Bomb in the Führerbunker – an Eyewitness Account

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July 20, 1944, was a significant date in the European war. Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a colonel in the Wehrmacht, launched a failed coup d'etat against Hitler's Nazi state by personally placing a bomb in the Führer's bunker. Unfortunately for coup members, the German people, and a lot of innocent bystanders, the plot failed.

You may have seen one of the movies. The latest one, Operation Valkyrie, is pretty accurate1. But here, from declassified war archives, is an eyewitness account of the day when generals went flying through the air.

Your Editor has painstaking transcribed this text, because Optical Character Recognition has more than met its match in the 1940s Underwoord typewriter. Your Editor asks no thanks for this, but points out that it's a pretty exciting story, and may make up for last week's Pig War.

Bomb in the Führerbunker – an Eyewitness Account

Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF)

Psychological Warfare Division

SUBJECT: Interrogation of P/W [Prisoner of War] Karbinsky

24 March 1945 – SECRET


  1. On July 20, P/W was on duty as a patrol, within the interior area of Hitler's H.Q. (blockade area A). He was on duty from 11.00 hours until 02.00 hours the following day. P/W gives the following description of the events which took place on July 20, and which he was able to observe at close range.
  2. P/W was near the gates to blockade area A when at approximately 12.20 hours Oberst v. Staufenberg2 arrived. He came by car up to the entrance and after his papers had been examined, entered blockade area A with a member of the S.D. [Sicherheitsdienst] following him and carrying an oversize folio. (The guards had never had instructions to search visitors). P/W at this time did not know the identity of the Colonel but he noticed distinctly that he had one arm missing. At the same time various other high German officers entered the blockade area. This was nothing unusual since at about this time the General Staff Officers and guest officers arrived at blockade area A for the daily Lage Besprechung (briefing of the situation) which was at 13.00 hours.

    At approximately 12.40 hours the General Staff Officers and invited officers had assembled in front of the Führer's bunker. At 12.45 hours, as customary, Hitler appeared and received the report of Field Marshall v. Keitel. Hitler and the officers proceeded now from Hitler's bunker to the nearby Besprechung Bunker (briefing shelter) – approximately 13.00 hours). A few minutes after the officers and Hitler had disappeared into this bunker, P/W noticed that Oberst v. Staufenberg came out of the bunker alone. P/W remembers this distinctly and even noticed that the Oberst was smoking a cigarette. Staufenberg walked slowly towards his car which had been parked at the entrance to blockade area A and which had been turned in the direction of the airport. By this time, approximately 13.07 to 13.10, while Staufenberg was still on the way to his car, a terrific explosion occurred. P/W now noticed the following things: thick smoke was coming out of the blown-out windows and doors of the briefing bunker. General Jodl came sailing through the air3 through a window out of the bunker. Staufenberg started running towards his car without being interfered with by anyone. A member of the S.D. stationed near the briefing bunker cried out loudly "Attentat" (Murder!4). Simultaneous with the explosion a terrific "Gebruell" (uproar) came out of the bunker. Admiral Putthammer ran out hollering loudly: his hand or hands had been blown off. Field Marshall v. Keitel ran outside, his uniform torn, his hair tousled. P/W also saw General Haüser5, Oberst Behlo, and various other officers in shocked condition their clothing torn to bits. At this point, approximately five minutes after the explosion, three ambulances arrived and the wounded and dead who had been dragged out of the bunker were put in. In addition to the three ambulances, a number of other cars were loaded with wounded and driven off immediately. Among the wounded was General Schmundt and among the dead, General Kerten and Mitarbeiter Barger. Only now, approximately fifteen minutes after the explosion, Hitler came out of the bunker. P/W describes his condition as follows: he was on his feet but supported on each side by a member of the S.D. His left trouser leg was torn. His hair was tousled. There was a red spot on his face (a burn). His right arm was hanging down limp (thrown out of joint). He and the two supporting officers went immediately to the Führer's bunker. Approximately half an hour later, Hitler came out again. He had put on a new uniform and entered a car which had in the meantime drawn up in front of his bunker. Hitler then drove off, his car accompanied by two others containing S.D. personnel, for the Goerlitzer Bahnhof (Goerlitzer R.R. station) to greet Mussolini who was scheduled to arrive at that time. After Hitler had gotten into his car, P/W saw Dr. Morell give Hitler an injection in the right forearm6. There was one member of the S.D. standing on either running board of Hitler's car.

    While Hitler was on his way to the station, P/W had a chance to look inside the briefing bunker. He gives the following description: not a piece of furniture remained intact. Splinters, pieces of uniform, maps torn to shreds, were lying all over the room. Personnel of the S.D. and Gestapo and members of the Escort-Bn. [Battalion?] were eyeing each other with suspicion. No one knew who was responsible for the attempt on Hitler's life. For instance one member of the S.D. approached P/W and asked him in a suspicious voice "Where were you at the time of the explosion"?

    Approximately twenty minutes after his departure, Hitler returned from the station. With him in his car was Mussolini. Also in the party were the Japanese Ambassador Oshima (wearing civilian clothes) and members of his and of Mussolini's staffs. Upon arrival Hitler and Mussolini went over to the briefing bunker and took a quick look at the destruction and from there went into the Führer's bunker. At approximately 16.00 hours, Goering appeared at Hitler's H.Q. He had come with his car from his nearby headquarters in the Mauerwald [H.Q. of OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres)]. At approximately the same time, Himmler arrived. They went immediately to the Führer's bunker. P/W did not have the impression that either of them was unduly excited7. Around 17.00 hours, Hitler and his guests emerged from the Führer's bunker and went to the tea-house. From this time on things went their usual way. Hitler spoke shortly after midnight from the tea-house to the German people. It was not until the revelations made by Hitler that the P/W or any of his comrades learnt the identity of the plotters. Staufenberg was not suspected by P/W. The first suspicions of the investigating personnel (S.D. and Gestapo) were directed against engineer troops who at that time were building Panzerdeckungslöcher (concealed tank positions) in blockade area A. Further suspicion was cast upon members of the O.T. [no guess at this one] who were working at the Führer's H.Q.
  3. Some time during that day, Hitler talked to one of the other guards within blockade area A saying "Junge, schwein muss man haben, da habe ich mir heute morgen noch eine neue Hose angezogen" (My boy, I have been lucky – that's why I am wearing new trousers this morning). P/W observed that among those who went with Hitler from his bunker to the teahouse at approximately 15.00 was Gauleiter Koch who had evidently arrived in the meantime.
  4. P/W heard an officer of the S.D. who had been on guard outside the briefing bunker on July 20th say he had seen a large folio, evidently the one brought in by v. Staufenberg, leaning against the leg of a table in the conference room. P/W gives the following report as to what happened to v. Staufenberg after he ran to his car. This report is based on what he was told by his comrades who were on guard at the various points which Staufenberg passed on his way to the airport. After Staufenberg had run to his car, he drove to Wache Eins [Checkpoint 1]. The guard there had seen him come in and therefore did not examine his papers when he left. Evidently no orders had been received there as yet not to let anyone out. From there Staufenberg proceeded to Wache Süd [South], Flughafenstrasse [Airport Road]. At this point the barrier had been lowered. The guard, an UFFZ [Unteroffizier, staff sergeant], did not let the car pass. Sergeant Kobe, the guard, a friend of P/W, came out of the guard room and told Staufenberg, "Der Herr Oberst darf nicht mehr durch" (the Colonel is not permitted to pass any longer). Staufenberg answered, "Ich habe dringenden Befehl vom Führer sofort nach Berlin zu fliegen" (I have an urgent order from the Führer to fly to Berlin immediately). When the Sergeant still refused to let Staufenberg pass, the latter went inside to telephone. He spoke with Hauptmann Pieper, the adjutant of the Commandant of the Führer's H.Q. The answer was "Selbstverständlich dürfen der Herr Oberst durch" (of course the Colonel is allowed to pass). Staufenberg left the guard house in a hurry; he left his gloves and his cap behind and drove to the airport.

Note: If you'd like to read the whole interrogation transcript, it's available online. You'll just have to decipher the rest yourself.

Spoils of War Archive

Dmitri Gheorgheni

20.07.15 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Surprised? Don't be. Actors don't write scripts.2Spelled this way throughout. The name is 'Stauffenberg'.3Ed. note: Sorry to interrupt, but this is too good to leave uncommented. World War II historians will find the statement that 'General Jodl came sailing through the air' simply irresistible. We can think of other generals on both sides we would like to have witnessed in this position.4Actually, 'Assassination!'5We can't help this interrogator's spelling. It's probably supposed to be 'Häuser'. He must have been asleep in class.6Morell was known to give Hitler morphine. A lot.7Why should they be excited? It's not as if nobody had ever tried to kill their boss before.

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