Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Boeselager brothers

Georg von Boeselager

Philipp von Boeselager

Georg and Philipp Boeselager were born into a Catholic and aristocratic family in 1914 and 1917 respectively.

Georg enlisted in the army in 1934. With the outbreak of war, he won rapid promotion and several decorations for gallantry. He was opposed to Hitler whom he saw as the antithesis of his religious upbringing.   

His younger brother Philipp was the aide to Field Marshal von Kluge, who commanded Army Group Centre on the Russian front. In June 1942 Philipp received a message from the SS which included the note ‘special treatment for five gypsies’ which he did not understand. He was present when Kluge asked the SS officer the meaning of the phrase. Kluge was told that all the Jews and Gypsies the SS picked up were shot.

Philipp became a firm opponent of the regime.

In late 1942 and early 1943 Georg, by then a cavalry captain, was also based with Army Group Centre.

On 13 March 1943 Hitler visited Army Group Centre headquarters in Smolensk – largely to discuss with Kluge ‘Operation Citadel’ – the proposed attack on the Red Army’s salient around Kursk.

Georg Boeselager deployed a unit of heavily-armed cavalry officers and NCOs willing to assassinate Hitler as he drove through forest from the airfield to headquarters.

There was also a plan for nine officers, including both Boeselager brothers, to shoot Hitler at lunch in the mess. However, on the morning of the proposed assassination (or possibly the previous day) Kluge forbade it. The attempt did not go ahead.

Georg also proposed an attack with his troops on the Wolf’s Lair to assassinate Hitler, but his superiors considered that the loss of life could not be justified.

Philipp helped construct the ‘Cointreau’ bomb which Fabian von Schlabrendorff gave to Heinz Brandt to take onto Hitler’s aircraft that day. It failed to detonate.

Shortly before Claus von Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt and coup in July 1944, Georg visited Field Marshal von Kluge on the western front and tried to persuade him to take the initiative by opening the front to the west. Georg also helped obtain the plastic explosive used in the attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July 1944.

On 19 July 1944, in anticipation of the coup, Philipp disengaged 1,200 cavalry troops from the front line near Rybno in Belarus and they began the long ride west to take transport for Berlin. Their role would be to surround and neutralize SS units as well as Gestapo headquarters.

They rode all night without rest and did not slow to a walk over cobbled streets, but maintained a steady trot – normally strictly forbidden where there was any risk of a fall.

At about 3 pm the troops arrived at the small village of Lachovka, just east of Warsaw. They had ridden some 250 kilometres without stopping, bypassing Brest-Litovsk on the way. They had almost reached their transport, and now rested for a few moments. Here Philipp was passed a message from his brother Georg ‘Everyone to the old foxholes!’

This was code to indicate the assassination had not been carried out. Philipp immediately ordered his troops back into the saddle to reverse the arduous journey. The conspirators would not have these troops in Berlin.

Philipp and his 1200 cavalrymen continued the march back to the front lines in the east – already considerably closer than when they left. A friend and fellow officer, Captain Hidding, rode his mount over a mine and was killed. Boesalager had to extract the bloodied maps of Berlin – with all their objectives marked out in pencil – from Hidding’s saddlebags before anyone else could find them. Major Boeselager expected to be closely questioned on his return, but the chaos at the front did not permit time for any questioning.

The Boeselagers escaped initial suspicion. However, when the Gestapo investigators sent a message to his old unit in France requesting that ‘First Lieutenant von Boeselager’ be detained for questioning, they replied they knew of no such officer (he had long since been promoted).

On 29 August 1944, Georg was killed in action on the eastern front. Philipp survived the war. His full role was not disclosed until many years later.

He wrote an account of his experiences: Valkyrie: the Plot to Kill Hitler. He died on 1 May 2008 – one of the last surviving conspirators against Hitler.

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