Friday, 31 October 2014

Axel von dem Bussche-Streithorst

Major Axel Baron von dem Bussche-Streithorst

On 5 October 1942, when he was 23 years old, Axel von dem Bussche-Streithorst found himself at Dubno airfield in the Ukraine. By chance, he witnessed the mass shooting of five thousand Jews.

He saw everything. The Ukrainian SS, in calm, orderly fashion, compelled Jews – including many women and children – to dig a pit, strip in the snow and lie face-down in the pit. The SS shot them. More Jews were compelled to strip and lie on the freshly killed or still-writhing bodies of those in the pit. They, too, were shot in the back of the head or the nape of the neck.

Bussche was no fool. He knew what he was seeing. These SS men were acting under orders. The initiative for mass murder of the Jews must have come from the government – to which he had sworn allegiance.

He considered personally ordering the slaughter to stop by invoking emergency paragraph 227 of the criminal law – the right to defend others against unlawful attack. Not only did he, as a Wehrmacht officer, have no jurisdiction to give orders to the SS, but even if the SS had taken any notice of him, the ‘special treatment’ would have gone on next day.

He later thought he should have stripped off his own clothes and joined the Jews by lying down in the death pit. 

Bussche was traumatised by this experience. He was determined to do anything in his power to remove Hitler and his regime. He declared that there were only three ways left for German officers to preserve honour: to die in battle, to desert, or to rebel.

In October 1943, Claus von Stauffenberg asked Bussche whether he was prepared to attempt to assassinate Hitler. Bussche said he was. They briefly discussed using a pistol, and then agreed it was too risky. Only one shot could probably be counted on, and even at short range the chance of this killing the target was uncertain.

Claus then raised the possibility of Bussche conducting the demonstration of new uniforms for Hitler, fusing a bomb, and clasping the Führer in a death embrace. After all, Bussche was an ideal candidate for demonstrating uniforms. He looked very ‘Aryan’, he had fought all across the eastern front from Leningrad to the Crimea, and was highly decorated for bravery.

Bussche agreed.

He conferred with several officers as to the best means and equipment for the task. General Stieff arranged for a one-kilogram charge used for bridge demolition to be delivered to Bussche. He wanted a four-and-a-half-second hand-grenade fuse. Although it hissed, he thought he could cover the sound by clearing his throat and coughing.

For soldiers a long way from the front, obtaining grenades was no simple matter. When the grenades were to hand Bussche modified the fuse to allow a simple movement to set it off. The initial plan was to strap the explosives to his body, but he found he could conceal it all in one of the capacious pockets of his wide army trousers.

Bussche had a back-up plan – he secreted a long thin knife in the sole of his boot.

All was ready. The conspirators waited for Hitler to carry out the uniforms inspection. Hitler did not give advance notice of his movements, but his aides provided an approximate date. The conspirators were given a ‘preliminary warning’.

From 23 to 25 November 1943 Bussche held himself in readiness for the assassination. Finally, he received a summons to see General Stieff. Bussche expected the final details of the uniform inspection, but instead Stieff informed him that Allied bombs had destroyed the uniforms Hitler was to have inspected. Until fresh uniforms could be made, Bussche should return to his unit on the eastern front.

In January 1944, Claus rang Bussche to have him return for the rescheduled inspection. Bussche sought the necessary permission from his commanding officer – who was not party to the conspiracy. The general was not prepared to have a key officer leave the front to model uniforms. Claus rang the commanding officer to intercede. The general would not relent.

A few days later, Bussche was severely wounded and lost a leg. He was hospitalised for months. The conspirators had to look elsewhere. Bussche carried the small box containing his bomb from hospital to hospital until he eventually threw it into a lake after Claus’s attempt later that year.

His injuries put Bussche out of the resistance and the war. 

In post-war Germany Bussche qualified as a lawyer. He married Camilla von Stauffenberg (previously married to a cousin of Claus's). He worked for the BBC for a time before he became a diplomat and then a headmaster. He was involved in the evangelical church in Germany, and the World Bank.

When he died in 1993, his best friend was Richard von Weizsäcker, president of Germany.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Eberhard von Breitenbuch

Eberhard von Breitenbuch

In 1943 General Tresckow, Chief of Staff of Army Group Centre on the Russian front, arranged for a young Captain – Eberhard von Breitenbuch – to join his staff. Tresckow was a key figure in the resistance to Nazism. From this position, Breitenbuch was appointed aide to Field Marshal Busch, the new commander of Army Group Centre.
In March 1944, Tresckow learned that Busch, along with Breitenbuch, would fly to the Berghof to confer with Hitler. Tresckow, together with fellow conspirator Major Hans-Ulrich von Oertzen, hurried to see Breitenbuch. They asked to speak with him privately.

Breitenbuch took the two officers into his bedroom. General Tresckow referred to the proposed visit to the Führer. He asked if Breitenbuch realised the responsibility he would be carrying that day. Tresckow told him he would be holding Germany’s fate in his hands. It would depend on him whether this miserable war and its air raids on women and children, and its hundreds of thousands of casualties, would continue.

At the end of this speech, Breitenbuch indicated he was prepared to take on the task. Oertzen smiled, producing a small metal bomb which looked like a hand grenade. Success with this bomb was a certainty, he explained. It could be concealed beneath a tunic. At some suitable moment he could activate the timer and hold Hitler until it exploded. The timer could be set to three seconds before going in to the conference, and then activated by pressing a small button.

Breitenbuch was taken aback. There would be no opportunity to test this bomb. He was prepared to sacrifice his life, but he had to be sure that he would kill Hitler. In the end, Breitenbuch was only willing to make a pistol attack on the Führer. Tresckow had to accept this, but warned him to aim for the head or neck – protective clothing made other shots less likely to succeed.

On 11 March 1944, after travelling from the front, Field Marshal Busch and Captain Breitenbuch reached Berchtesgaden for their conference with Hitler. One of Hitler’s powerful Mercedes met them for the drive up to the Berghof. They arrived early, waiting for some time in the anteroom to the conference hall. As required, Breitenbuch removed his cap, and his belt with his service revolver. He kept his loaded Browning pistol in his trouser pocket. He clutched Field Marshal Busch’s briefcase, filled with papers for the briefing.

In Berlin, the conspirators were forewarned. Initial preparations for the coup were set in motion. Claus von Stauffenberg followed events and had high hopes that this time the assassination would take place.

Breitenbuch waited as more and more officers gathered. At last the doors to the hall swung open. An SS officer announced that the Führer invited the gentlemen to enter. In order of seniority, the officers went in. Busch was the only commander from the front present. Breitenbuch, the only aide, was to enter last.

Just as Breitenbuch was about to enter, the SS officer grasped his arm. The officer said that aides were not to be present in the conference that day. Both Breitenbuch and Busch protested. The SS officer stood firm. Field Marshal Busch had to take the briefcase.

Breitenbuch waited in the anteroom as the conference proceeded. From time to time, SS men walked through the anteroom, looking closely at him. He had to remain outwardly calm. Was his plan suspected? Had someone blown his cover? Why else had he been excluded? Weren’t aides always allowed in? How to get rid of his pistol?

Eventually, Field Marshal Busch emerged. Breitenbuch left with him – his plan undetected. The reason for tightening of security on that day remains unclear, but Breitenbuch was not prepared to risk such an attempt again.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Friedrich Heinz

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz

7 May 1899 – 26 February 1968


December 1940 - Major

1943 - Lieutenant Colonel


Heinz was a writer, a soldier and an intelligence officer.

In 1938, through his contacts in the Abwehr (military intelligence), Heinz was placed in charge of a raiding party which was to escort General von Witzleben and arrest Hitler upon the outbreak of war with Czechoslovakia.

However, Heinz (who favoured restoration of the monarchy) had ideas of his own, and he intended to have Hitler shot.

With the help of Hans Oster, chief of staff of the Abwehr, he had a squad of picked men transferred to his command. Oster supported Heinz’s plan to kill Hitler.

With his team of 20 to 30 heavily armed officers secreted in houses around the Reich Chancellery, Heinz awaited instructions to move. 

Hitler's negotiations with Chamberlain appeared to have failed, and by late September Britain and France had partially mobilised and war seemed inevitable. 

At 2 pm on 28 September 1938, Hitler's final deadline was to expire, and he was expected to order the invasion of Czechoslovakia. As soon as he did, the coup would be launched. 

Inside the Reich Chancellery, Erich Kordt opened the heavy security doors behind the sentry in order to facilitate the raid. Hitler had no special security precautions in place.

General Witzleben was on duty at his headquarters, ready to move troops to surround the Chancellery, arrest Hitler, and take over the city.

Major General Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt held his elite Potsdam division ready to swoop into the capital.

General Hase waited to move his division. 

As the Army's Chief of Staff, Colonel General Halder later wrote: 
There was no possibility of a hitch. All that was needed for a completely successful coup was Hitler's presence in Berlin.
Then the unexpected occurred: Mussolini rang Hitler and asked for a 24 hour delay in the deadline. With less than an hour to spare, Hitler agreed to the postponement. The conspirators were not sure how to act. Should they launch the coup anyway? The decision teetered on the brink.

Then, to the dismay of the conspirators, Hitler was driven out of the Reich Chancellery to fly to Munich. He was beyond their reach.

Next day Mussolini, Chamberlain, Daladier and Hitler met in Munich to discuss the future of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs were not invited.

Hitler won the Sudetenland without bloodshed, and the conspirators knew their chance to act against him was lost.

In 1939 there was a further proposed coup - this time far less developed - and Friedrich Heinz was also ready to act.

Heinz was at the Bendlerblock on 20 July 1944, but his role in that coup was relatively minor.


Following the failure of the July Plot, Heinz managed to cover his involvement for some time, but when further information about his past involvement came to light, he was forced into hiding in November 1944, and survived the war living underground.

After the war he worked as a writer and became a key figure in the West German intelligence establishment.