The Hitler Assassination Attempts
The Plots, Places and People that Almost Changed History
Can anything more be written about attempts to kill Hitler? It seems that there can.
Much had been written about Georg Elser’s bomb in 1939 and Claus von Stauffenberg’s bomb in 1944 - both of which were very significant explosions that only narrowly missed Hitler through bad luck. But there were many other incidents that ranged from genuine proposals through to fully developed plans of action. John Grehan has produced a comprehensive survey of all the known plots - in thirty three chapters covering episodes from 1921 to 1945 he often deals with several plots in each chapter.
Fully supported with extensive references for those who want to dig deeper, this is a fascinating read which tells us much about the world around Hitler and attitudes to him.
The following excerpt concerns two episodes in April 1939, one little more than a proposal, the other apparently a fully fledged attempt:
His name was Noel Mason-MacFarlane. He was the British Military Attache to Berlin and he wanted to kill Hitler. An artillery officer, he had received the DSO, MC and Croix de Guerre during the First World War and was a tough and shrewd old soldier, who would go on to add a Bar to his Military Cross during the Second World War.
‘Mason-Mac’ had pondered the subject of overturning the Nazi regime, and thus of preserving peace, for some time. But he was well aware that there were many dangers to such a course of action, warning the British ambassador in Berlin that ‘any bungling of an attempt to interfere with German domestic politics from without during Hitlers lifetime would most assuredly lead to exactly what we wish to avoid’. In other words, the only hope of bringing about regime change in Germany was with Hitler’s death.
The date on which Mason-MacFarlane wanted to shoot Hitler, though, was in early 1939 and no such action could be sanctioned by the British authorities. Mason-MacFarlane had calculated that, during the celebratory parade for Hitler’s birthday on 20 April in Berlin, the German leader would be on a raised dais within easy rifle shot of Mason-MacFarlane's drawing-room window.
‘Apparently, Mason-MacFarlane declared that he could ‘pick the bastard off from here as easy as winking. There’d be hell to pay, of course, and I’d be finished in every sense of the word. Still... with that lunatic out of the way we might be able to get some sense into things.’
Mason-MacFarlane told the story of the assassination plan to Ewen Butler The Times correspondent in Germany from 1937 to 1939:
He discussed the plan with me in the summer of 1938 as I sat looking out of the window of his Berlin flat - the window from which his rifleman would, if the Colonel (as he then was) had had his way, have fired the shot which would have ended Hitler’s career. Mason-Mac believed then, as I did and still do, that the Fuhrer’s death at that time would have brought about the collapse of the National Socialist regime. He was well aware of the forces inside the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht which would have seized the opportunity to overthrow a system they had every reason to hate and to fear.
Mason-Mac told me that he had put the plan up to London but without the slightest hope that it would be accepted. If by any wild chance it were approved he said, he himself would be the rifleman if necessary.
I protested that the murder of the Chancellor by the British Military Attache would create a really formidable diplomatic incident. He agreed but added that nobody in Germany would go to war on that account, whereas while Hitler lived war was certain.
A few weeks later it so happened that by a combination of luck and bluff I stood for some minutes within 20ft. of Hitler outside the Anhalter station in Berlin. In my case the Gestapo security arrangements had collapsed. I was not searched although I had no right to be where I was and might have had several Mills bombs in my pocket. In that case I could have disposed not only of the Fuhrer but of most of his accomplices. I told Mason-Mac about this and he reproached me bitterly for having missed such an excellent opportunity.
Apparently, Mason-MacFarlane declared that he could ‘pick the bastard off from here as easy as winking. There’d be hell to pay, of course, and I’d be finished in every sense of the word. Still... with that lunatic out of the way we might be able to get some sense into things.’ He later mused on this chance he had of killing Hitler:
My residence in Berlin was barely 100 yards from the saluting base of all the big Fuhrer reviews. All that was necessary was a good shot and a high-velocity rifle with telescopic sight and silencer. It could have been fired through my open bathroom window from a spot on the landing some 30 feet back from the window.
The British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, was nevertheless unimpressed by Mason-MacFarlane’s proposal. ‘We have not reached that stage ... when we have to use assassination as a substitution for diplomacy.’ It was a decision not just Britain, but the whole world would live to regret.
As it happened, there had been another plot to kill Hitler earlier that same month. Hitler was due to attend the launching of Germany’s last great battleship, Tirpitz, at Wilhelmshaven on 1 April. The day before the ceremony, Gestapo agents searched the quays near Tirpitz and arrested two Czech nationals carrying automatic weapons who had gone there expressly to shoot Hitler. According to a report in the Daily Mirror of 12 April, a raid on a nearby house, owned by a Sudeten German, resulted in four more arrests. Two others managed to escape across the border into Holland.
All those arrested were found to be armed and, apparently, ‘confessed calmly’ to their plans. A Dutch journalist, the only witness to the arrests, was also taken into custody and ‘flung’ into prison. He was released the following morning and forced to sign a statement that he would not publish anything about the plot.
This excerpt from The Hitler Assassination Attempts appears by kind permission of Pen & Sword Books Ltd. Copyright remains with the author.