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23 July 1940

23 July 1940

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23 July 1940



Great Britain

New Czechoslovak government officially recognised by the British government


French Vichy government appoints a new commander-in-chief for French Somaliland

Baseball History on July 23

Baseball history on July 23, including a list of every Major League baseball player born on July 23, a list of every Major League baseball player who died on July 23, a list of every Major League baseball player who made their big league debut on July 23, and a list of every Major League baseball player whose final big league game was on July 23.

"No matter how your mind works, baseball reaches out to you. If you're an emotional person, baseball asks for your heart. If you are a thinking man or a thinking woman, baseball wants your opinion. Whether you are left-brain or right-brain, Type A or Type Z, whether your mind is bent towards mathematics or toward history or psychology or geometry, whether you are young or old, baseball has its way of asking for you. If you are a reader, there is always something new to read about baseball, and always something old. If you are a sedentary person, a TV watcher, baseball is on TV if you always have to be going somewhere, baseball is somewhere you can go. If you are a collector, baseball offers you a hundred things that you can collect. If you have children, baseball is something you can do with children if you have parents and cannot talk to them, baseball is something you can still talk to them about." - Baseball Historian Bill James in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (Free Press Publishing, 06/13/2003, "Part 1: The Game", Page 5)

Today in World War II History—July 23, 1940 & 1945

Members of USS Barb’s demolition squad, Pearl Harbor, August 1945. These men went ashore at Karafuto, Japan, and planted an explosive charge that wrecked a train. This raid is represented by the train symbol in the middle bottom of the battle flag. (US Navy photo: NH 103570)

80 Years Ago—July 23, 1940: British Home Guard is officially established (formerly Local Defence Volunteers) with 1.3 million civilian volunteers to protect the home front.

Battle flag of the USS Barb in the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor (Photo: Sarah Sundin, Nov. 2016)

75 Years Ago—July 23, 1945: Marshal Philippe Pétain goes on trial in Paris for collaborating with the Nazis his death sentence will be commuted due to his age.

Submarine USS Barb lands 8 raiders on Karafuto (between Japan & mainland Asia), who blow up a train and escape.

More information about: Germany advances through Europe

In the late 1930s, by using a combination of clever diplomacy and bullying, Germany re-occupied neighbouring territory which it believed had been taken from it unfairly at the end of World War One. Hitler's next step was the creation of a Nazi-dominated Europe.

In August 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Previously sworn enemies, now the two countries agreed not to attack each other, leaving each free to pursue their own military agendas. They also planned to carve up Poland between them.

Britain declares war on Germany

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, devastating it with the full force of its ‘blitzkrieg’ (‘lightning war’) strategy. This was a highly mobile combination of tanks, infantry and artillery with air support. The Soviets, meanwhile, advanced from the east.

On 3 September, Britain and France declared war on Germany in support of their ally Poland. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) immediately began to move out to northern France to support the French army. However, France and Britain did not move to attack German troops and, on 13 September, France fell back behind the Maginot Line (a series of defensive fortifications on the French-German border). Poland held out until the 27 September, when Warsaw finally fell.

Now a period known as the 'Phoney War’ began, in which Western Europe remained relatively quiet. This was interrupted in April 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrendered but Norway fought on, with British and French help, until June. It was a disastrous failure for the British and forced the Prime Minster, Neville Chamberlain, to resign. On 10 May he was replaced by Winston Churchill. On the same day, the Phoney War came to a very real end when Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and stormed into France on the 12th. The German blitzkrieg again proved difficult to resist.

By the end of May the Low Countries had been conquered. French and British forces withdrew to the French northern coast as the country fell, city by city, to the Nazis.


On July 23, 1900, an automobile travels on Seattle’s streets for the first time. It had passed through Tacoma, which gave that city its first sight of an auto as well. Ralph S. Hopkins (ca. 1871-1923), "a capitalist," is the owner of the three-horsepower Woods Electric auto.

When Woods Motor Vehicle Company produced this vehicle in 1899, there were only 4,000 automobiles in the United States. The company continued manufacturing this electric-powered motorcar until 1919, making it one of the longest-produced electric-powered autos in the United States.

After Hopkins purchased the vehicle from the Woods Motor Vehicle Company in Chicago, he drove it to San Francisco. This took him five months. Only occasionally was he forced to transport it by railroad.

Hopkins claimed to be the first man to cross the continent in a motor car. He stated that his automobile was the second car seen in Portland and the first in Tacoma. Hopkins claimed to be the first to drive any vehicle on the ocean beach between Aberdeen and the Columbia River in southwest Washington.

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)

Ralph Hopkins (right) with 1900 Woods Electric automobile, Seattle, ca. 1916

Courtesy MOHAI (1983.10.10334)


"Operated First Auto on Streets of Seattle," The Seattle Times, September 3, 1916, p. 13 "Ralph S. Hopkins Dead," Ibid., May 13, 1923, p. 5 The New Encyclopedia of Motor Cars Third Edition, ed. by G. N. Georgano (New York: Dutton, 1982).
Note: This entry was corrected on August 3, 2018.

Today in World War II History—July 23, 1940 & 1945

Members of USS Barb’s demolition squad, Pearl Harbor, August 1945. These men went ashore at Karafuto, Japan, and planted an explosive charge that wrecked a train. This raid is represented by the train symbol in the middle bottom of the battle flag. (US Navy photo: NH 103570)

80 Years Ago—July 23, 1940: British Home Guard is officially established (formerly Local Defence Volunteers) with 1.3 million civilian volunteers to protect the home front.

Battle flag of the USS Barb in the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor (Photo: Sarah Sundin, Nov. 2016)

75 Years Ago—July 23, 1945: Marshal Philippe Pétain goes on trial in Paris for collaborating with the Nazis his death sentence will be commuted due to his age.

Submarine USS Barb lands 8 raiders on Karafuto (between Japan & mainland Asia), who blow up a train and escape.

Praying for Britain: the history of national days of prayer

The British have gathered together to beseech divine aid in times of crisis and to thank God for their deliverance in times of triumph since the reign of King Aethelred. As President Donald Trump declares a national day of prayer in the USA following the global coronavirus outbreak, we revisit an article by historian Natalie Mears which traces the history of national days of prayer.

This competition is now closed

Published: March 16, 2020 at 5:26 pm

Four days after he became prime minister in May 1940, Winston Churchill approved a national day of prayer. Roused by news of the German onslaught against the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium and France, people throughout Britain flocked to their local churches and chapels. Five days later, news reached the country of the successful evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk. Many laymen, as well as clergy, quickly attributed this as a ‘deliverance’ or ‘miracle’ to divine providence and to the day of prayer. Churchill himself became an enthusiast, approving two national days of prayer in each of the next three years. Then, in 1943 and 1944, he agreed to brief halts in war production so that factory and office workers could join in the BBC’s broadcast services.

This event is now probably the best known example of a custom that, in the British Isles, goes back to the tenth century when King Aethelred ordered prayers for God’s help to withstand a Danish invasion. Growing in number during the wars of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, special acts of worship continued after the Reformation and were soon to become a settled tradition of public fasts and days of humiliation or thanksgiving.

Between 1535 and the last national day of prayer in 1947, there were 544 English and Welsh or British occasions, as well as 170 separately ordered Scottish and 84 Irish occasions. These extraordinary moments of special national worship are a register of great moments of crisis, anxiety and celebration in Britain’s past. Yet, despite their evident importance and interest, no one has yet studied these events across their history.

As we approached the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk, it seemed appropriate to explore the roots of Churchill’s initiative. Partly for that reason, Philip Williamson, Alasdair Raffe, Lucy Bates and myself at the University of Durham – together with Stephen Taylor at the University of Reading – worked on a project to do just that. What were fasts, thanksgivings and national days of prayer? What did people do on these occasions? What do they tell us about public anxieties and joys? Were these occasions truly ‘national’, and what sort of national identity did they promote?

When was the first ‘national day of prayer’?

‘National day of prayer’ was a term that only came into use in the 20th century. Before that, the practice consisted of fasts, thanksgivings and petitionary prayers. The former two were usually held on a designated day, while petitionary prayers tended to be held three times a week – for a period of weeks or months – and were accompanied by a weekly fast. All were ordered by the monarch through the Privy Council.

In the 18th century, prolonged periods of prayer went out of fashion while days set aside for fasting became more common. However, by the mid-19th century, concerns about ordering prayers for the established churches in a multiconfessional state had made the government reluctant to organise such events, other than for royal occasions. By the 20th century, the government had largely removed itself from the process, and so events were initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury with the co-operation of the leaders of the nonconformist, Free and Roman Catholic churches.

There seem to have been two principal motivations for the country to come together in prayer: to seek God’s help in secular affairs, and to offer thanks for his intervention. War was, of course, the most common stimulus for such occasions: from Henry VIII’s disputes with France in the 1540s, through the American War of Independence, to the two world wars. There were also thanksgivings for victories in major battles, such as Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815), and for the end of wars. Rebellions and mutinies, including the Jacobite Risings (1716, 1745), the Swing Riots (1830) and the Indian Mutiny (1859), also brought the nation to prayer.

Yet conflicts weren’t the only events to send Britons rushing to their churches: outbreaks of disease – the plague and cholera – as well as cattle plagues (1748, 1759, 1865–66), bad weather and poor harvests (such as the Irish famines of 1740–41 and 1845–52) prompted special prayer and fasting.

And so did royalty. Prayers for the safe delivery of queens in childbirth, for the birth of children and for the sovereign’s recovery from illness became a feature of British life. Queen Victoria may not have been enthusiastic about ‘days of humiliation’, as they were often called, but she did believe in marking royal occasions. These account for all special acts of worship between 1868 and 1897 – including the recovery of the Prince of Wales from illness (1872) and her own Golden and Diamond Jubilees (1887, 1897) – and they established a new trend in which coronations and funerals, as well as jubilees, became national religious and secular holidays.

The key to the prevalence of national days of prayer in British life was, of course, that Britons truly believed they worked. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and beyond, people had absolute faith in divine providence: that God had a plan for the world, and that when provoked by a nation’s sins he would send warnings or punishment in the form of disease, natural disasters, war and military defeats to encourage the nation to reform. The only way to assuage God’s anger and ensure that the realm returned to peace and prosperity was for its subjects to pray, humble themselves, confess their sins, repent and reform.

Divine providence, however, raised awkward questions. If God had already constructed a plan, how could the nation change it by praying? What about natural causes of disease? Not surprisingly, special prayers and fasts provoked much debate, as was the case in 1603 when a pamphlet war erupted over whether plague was sent by God or had natural causes.

Days of prayer have also fomented fierce opposition. During the Civil War, some London ministers even feigned illness to avoid conducting services or preaching sermons. Two centuries later, on the fast day for cholera in 1832, some radicals registered their dissent by feasting rather than fasting. Cartoons – such as Richard Newton’s Fast Day! (1793), Isaac Cruikshank’s A General Fast in Consequence of the War!! (1794) and R Seymour’s Fasting by Proclamation Fasting by Necessity (1832) – lampooned the practice.

Queen Victoria thought it right to thank God for his blessings but that petitionary prayers were futile. She did not believe that wars were caused by the sins of the British people and doubted, even if her subjects were at fault, that “the Almighty would alter the course of his providence at the request of the Privy Council”. She represented a growing view that distinguished between the immediate causes of events and God’s special providence which lay behind them.

What did people do on national days of prayer?

Notwithstanding these doubts, what exactly did people do on ‘days of humiliation’? At the centre of petitionary prayers were special church services. These date back to 1548, when the government commissioned bishops to write prayers and choose appropriate Bible readings and psalms to supplement the Book of Common Prayer. Known as ‘Forms of Prayer’ (often full church services), these were distributed to the bishops for purchase by parishes. A great effort was made to produce the forms quickly and to distribute them across the country.

In addition to attending church, parishioners were expected to study the Bible, fast, wear moderate clothing, to organise family and private prayers, to give alms to the poor and abstain from secular pastimes and work. In August 1918, mass open-air services were held in London, Edinburgh and other cities, situated around a temporary shrine at which bereaved families placed flowers in memory of the dead.

In the early modern period, thanksgivings were celebrated with church services, bell-ringing, bonfires and feasts. The public thanksgiving for the recovery of George III on 23 April 1789 comprised a royal procession to St Paul’s Cathedral accompanied by gun salutes, a three-hour service, followed by further gun salutes as well as parties, entertainments, illuminations and music. Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (1887) was celebrated in Royston, Hertfordshire with a ‘meat tea’ for 1,100 adults, sweets and buns for the children, followed by sports, a bonfire and fireworks. In 1911, Welwyn in Hertfordshire celebrated the coronation of Edward VII with a sports day, separate children’s and adults’ tea parties, a torchlight procession, fireworks, a bonfire and, the following day, a fancy dress parade and competition.

10 events in history that inspired moments of national prayer

1) November 1554, Mary’s false pregnancy

Special prayers were held during the short reign of the Catholic Mary I (1553–58), and they were marked with processions, Te Deums and masses. The prayers of November 1554 were called for the queen’s safe delivery in childbirth, which was announced and celebrated in April and May. But by July it was clear that the pregnancy was false.

2) July 1597, A raid on the Spanish

A book of special prayers was issued to appeal for the success of the English attack on the Spanish navy at Ferrol, led by the Earl of Essex. However, when Elizabeth discovered that one of her own prayers had been included, she demanded that it be removed from all copies.

3) 10 October 1666, London pays for the nation’s sins

Charles II ordered a “day of solemn fasting and humiliation” after the Great Fire devastated the capital. It was a “visitation so dreadful that scarce any age or nation has ever seen or felt the like”, but the government was anxious to point out that it was caused by the sins of the nation, not just London.

4) 20 March 1700 and 24 April 1701, The Darien disaster

Fasts were ordered in Scotland in response to the failure of the two Darien Schemes, attempts to establish a Scottish colony on the isthmus of Panama, organised by William Patterson, a founder of the Bank of England. Many colonists died and immense popular support for the scheme quickly turned to fury with England, whose trading companies were blamed for the failure.

5) December 1776, The American War of Independence

1776 saw the first of a series of prayers and thanksgivings during the American War of Independence. The event is believed to have been well-observed, though two ministers in Hampshire refused to conduct services while three Essex men “showed their dislike to the maxim” by ordering a large dinner at The Bull in Totham.

6) 23 April 1789, George III’s dramatic recovery

The public thanksgiving for the recovery of George III was initiated by the king, who had sworn an ‘oath’ during his illness to offer public thanks to God for his recovery. He wanted a solemn occasion with minimum fuss, but growing popular enthusiasm ensured that it was more elaborate with a royal procession to St Paul’s, gun salutes, parties, entertainments, fireworks and music. The occasion appears at the end of the film The Madness of King George.

7) 29 November 1820, Queen Caroline’s tiff with “the evil man”

A Form of Prayer was printed for a spoof thanksgiving for Queen Caroline, estranged wife of George IV, by her supporters after the collapse of her ‘trial’. Signifying popular support for the queen, the form proposed the reading of Psalm 140: “Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man”, a jibe at the king.

8) March and June 1832, Cholera strikes

The outbreak of cholera in 1832 was widely considered to be divine judgement on Catholic Emancipation (1829) and the parliamentary reform crisis. Local ‘days of humiliation’ in England and Scotland prefigured national prayers and fasts. The government’s preparations for the events were hampered, among other things, by hysterical speeches in parliament by Spencer Perceval, an evangelical MP, who wanted the Commons to “express its own errors and humiliation before God”.

9) 1845, Famine ravages Ireland

The Great Famine in Ireland (1845–52) was probably the most destructive of all modern and contemporary famines, killing over a million people and causing another two million to emigrate. Prayers were ordered for England, Wales and Ireland. A fast day was ordered on 24 March 1847 for the whole of the UK.

10) 3 January 1915, The First World War

This was the first of the annual New Year national days of prayer organised during the First World War. It was observed in Protestant and Roman Catholic churches across the empire, as well as in Roman Catholic churches in France and Belgium. Blessings were also issued by the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church.

How did churches and states promote national days of prayer?

Both church and state were willing to use new technology to promote these occasions. Printing was poorly developed in 16th-century England compared to the continent, but it was quickly harnessed to provide the Forms of Prayer for parishes. By the early 18th century, forms were posted to parishes rather than having to be collected in person. At the same time, the demand for personal copies rose. Initially, pirated copies of forms were printed in the provinces and sold for personal use but in the 19th century a whole range of editions were available legally, from expensive luxury books to small, cheap pamphlets. Over one million copies of the form for the Indian Mutiny in 1857 were sold.

From the 1930s, services were broadcast on the radio and, in 1942, Archbishop Temple made a short film to be shown in cinemas, and encouraged ministers to “take the church to the people” by organising services in offices, factories, canteens and the open air to enable as many people as possible to participate. The Form of Prayer for the funeral of the Queen Mother in 2002 was available for clergymen and parishioners to download from the internet as a PDF file.

It seems appropriate that the term ‘national day of prayer’ only came into use in the 20th century, for it was not until then that these occasions could really claim to be national. Prior to this, prayers and fasts were ordered separately for England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and excluded Dissenters and Roman Catholics. After the Act of Union in 1707, prayers were ordered for the whole of Britain, though both Scotland and Ireland continued to stage additional, separate events until 1846 and 1888 respectively. Though some Dissenters and Roman Catholics voluntarily observed days of prayer in the 18th century, and royal occasions, like the jubilees, from the 1860s, it was not until the First World War that they were invited to participate actively in the organisation of days of prayer.

In the early 20th century, the government’s growing reluctance to order occasions for the established churches in a multi-confessional state left the initiative with Archbishop Davidson of Canterbury. Keen to co-operate with the leaders of other denominations and faiths, and with their active participation, he organised national days of prayer to be held throughout the UK in all Anglican and non-established churches, chapels and synagogues.

When national prayer all goes wrong

Prayers and fasts did not always seem to work: monarchs died (Edward VI, Mary II, Queen Caroline), battles were lost (Cartegena de las Indias, 1741 Yorktown, 1781), plagues continued to rage and famine dragged on. But, for many people in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the fault never lay with prayer or God but with themselves.

Common prayer could only fail for two reasons. Continued suffering might be part of God’s plan. More likely though, it was because the nation had not prayed hard or heartily enough, people had not confessed all their sins and reformed their lives sufficiently to assuage God’s wrath.

In 1698, the synod of Lothian and Tweeddale argued that famine and bad weather continued because “after Solemn Humiliations People go on in their Sins and continue impenitent, hard Hearted and unreformed”.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, emphasis shifted from the nation’s sins to the strength of its belief in divine providence. In 1916, it was argued that victory would not be obtained without a “real and practical recognition of National, as well as personal, dependence upon God”.

Consequently, the failure of national days of prayer could stimulate calls for more prayers rather than less, as was the case in 1915 and 1916. However, there was also a recognition that the failure of prayers was hard for people to accept. After Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1658, despite the organisation of national prayers for his recovery, his son Henry wished: “Oh that our stubborn hearts would let us say with true submission, ‘Thy will be done!’”.

Yet days of prayer became distinctly British and inclusive events long before the 20th century. In fact, by emphasising the role of divine providence in governing national affairs, they played a key role in expressing the idea that England was an ‘elect nation’, favoured by God because it had adopted the ‘true faith’, Protestantism. This idea was reinforced by annual thanksgivings which commemorated events interpreted as signs of God’s favour: the Gunpowder Plot (1605) and Glorious Revolution (1688). These services were not formally abolished until 1859.

Britain was not the only country to practise national prayers. Special occasions in the British calendar were marked across the empire: in the British Caribbean from the 1670s, America in the 1750s and 1760s, the colonies through the 19th century and the Commonwealth into the 20th. Indeed, Thanksgiving in the USA (the fourth Thursday in November) had its origins in special thanksgiving days from 1607.

Elsewhere, Protestant states – such as the Netherlands and Sweden – and Catholic nations – like France and the Holy Roman empire – had their own national prayers. Strangely enough, the fact that opposing sides regularly beseeched God’s assistance when only one could emerge victorious rarely appears to have excited comment. One exception was in 1653 during the First Anglo-Dutch War. An English newsletter writer from The Hague wrote: “how powerful Satan is in the hearts of the [Dutch] ministers”. Rather than confess their sins, they attributed their misfortunes “to those bloodthirsty rebels of England”.

When was the last national day of prayer in Britain?

Though 6 July 1947 was the last occasion when a national day of prayer was ordered by the crown for a non-royal event, they are far from being historical relics. Most noticeably, they continue in the form of nationwide services for great royal occasions such as the queen’s jubilees in 1977 and 2002 and for royal funerals.

More surprisingly, perhaps, national days of prayer continue to be called by the leaders of the various churches: for South Africa (1960, 1963), Northern Ireland (1971, 1973 and 1976) and, most recently, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in the United States in 2001. Though these did not garner the support witnessed in May 1940, they suggest that the 400-year history of post-Reformation national days of prayer is set to continue.

Natalie Mears is a senior lecturer in early modern British history at the University of Durham and the author of Queenship and Political Discourse in the Elizabethan Realms.

You were born on a Friday

July 23, 1948 was the 30th Friday of that year. It was also the 205th day and 7th month of 1948 in the Georgian calendar. The next time you can reuse 1948 calendar will be in 2032. Both calendars will be exactly the same.

There are left before your next birthday. Your 73rd birthday will be on a Saturday and a birthday after that will be on a Saturday. The timer below is a countdown clock to your next birthday. It’s always accurate and is automatically updated.

Your next birthday is on a Saturday

Death of the Führer. What If. Hitler was assassinated in July 1944?

What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been assassinated in July 1944? Well, there was an attempt on his life, but the plot failed. Here, Nick Tingley looks at the story behind the plot – and how the twentieth century could have looked very different if it had succeeded.

You can read Nick’s first article on what would have happened if

“The Führer, Adolf Hitler, is dead. An unscrupulous clique of non-combatant party leaders have used this situation and attempted to stab our fighting forcers in the back and seize power for their own purpose.”

The front-page of The Stars and Stripes, the US Army magazine on May 2, 1945. However, Hitler was nearly killed in 1944.

At 7:30PM on July 20, 1944, Field Marshal von Witzleben sent out this directive as head of the Wehrmacht, effectively marking the start of a new era in Nazi Germany. Early that afternoon, at 12:42PM, a British made bomb had exploded inside a conference hut at the Wolfsschanze, Hitler’s primary Eastern Front Headquarters located near the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg. The explosion killed the Nazi dictator and several others who had attended the briefing, including Field Marshal Keital. Whilst the feeling on the ground was that the laborers who had built the conference barracks had built the bomb inside the structure, Berlin was beginning to send out reports that the SS and leading Party officials were behind the mysterious blast.

What followed next was a well-executed military take-over of Berlin, Paris and Vienna in which high profile Nazis and military leaders were arrested. The operation, under the command of a well-organized German officer, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, saw the chief of the General Army Office, General Friedrich Olbricht, rise to the role of de facto leader of Germany in what many saw as a return to the pre-Nazi Weimar politics that had effectively crippled Germany during the early 1930s. Although the German population didn’t know it at the time, Stauffenberg and Olbricht had just enacted a coup d’état, completely overthrowing the Nazi Party.

The war, which had begun to turn against Germany with the invasion of Normandy only a month earlier, was placed under the command of a group of ambitious officers who had effectively seized power in the Reich. German troops were immediately pulled out of France and back to the German Frontier and the new German government began sending messages to the Western Allies in an effort to sue for peace and prevent the inevitable occupation of Germany by Soviet troops. By September 1944, the war was effectively over and the Nazi regime had all but been eliminated.

But none of this came to pass.

There was an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944 and there was an attempt to seize control of the Reich by a group of German conspirators. But Hitler survived the explosion, escaping without so much as a scratch, and over the next few hours the German High Command worked diligently to bring the coup to a swift end. By the early morning of July 21, Stauffenberg, Olbricht and several other important members of the conspiracy had been shot dead and hundreds of others would commit suicide or be tried by kangaroo courts in the months that followed.

But when the question of assassinating Hitler had first been discussed by the conspirators, known widely as the German Resistance or “Secret Germany”, there was a feeling that the removal of Hitler and subsequent take over of Germany was a very real possibility. With the tide of war turning against Germany, many high ranking members of the army, including some of the most famous Germany military commanders, like Erwin Rommel, were willing to explore the option of a peaceful resolution to what was undoubtedly a vicious war. The disastrous Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front in 1943 had already demonstrated that Germany could not hope to win the glorious war that Hitler had envisaged and many believed that defeat under the Führer’s command was inevitable.

From September 1943, the resistance movement made several attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The belief had been that, with Hitler gone, the way would be paved for Goering or Himmler to take control of Nazi Germany. Hitler had made many enemies in the Wehrmacht as he enforced a policy of refusing to allow the army to make tactical withdrawals from battles that they couldn’t hope to win. With Hitler removed from power, it was hoped that his replacement would be more tactful with his use of German resources and, as such, the war might be fought more wisely.

After various failed attempts to kill Hitler, Stauffenberg joined the conspirators and, by the end of 1943, had managed to persuade most of the resistance that the assassination of Hitler would not be enough. He reasoned that Hitler was, by all accounts, a moderate Nazi and that Himmler, one of the next in line to replace him, was far more extreme in his ideals of Nazism. The atrocities that took place under Hitler’s reign would almost have certainly been made worse by the rise of Himmler. Thus, he convinced the other members of the resistance that if they were to save Germany from annihilation, they had to not only kill Hitler, but also follow it up with a well-planned military take-over that would remove any possibility of Nazism surviving.

By June 1, 1944, the operation was ready to be launched. Its name was Operation Valkyrie.

Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben in 1939. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1971-069-87 / CC-BY-SA

Operation Valkyrie

Operation Valkyrie was already an established military plan. It was designed to ensure the continuity of government in the event of a general breakdown in civil order of the nation. The idea had been that, in the event of an uprising by foreign forced laborers or civil unrest as a result of Allied aerial bombing of German cities, the Territorial Reserve Army could be implemented to bring order back to the Fatherland without the need to interfere with or divert troops that were fighting on the front.

Stauffenberg, Olbricht and Major General Henning von Tresckow, another of the conspirators, modified the plan so that it could be used to take control of key cities, disarm the SS and arrest members of the Nazi leadership in the event of Hitler’s death. The operation was only to be activated in the instance of Hitler’s death on the grounds that every German soldier was required to swear an oath of loyalty to the Führer and it was believed that many would refuse to obey the orders as long as he was still alive.

The assassination was to take place at the Wolfsschanze. Stauffenberg himself, as chief of staff to the commander of the General Army Office in Berlin, was called on to give several briefings to Hitler and it was he who was to plant the bomb that would kill him. Stauffenberg’s superior, Reserve Army General Friedrich Fromm was flirting with the idea of joining the resistance movement and was aware of Stauffenberg’s plan. Whilst preparing for the assassination, the Resistance attempted to get Fromm on side as Operation Valkyrie could not be launched without his authority. But Fromm carefully refused to reveal his hand until he could confirm that Hitler was dead.

On two separate occasions, Stauffenberg prepared to plant the explosives but had to call off the mission at the last minute. On the first occasion, July 11, 1944, Himmler, who was now also considered a target, had not arrived at the briefing. When Stauffenberg phoned Olbricht for orders on how to proceed, the general decided not to go ahead with the operation.

Four days later Stauffenberg got his second chance and, to ensure that no one could back out, Olbricht issued orders for Operation Valkyrie using Fromm’s authority two hours before the scheduled meeting. As German troops advanced on Berlin and readied to take control, Stauffenberg prepared to set off the explosive. When he returned to plan the bomb, he discovered that Hitler had left early. With the Führer still alive, the operation had to be cancelled and Olbricht was forced to order the Territorial Army to quickly and inconspicuously retreat.

Finally, on July 20 1944, the operation was given the go ahead. Stauffenberg planted the bomb, in a brown briefcase, under the table right next to Hitler and made his excuses to leave. After insuring that a fellow conspirator, General Fellgiebel, would radio Olbricht with the news that the assassination had succeeded, Stauffenberg waited for the explosion before driving for the airfield to make a speedy return to Berlin.

Secret Germany Fails

The operation was doomed from the start. During the briefing, one of Hitler’s aides found that a brown briefcase was getting in his way. He picked up the briefcase and moved it to the other side of the heavy oak table beside a table leg. When the bomb exploded, the table leg shielded Hitler from the blast leaving the Führer with little more than tattered trousers.

Back in Berlin, the conspirators received mixed reports about the explosion. On the one hand, Fellgiebel had left a garbled message saying Hitler was dead. On the other hand, official sources were reporting that Hitler had survived. By the time Stauffenberg had arrived back in Berlin, Valkyrie had still not been launched. After hasty discussions, Olbricht implemented the plan under General Fromm’s authority. On discovering this, Fromm telephoned the Wolfsschanze and received the personal assurances from Keital that Hitler was very much alive and well. To prevent Fromm from exposing the plot, Stauffenberg had him arrested.

But it was already too late. The Resistance had already lost the initiative and, after a few small successes, it became evident that Hitler had the advantage. By the time of Stauffenberg and Olbricht’s impromptu execution in the early hours of the following morning on Fromm’s orders, Operation Valkyrie had failed.

Secret Germany Succeeds

But what would have happened if the operation had been a success? Would the new government of Germany have been able to reach a peace settlement? And what impact may there have been on the Cold War that came to dominate the world throughout the second half of the twentieth century?

In the first instance, we must look to the policies of the Allies at that time. The Western Allies were only just beginning to break out of Normandy and the Russians were making steady advances in the East. The Americans had committed to defeating Germany before turning their attention to the Japanese threat and the British were likewise attempting to protect their interests in that arena. It seems plausible that these two powers may have been willing to at least negotiate with the new German government for no other reason than it would allow them to focus their attention on the Japanese threat.

The Soviets, however, had lost a great deal in the fight with Germany and it seems highly unlikely that, regardless of any ideological change, Stalin would have allowed Germany to surrender so easily. Likewise the French, who had been living under Nazi occupation since 1940, would have been unwilling to allow the Western Allies to simply allow Germany to leave France without any serious ramifications. With the Russians refusing to allow peace, the war in Europe would almost have certainly dragged on.

However, such an event may have had a lasting impact on the history of the latter part of the twentieth century.

As the thought of Russian occupation was a lot harder for the Germans to stomach than an Anglo-American one, it seems likely that Olbricht would have gone ahead with his idea of pulling out of France to allow for a speedy advance by the Western Allies. If this had happened, the Western Allies would have gained solid control of Germany within a few months of Valkyrie’s success.

This scenario of a German occupied exclusively by the Western Allies would have predated the Yalta conference, in which the Allies carved up Europe for the post-war agreements, by a matter of months. One can imagine that the strenuous negotiations over the future of Europe may have swung in an entirely different direction had Roosevelt and Churchill been able to use the occupation of Germany as ammunition against Stalin’s desires for Eastern Europe.

The single act of assassinating Hitler could have prevented the Cold War from occurring or, just as likely, it may have caused a bitter feud that turned it very hot…

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And remember, you can you can read Nick’s first article on what would have happened if

23 July 1940 - History

"A Theory of the Structure and Process of Formation of Antibodies." July 27, 1940.

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Creator: Linus Pauling

Date: July 27, 1940
Genre: manuscripts
ID: 1940a.2
Copyright: More Information



  1. Pinochos

    Not unyvay! Fun!

  2. Andy

    I, sorry, but that certainly does not suit me at all. Who else can breathe?

  3. Azrael

    Bravo, your phrase is brilliant

  4. Nukpana

    Quite right! I like your idea. I propose to bring it up for general discussion.

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