gen. Fritz Thiele, nominally Gen. Fellgiebel’s deputy, but at Rastenburg his boss had done nothing to sever the all-important communications, nor to alert Berlin that Hitler was either alive or dead. Why he had not done so has been the stuff of controversy ever since. Later, after Gen. Fellgiebel had been unmasked as a traitor, Hitler vented his spleen on the matter to Speer.
“Now I know why all my great plans in Russia had to fail in recent years. It was all treason! But for those traitors we would have won long ago…Now we will find out
whether Fellgiebel had a direct wire to Switzerland and passed all my plans on to the Russians. He must be interrogated by every means!” Indeed, the General may very well have been a Soviet spy in this regard as Hitler thought, and this may also explain why he didn’t cut the communication links. With Hitler still alive, he may have reasoned, the most incompetent man in the Reich was still at the helm of a losing war effort, and with the conspirators now doomed, the conflict would go on to its logical end and a possible total Red Army victory.
Ironically, in 2000 there was published a book by Louis Kilzer entitled Hitler’s Traitor: Martin Bormann and the Defeat of the Reich that asserted that it was the Secretary to the Fuhrer---and not the Chief of Signals---who was the link to the Soviets in Switzerland.
Born Oct. 4, 1886 at Popelwitz in Silesia, Fritz Erich Fellgiebel began his military service as a lieutenant in the 2nd Signal Battalion and in 1914 was an instructor at the Spandau Telegraphers’ Academy, serving in several General Staff posts during the First World War. After the war, he was in charge of secret intelligence and security.
According to Kenneth Macksey’s 2003 work The Searchers: Radio Intercept in Two World Wars, “Fellgiebel…was involved…in the crucial studies which, in 1926, culminated in the bold, radical decision to abandon all existing communications equipment…and replace it with standardized families of telephone, Morse telegraph, non-Morse teleprinter and undamped, purpose-built radios…using thermionic valves.” They “had no peer in any other army” when war broke out in 1939, he asserts.
In 1930, Fellgiebel became commander of the 2nd Intelligence Department and in 1934 was Colonel and Inspector of the Signal Corps for the 7th Army.
In 1936, the national Reich Post Office telephone, telegraph and teleprinter cable resources were expanded by thousands of kilometers under his direction.
During the Hitlerian military shakeup of 1938, Fellgiebel was promoted to the rank of major general and named Inspector of Armed Forces Communications. In 1939, he was posted as Chief of the Intelligence Communications Office for the High Command and in 1940 was raised again, to General of the Signal Corps.
By June 1944, there were fully 200,000 Army Signal troops, as well as 400,000 men in the Luftwaffe, a duplication of labor that both Fellgiebel and Speer complained about to Hitler, but to no avail, since he wisely believed (as it turned out) in a division of responsibilities in this sphere. Simply put, the Fuhrer trusted his Nazi air force more than he did his conservative, basically monarchist army.
What no one in Nazi Party ranks knew, however, was that Gen. Fellgiebel had already lost faith in Hitler and joined the German Resistance. As Peter Hoffmann points out in Hitler’s Personal Security, however, Gen. Fellgiebel was “One not willing to kill Hitler personally, despite ample opportunities,” and even congratulated him to his face upon meeting the still-living Fuhrer after the blast.
Had the plot of July 20, 1944 succeeded, the General was earmarked for the spot of Minister of Posts in the new government, but this was foiled by Nazi Propaganda Minister Dr. Josef Goebbels and a man Speer called “This basically insignificant young officer,” a German Army Major named Otto Ernst Remer. He was the commander of the
Berlin Greater Germany Guards Regiment assigned by his commanding officer, conspirator Gen. Paul von Hase, to arrest Dr. Goebbels, but instead received an invitation to meet with him at seven o’clock on the evening of the assassination attempt.
Maj. Remer was born on Aug. 18, 1912 in Neubrandenburg and enlisted in the German Army. By the time Hitler was named Reich Chancellor in 1933, Remer was a 21-year-old corporal and was destined to become precisely the type of young officer-from-the-ranks that the Nazis groomed before and during the war to ultimately replace those men who began their service under the Kaiser, not the Fuhrer.
He was commissioned an infantry second lieutenant in 1935, promoted captain in 1941 and on Nov. 12, 1943 had been personally awarded the Oakleaves to the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross by Hitler himself at FHQ Rastenburg, a mere six months before the explosion. This sole meeting was to play a crucial role in the unraveling of the plot. In May 1944, Maj. Remer was named commander of the Berlin Guards, in what would turn out to be the most important military post in the capital during the “Revolt by Telephone,” as it came to be termed by the Nazis.
Dr. Goebbels received the 32-year-old major in his office, with Speer present. In the 1990 book by Ib Melchior and interviewer Frank Brandenburg, Quest: Searching for Germany’s Nazi Past, a then-70-year-old Remer asserted that he had actually come to warn Goebbels of the treason afoot, not to arrest him, but the Doctor didn’t know that. Instead, he reminded the major of his oath of fealty to the Fuhrer, to which Remer responded that Hitler was dead.
According to Speer, Dr. Goebbels instantly retorted, “The Fuhrer is alive! He’s alive. I spoke to him a few minutes ago. An ambitious little clique of generals has begun this military putsch (revolt). A filthy trick---the filthiest trick in history.” He next placed a priority telephone call to Rastenburg---which the Fuhrer was waiting to receive---over a line that, like all others, should already have been cut, but wasn’t.
The Doctor handed the receiver to the major, and the latter heard someone ask, “Do you recognize my voice?” Of course he did, snapped to attention and barked out a series of affirmative responses to Hitler’s commands promoting him to the rank of colonel on the spot, placing him in charge of all anti-coup troops in Berlin until the arrival of Reichsfuhrer (National Leader) SS Heinrich Himmler in the capital and under the immediate direct orders of both himself and Dr. Goebbels. A telephone-coup-in-reverse was thus launched.
The mention of Himmler’s name raised another troubling point, for Goebbels had been disturbed by the fact that he had been unable to reach the RFSS by telephone all afternoon, and both he and Speer actually wondered if “the loyal Heinrich” was part of the conspiracy.
Another man absent from both Berlin and Rastenburg that day until after it was clear that Hitler had survived was Reich Marshal Hermann Goring, who since 1933 had controlled the governmental telephone wiretapping service codenamed the Research Office. Is it to be believed that neither Himmler nor his rival Goring had no prior inkling of the events planned for July 20, 1944 ?
My own conclusion is no. Either or both---as well as Speer and Goebbels---would have taken advantage of a new, non-Hitlerite Nazi Germany in any way they could had the plot succeeded.
As for von Stauffenberg, Remer told interviewer Brandenburg, “He was shot in the
court yard of the War Ministry. My men; 10 riflemen and one officer---a lieutenant who could be relied upon to keep his trousers dry. It was done quickly and efficiently. The abortive coup d’etat came to an abrupt and most satisfactory end.” He added that Hitler made sure personally of von Stauffenberg’s death by having his body exhumed to check for himself.
Meanwhile, Dr. Goebbels issued a long-delayed news bulletin that asserted that Hitler was still alive with minor injuries, had received the Duce and—most telling---“Shortly after the attempt on the Fuhrer’s life, he was joined by the Reich Marshal,” a curious add-on statement at best.
At his French headquarters, the Commander-in-Chief West---Field Marshal Hans Gunther von Kluge---lamented, “The bloody thing’s misfired.” Urged to go on with the revolt anyway, he refused, stating, “Yes, if only the swine were dead!” He later shot himself to escape trial and execution.
Gen. Thiele was caught and executed. Gen. Fellgiebel was convicted by the Nazi People’s Court of treason against the State on Aug. 10, 1944 and hanged by the SS on Sept. 4th, succeeded in his post as Chief of OKW Signals by Army Gen. Albert Praun.
And what of the “basically insignificant young officer ?” Col. Remer became a Nazi national hero and in October 1944 was named commander of the Fuhrer Escort Regiment based at Rastenburg in charge of FHQ security. The unit was later designated a Panzer (Armored) Brigade and sent to the Eifel in West Germany to fight the Allies.
On Jan. 31, 1945, Col. Remer was promoted again, to Major General, fought in the Battle of the Bulge against the Americans and ended the war in combat with the Russians commanding the Fuhrer Escort Division. He survived the war to found a neo-Nazi Party in the Fifties and wrote pro-Hitler revisionist publications while being under surveillance by the West German Federal Republic police.
As late as 1990, he resided in West Germany then moved with his wife Anneliese to monarchist Spain, where he died at Marbella age 85 on Oct. 4, 1997, an unrepentant Nazi to the end. His remains were cremated and then interred in the new unified Germany.
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