Britain's Plot to Kill Hitler
This weeks excerpt looks at the plans made by the Special Operations Executive for 'Operation Foxley'
Hitler was the object of many assassination plans and actual attempts on his life, which are comprehensively covered in The Hitler Assassination Attempts, previously featured in May. This 2022 publication Britain's Plot to Kill Hitler: The True Story of Operation Foxley takes a deeper look at just one proposal, the secret British plans that were developed from June 1944.
Included in this volume are reproductions of the original Operation Foxley files showing the extraordinary amount of detail that British intelligence had gathered about Hitler, his Berghof residence above the village of Berchtesgaden in the Obersalzberg, his movements by train, his security entourage and much more.
There was much debate within Allied military circles as to the desirability of killing Hitler, many viewed his idiosyncratic military approach as acting to their advantage. If it had happened it seems very likely, as Ian Kershaw notes in his introduction, that another German “stabbed in the back” myth would have arisen to explain the German defeat. Ultimately ‘Operation Foxley' was overtaken by events - the end of the war was in plain sight by the time the final preparations would have ben ready.
The following excerpt considers the most likely option that might have been adopted:
Of all the options SOE came up with in Operation Foxley, a lone soldier hiding in the woods, shooting at Hitler while he took his morning stroll, seemed the most likely. It was also similar to how Hitler himself imagined he might be killed - by a lone sniper.
“One day a completely harmless man will establish himself in an attic flat along Wilhelmstrasse,” Hitler told his first Gestapo chief, Rudolf Diels, in 1933. “He will be taken for a retired schoolmaster. A solid citizen, with horn-rimmed spectacles, poorly shaven, bearded. He will not allow anyone into his modest room. Here he will install a gun, quietly and without undue haste, and with uncanny patience he will aim it at the Reich Chancellery balcony hour after hour, day after day. And then, one day, he will fire!”
When SOE was trying to find a time and place where Hitler would be vulnerable, interrogations of captured German soldiers who had served with the Fiihrer revealed one striking fact: since mid-March 1944, almost every morning that Hitler was at his Bavarian retreat, he would go for a two-kilometre stroll (about 15- 20 minutes) to the Teehaus in his compound.
This daily routine flew in the face of what Hitler himself knew about ensuring his security. “The only preventive measure one can take is to live irregularly - to walk, to drive and to travel at irregular times and unexpectedly,” he told colleagues.
He would leave his home, the Berghof, between 10:00 and 11:00, and he insisted on walking alone, as it was the only time in the day that he could be by himself with his thoughts. The SS guards who normally accompanied him were ordered to keep their distance. But the guards kept him within sight at all times, though they were sometimes as much as 500 metres away. In the view of the SOE, it was the only time that Hitler completely let his guard down and he was entirely vulnerable.
‘That morning stroll, unguarded for up to 20 minutes, was the best chance the British were ever going to get to shoot the Fuhrer. It was a golden opportunity, and it is difficult to understand why Hitler ignored his own advice.’
That morning stroll, unguarded for up to 20 minutes, was the best chance the British were ever going to get to shoot the Fuhrer. It was a golden opportunity, and it is difficult to understand why Hitler ignored his own advice. Perhaps following so many failed assassination attempts over the years, he truly did believe that he was under some kind of divine protection.
The Operation Foxley dossier devotes several pages to discussing how this would be done. But it opens with an important disclaimer:
In the absence of first-hand information on the OBERSALZBERG since May of this year and in particular since that attentat [attack] of July 20th, it is not possible to say whether security and safety measures have been tightened up as of late, or whether extra precautions are being taken at FHQ only.
The dossier goes into some detail on how an agent could learn whether Hitler was in fact in attendance at the Obersalzberg. One indicator was that a large swastika flag would fly in front of the Berghof when he was there. Another clue to Hitler’s presence was that one of his special trains could be found in one of the local railway stations, including Berchtesgaden itself.
And a particular tavern in Berchtesgaden was also named - because if Hitler was in the area, members of his special bodyguard unit could be found drinking there in the evenings when off-duty. The level of detail accumulated by SOE about Hitler’s residence is enormous, but suffers from several errors. For example, the location of Hitler’s study is misplaced. British visitors to the Berghof before the war were clearly not consulted, as they would have spotted these problems.
Shooting Hitler on his morning walk seemed to be the best choice, but there were other options named in the dossier. Hitler would sometimes leave his train at the nearby Klessheim castle and might be targeted there. It was also suggested that an agent might be able to approach Hitler’s train and throw a suitcase full of explosives under the carriages - which would clearly be a suicide mission and very unlikely to succeed. As the train was guarded on its entire route, and carried anti-aircraft guns and heavily armed troops, it made for a very unpromising target.
The obstacles facing an SOE agent aiming to reach Hitler in Berchtesgaden would have been considerable. First among the problems was how to get an agent anywhere near the area. One possibility was smuggling an agent in via neutral Switzerland, or Austria which was then part of the German Reich. Another possibility was to come in by parachute - something that SOE already had considerably experience with. But even if an agent could get close to Hitler’s compound, the problems did not end there.
The main security force protecting Hitler at the Obersalzberg was known as the Reichsicherheitsdienst (RSD, the Reich Security Service), which consisted of about 20 men. Its commander was Brigadefiihrer Rattenhuber, who was assisted by Haupsturmfiihrer Muller, formerly of the Waffen-SS.
The RSD men, who were mostly from Bavaria, usually wore civilian clothes, but sometimes dressed in the uniform of the Waffen-SS. They patrolled the entire complex, usually accompanied by three dogs, each under the command of a Hundefuhrer.
This excerpt fromBritain's Plot to Kill Hitler: The True Story of Operation Foxley appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd. Copyright remains with the author.