The Chancellor of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler, was the target of at least 42 documented assassination attacks not only during the Second World War, but also earlier, in the 1930s, when he took over power in Germany.
He was attempted to be shot, blown up by detonation of explosives, simulated a fatal car accident, poisoned, and derailed in his armored train.
One of the most intriguing plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler was the British Operation Foxley, which was declassified only about 50 years after the end of the war. The British Special Operations Executive (SOE) developed a concept in 1944 to kill the leader of the Third Reich at his Berghof residence located in the Salzburg Alps near Berchtesgaden, Germany. The Allies knew from prisoner accounts, spies, and radio intercepts that Hitler spent a lot of time there, feeling safe and sometimes ignoring his security protocols. Hitler claimed that Berghof reminded him of his childhood in Austria and that he could relax there and think freely. It was also where he made some of the most important strategic decisions during the war, including the attack on the Soviet Union.
The British intelligence knew the details of his life at the residence, his preferences, and the specifics of his security. They knew his daily schedule and meal times. Hitler went to bed late, around 4 in the morning, and had dinner at 10 pm. He didn’t wake up early – even at 10 in the morning, and he walked to the Mooslahnerkopf tea room for breakfast, which took him 15-20 minutes. The most important thing was that Hitler walked there alone, and the presence of a guard annoyed him greatly. If he saw a guard patrolling the road during a walk at Berghof, he would yell at him, “If you’re afraid, go and guard yourself!”
Despite Hitler’s disregard for his own security protocols, it must be admitted that the Berghof residence itself was well-protected.
Within the building there were located barracks of SS Leibstandarte, Hitler’s personal guard, which consisted only of carefully selected and well-trained volunteers. The living space at Berghof was guarded by his eight-man elite security unit – the SS Begleit-Kommando – who slept in the same building on the same floor as their leader.
British intelligence, however, found weaknesses in this solid German security system. Among other things, they noticed that every time Hitler arrived at Berghof, his people raised a large flag on the mast that symbolized the presence of the German Chancellor. However, they mainly focused on the above-mentioned fact of Hitler’s solitary walks and chose a section between his residence and the tea house, where for a long time there was no guard nearby, and the leader himself was in an open area visible from even 200 meters away.
It was precisely this moment, when Hitler walked to the tea house, that the British command decided to use during the planning of the assassination attempt on his life. The SOE intended to send a sniper who would position himself no more than 200 meters from Hitler’s walking route and take a deadly shot from there. This plan was difficult in itself, but the British additionally aimed to prevent the news of the German leader’s death from reaching the public as having been caused by the Allies. In other words, they did not want to make a martyr out of Adolf Hitler, and they intended to blame an Austrian or German citizen, thus suggesting betrayal by a citizen of the Third Reich. This person was supposed to have expertise in sabotage and sniping, speak German perfectly, and have a carefully prepared German uniform. Their equipment was to include a Mauser sniper rifle equipped with a telescopic sight, wire cutters, as well as hand grenades. The sniper was to be provided with false German documents, and his route under Berghof, hiding place, and of course, later evacuation, were meticulously planned.
Seeing the complexity of the above plan and the significant risk of the operation failing, the people at SOE also considered other options for an assassination attempt on Hitler at his alpine villa. Among them were:
- An ambush on Hitler’s car near Berghof in case the sniper failed to kill him. For this purpose, a group of people equipped with a bazooka or PIAT grenade launcher was planned to be sent there, capable of penetrating the Führer’s armored limousine.
- Derailed armored train “Amerika” carrying Hitler, or a sniper shot when he disembarked at the railway station. However, approaching the train closely would be very difficult due to the extremely numerous guards during stops. Soldiers from the “Begleit” battalion, SS men from the “Leibstandarte,” and Gestapo patrolled not only the train but also the station and the surrounding area. Additionally, the railway tracks were thoroughly checked before the armored train passed.
- A British commando raid on Berghof. This plan was rejected due to the high risk of such an operation and the potential difficulty in keeping it secret – many people would have to be involved in its execution.
- Poisoning Hitler with an odorless substance thrown into his tea, or with anthrax bacteria. Death was to occur after a week, preventing the use of an antidote.
In the end, the British command did not choose any of the above variants for the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. Events on the Eastern Front caused him to travel to the front headquarters at the Wolf’s Lair in July 1944 and he never returned to the Berghof villa. From that time on, among high-ranking Allied military officials, the view prevailed that the war was already lost for Germany and there was no point in removing Hitler from the scene, as he was believed to be only worsening the hopeless situation of the Third Reich along with his generals.
There is also a suggestion that the assassination attempt was actually carried out. In German archives, there was a mention of a sniper in a mountain troop uniform being shot by a German patrol near Berghof. It could have been a sniper sent by SOE who failed to take a fatal shot at Adolf Hitler. We may never know the truth because a large portion of the British special operations documents allegedly burned down in a fire at the SOE headquarters in 1946, and those that survived may forever be classified.