The Valkyrie Rides timeline supposes that the attempted assassination and overthrow of Hitler and the Nazis masterminded by, among others, Beck, Stauffenberg and Olbricht, succeeds on July 20, 1944. Operation Valkyrie is a success, and the Nazi regime falls. However, that's not quite the end of the matter...
The Rastenburg Bomb
July 20, 1944, 12:40 PM, Rastenburg, East Prussia, Germany: A massive explosion rips through a fairly nondescript hut owned by the German Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer. Inside the hut was a meeting of high-ranking German military officials, including the Führer, Adolf Hitler, himself. The explosion demolishes the hut and kills most of those at the meeting. Hitler himself is killed, along with Field Marshall Keitel and a number of other generals. A few officials survive, one of which is Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who happened to be outside at the time. It was not generally known at the time, and only became known after the Second World War, that Stauffenberg had been behind the bombing.
The bombing was followed almost immediately by an armed uprising of the German resistance to the Nazi regime. With Hitler's status unclear, chaos began to reign in Berlin as both Himmler, head of the SS and Göring, head of the Luftwaffe, and Hitler's nominal successor, struggled for control. Technically, Göring was in charge, but as nobody knew where Hitler was, Himmler saw it as an opportunity to both increase his own power and to weed out anti-Nazi forces in the German capital. Unfortunately, neither man refused to make way for the other, and violence erupted in the German capital.
Meantime, anti-Nazi forces, German resistance and ordinary troops loyal to Stauffenberg and the other participants, surrounded and/or occupied key buildings, including the Chancellery and the Ministry of Propaganda, inside of which Hitler's right-hand man, Joseph Göbbels, was imprisoned. In Vienna, Paris, Prague and other places, high-ranking Nazi officials were detained.
The plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazis was codenamed as Operation Valkyrie, and was masterminded by Stauffenberg, Olbricht, Ludwig Beck, von Tresckow and a number of other high-ranked military commanders. The motive for the coup is hotly debated among historians today. Many believe the coup was in response to the "final solution" and the mass murder of Jews. Others argue the coup was motivated by a desire to avert the inevitable Soviet and American counter-attack on Germany itself. Still others, such as Wolfgang Mommsen, have suggested it was simply a grab for power on behalf of the Valkyrie conspirators.
Der Führer ist tot
Whatever the motivation behind it, there can be no doubt that the Valkyrie coup that attempted to overthrow the Third Reich was as important to history as the means by which the Reich had come to power more than a decade earlier. It single handedly changed the course of history in Europe and around the world.
With the Nazi regime in chaos, the Valkyrie leaders were quick to establish control. They were able to do this through Olbricht, the German general who controlled central communications from Berlin. On the morning of July 21, after a terrifying period of uncertainty, violence and fear in the capital, German radio broadcast the following message:
The ReichsFührer, Adolf Hitler, is dead. A bomb has exploded at a military council meeting in Rastenburg. Herr Führer Hitler and many of the general staff were killed. There is no cause for panic. Please remain in your homes. Germany is now under the control of General Beck and forces opposed to the Nazi regime. Please remain in your homes and listen for further updates. We repeat: The 'Führer, Adolf Hitler, is dead. Please remain in your homes and listen for further updates. Fighting continued through most of the 21st and 22nd.
The Allies Hear the News
Meanwhile, in London, the Foreign Office received the news almost immediately after the broadcast. Confusion had reigned the night before, and most of Whitehall had been up all night. Finally, on the morning of the 21st, the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, took the news directly to Churchill.
In Washington, Roosevelt was briefed by senior military and State Department officials including Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Both Churchill and Roosevelt were skeptical, demanding evidence. Neither man was willing to accept the broadcast at face value.
The final proof came in the evening of the 22nd. After two days of fighting, General Ludwig Beck spoke on German radio, declaring the downfall of the Nazi regime. Hitler was dead. Himmler, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Eichmann, among others, were nowhere to be found and had apparently fled (in fact, only Eichmann had fled - Himmler and Ribbentrop would eventually be found by Valkyrie forces. Himmler had been literally hiding under the bed at a cheap hotel in Munich) and Göring, Göbbels and others had been arrested. Beck announced a provisional government, with himself as President and with the former Mayor of Leipzig, Carl Friedrich Gördeler, as the new Chancellor.
Once Beck's broadcast had gone out, the Allies came to the conclusion that Hitler must indeed be dead, for Beck would never have been allowed to make such a broadcast had the regime been intact. For Churchill, this changed little. He told the Cabinet on June 23 that the new government in Berlin would be treated the same as the Nazis unless they immediately surrendered to the Allies. Roosevelt was a little more cautious. He discretely asked Hull and the State Department to "test the water" in Berlin as a prelude to a possible cessation of hostilities.
Joseph Stalin, for his part, echoed Churchill's view that to avoid Russian reprisals for the massacres at Stalingrad and Leningrad, which the Red Army was preparing even as the coup took place, the Beck-Gördeler government would have to unconditionally surrender to the allies. This was never seriously considered in Berlin. Beck, Gördeler and the others were open to a negotiated peace, but refused to surrender. Beck did, however, make an important gesture, by ordering German military forces back to Germany. Thus, the Germans retreated across Europe, releasing captured territory in France, Scandinavia and Russia. De Gaulle returned to Paris on the 28th to take over as head of a provisional French government. Russian forces immediately re-occupied the Eastern Front and laid siege to Germany's eastern border.
Only two days after Hitler's assassination, the Japanese premier, Hideki Tojo, resigned after the loss of Saipan. His replacement, Kuniaki Koiso, was less nationalistic than Tojo. Though many in Japan advocated a continuation of the war, Koiso saw an opportunity to end the war and for Japan to remain the dominant power in East Asia. On July 28, Koiso dispatched envoys to Berlin and to Washington, with the aim of offering a peace treaty between Japan and the Allies. Koiso, and Hirohito for that matter, saw that with Hitler's downfall the German participation in the war was over, and that this would allow the full might of Soviet, British and American force to concentrate on the defeat of Japan. Koiso was determined to pull through with most of the conquered Japanese territory intact. In his initial offering to the Allies, he pledged a withdrawal from the Dutch East Indies and an agreement not to extend Japanese influence into Australia or India. The Foreign Office and State Department rejected Koiso's proposal, but discrete counter-offers were made even as the Pacific War continued to rage. In Australia, the Curtin government participated in some of these negotiations (Curtin strongly supported attempts to reach a peaceful solution that would guarantee Australia's long-term survival). On August 3, Roosevelt cabled to Churchill that he believed it would be in the best interests of both the Empire and the United States if a peace conference were convened, with participation from Britain, the U.S., the U.S.S.R., China, Japan and Germany.
Death of Stauffenberg
Sadly, one of the architects of Hitler's downfall did not live long to enjoy its benefits. Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who had planted and detonated the Rastenburg bomb, held the role of military adviser to Beck under the provisional government. On the evening of August 2, nearly two weeks after the bombing, Stauffenberg was ambushed on a Berlin street by several men, all former members of the SS who had been loyal to Hitler and the Nazis. Stauffenberg was shot several times and killed. General Beck praised his patriotism and loyalty to his people, and his heroism in opposing the Nazis. Stauffenberg was accorded a state funeral. No mention of his involvement in the July 20 plot was made until the mid-1950s, when documents preceding Operation Valkyrie were made public. At the time of his death, Stauffenberg was known simply as a loyal soldier. He has since become a posthumous hero in Germany, with his grandiose memorial in Berlin visited by millions of people each year.
By August 6, Germany had returned to a (mostly) internal peace. Himmler, Ribbentrop, Göring and Göbbels were securely imprisoned and awaiting trial. Gördeler declared that new elections would be held in Germany after the end of the war, but again refused Churchill's demand for Germany's unconditional surrender.
Beck and Gördeler knew they didn't have to surrender. They had withdrawn from much of their occupied territory, and Germany now had virtually the entire Wehrmacht, millions of men, to defend its borders from Allied attack. After his return to Paris de Gaulle had refrained from launching a counterattack on Germany. Stalin was much more aggressive and attempted an invasion of Germany on August 8, but the Red Army divisions on the eastern border were forced to retreat due to exceedingly strong, and increasingly desperate, resistance.
Finally, on September 1, Churchill gave in-principle agreement for the first time to a peace conference aimed at ending the war. Roosevelt had suggested a neutral country such as Switzerland, but Churchill insisted the conference be held on British soil. Beck and Gördeler were hardly in a position to refuse, as the rapidly approaching and increasingly bloody stalemate threatened to cripple the German economy. Gördeler agreed to represent Germany at a peace conference in Malta, to be attended by Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, Chang Kai-Shek, de Gaulle and Koiso. At Churchill's insistence, Australia's John Curtin and Canada's Mackenzie King also attended the conference, while de Gaulle insisted the Dutch and Italians also have a presence. The governments of all convening nations agreed to a temporary ceasefire on September 12.
The Conference of Valetta convened in Malta on September 14, 1944. Hitler had been dead for barely six weeks. As Churchill later recorded, "it all happened so fast".
Immediately, each side presented a long list of demands. Briefly, the demands of each major participant were:
The German provisional government's primary demand was that they would continue to exist, that there be no Allied occupation, that Germany be allowed to continue its economic programs and that no Allied power would hold any trial of any member of the Nazi regime - this right was to be held only by the German judicial system.
Japan's chief demand was that it be allowed to retain its territory in the Pacific and that no nation interfere with Japanese economic expansion.
De Gaulle demanded complete Axis withdrawal from all nominal French territory and war reparations from the German and Japanese government, to compensate for the widespread confiscation of French assets after the occupation of Vichy.
Churchill's demands were the greatest of all. He first insisted that a permanent Allied presence be allowed in Germany to ensure it abided by the conditions of any treaty. Churchill also demanded war reparations. His most well-known demand, however, was that the trials of Nazi officials be conducted by an Allied court. Churchill did not trust the German provisional government, and suspected they would apply leniency in many cases (as proved to be the case with some lower-profile figures not tried in Geneva). He also demanded Beck and Gördeler resign and that new elections be held before any treaty was signed.
Roosevelt's only significant demand of the German government was the withdrawal from all occupied territory and a return to 1938 borders. He had more demands of Japan - namely, that they also withdraw to pre-1941 borders, that they cease all hostility with China, that war reparations be paid (with particular reference to the victims at Pearl Harbor) and, most importantly, that the Japanese re-constituted their government to a more Western-style liberal democracy, and that Emperor Hirohito renounce his claims of divinity.
The conference met in Valetta from September 14 until September 26. Over those twelve days, almost no records were kept of discussions, though hundreds of officials also in attendance kept unofficial records and diaries. There were daily reports to newspapers, most of which reported that "progress was made". Roosevelt is generally considered to have been the most amenable to compromise among the conference delegates, with Churchill the most resistant.
Treaty of Valletta
The conference eventually resulted in an agreement, which later became a formal peace treaty. The negotiations were complex, and it is often stated that the Valletta conference was where the treaty was agreed on. In actual fact, this is not the case. While it is true that after the conclusion of the conference the Allied and Axis powers agreed to a permanent ceasefire and to some of the conditions eventually codified in the Treaty of Valetta, in actual fact the conference was merely one of a number of discussions between the various governments. Indeed, as the treaty was not formally signed until April 1946, the wording of the treaty took more than a year to finalise. Briefly, the treaty guaranteed the following:
- German withdrawal to pre-1938 borders. Austria would continue to form part of Germany provided a referendum on Austrian independence were held within three years.
- Japanese withdrawal from South-East Asia and much of China, though they would continue to be allowed to occupy Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria.
- China would enter into an agreement with Japan to be its favoured nation for international trade and provide Japan with access to its resources. In exchange, Japan would pay high dividends to China and guarantee Chinese independence.
- Japanese withdrawal from Hong Kong, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies.
- Elections to be held in Germany before the end of 1945.
- Germany and Japan to pay a combined sum of $58 billion in war reparations over twenty-five years (the actual sum totaled about $70 billion).
- Senior Nazi officials to be tried by special tribunal in Geneva, Switzerland, while German courts would try other officials as they saw fit.
- A new international body, the United Nations, to be established, with Germany, Japan, China, the USA, Soviet Union and Great Britain holding equal power in the organisation.
The Treaty was eventually signed, in Valletta, by all the appropriate leaders on April 14, 1946, officially ending the Second World War, though the actual fighting had ceased eighteen months previously. Many aspects of the treaty were criticised, particularly the provisions that Japan and Germany would retain occupied territories. Indeed, anti-Japanese and anti-German resistance movements continued for some time, though by 1950 the movements had largely dwindled as Germany and Japan held elections and both countries liberalised their societies.
End of the Reich
Beck and Gördeler honoured their agreement to hold elections in Germany in 1945, and the country went to the polls on April 16 and again for a second round on May 3. Beck did not contest the Presidential election, which was won by Henrich Bruning, who had been Chancellor prior to the Nazi takeover. The new Christian Democratic Union, which supported Bruning's candidacy, also emerged as the winners of the parliamentary election, forming a new government with Konrad Adenaur as the new Chancellor.
As a precaution against history repeating itself, certain aspects of Germany's constitution were changed by the new government. Chief among these was that the Chancellor would no longer assume the Presidency should it fall vacant. Adenaur based much of his governing philosophy on the successful British model, and instituted a series of legal reforms to make the German government more democratic and accountable.
In a special referendum held on May 15, 1948, the people of Austria rejected cession from Germany by a 52%-48% margin. Many reasons have been given for the decision, among them that Austrians weighed the pros and cons of separation and decided that it was in their interests to remain part of Germany and thus have access to German economic strength. However, the Austrian independence movement continued to grow in strength over the next fifty years, to the point where the pro-independence Freedom Party won control of the Austrian regional parliament (in itself a concession to the independence movement) in 1990. Austria voted in favor of an independence referendum in June of 2009 by a 54%-46% margin.
In accordance with the Treaty, the German government arranged for the release of 79 Nazi governmental officials, while hundreds more were tried in Germany by German courts. The 79 officials released were tried at special tribunals in Geneva, Switzerland, and presided over by one German judge, one British or American judge and one judge from a neutral nation. Among those tried at Geneva were:
- Hermann Göring, who was sentenced to death.
- Joseph Göbbels, also sentenced to death.
- Heinrich Himmler, sentenced to death.
- Joachim von Ribbentrop, sentenced to death.
- Albert Speer, sentenced to life imprisonment.
- Alfred Rosenberg, sentenced to death.
- Rudolf Hess, sentenced to life imprisonment (technically, Hess was not one of those released by Germany, as he had been in prison in the UK since 1940. He, nevertheless, stood trial in Geneva for war crimes).
- Karl Dönitz, sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Those scheduled to be tried but never brought before the court were:
- Martin Bormann, committed suicide before reaching trial.
- Adolf Eichmann, disappeared after Valkyrie coup (later found in South America but never extradited).
Of those sentenced to hang, Göring and Himmler both committed suicide prior to their execution. Dönitz was later released and lived quietly until 1980. Hess died in 1987 while still a prisoner. Speer was controversially released from prison in 1971 as part of a general amnesty to those Nazi officials who had shown remorse. He died in 1981.
Repercussions in Europe
With the end of the Third Reich and the rise of a modern, democratic Germany, Europe settled into a prosperous economic period. The central players in this "New Europe" (a term coined by Adenaur) were Adenaur's Germany, Attlee's Britain, Stalin's USSR and De Gaulle's France. The "big four" players in Europe began a process of dividing Europe between their respective spheres of influence. It was inevitable that Germany would clash with Russia over control of Eastern Europe, and this was indeed what happened. Stalin was obviously wary of German domination of Eastern Europe, and between 1948 and his death in 1953, Stalin sent Soviet troops into Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania in an attempt to keep German economic domination (direct German military domination was against both the Treaty of Valletta and Adenaur's intentions) to a minimum. Meanwhile, Anglo-American influence increased in Western Europe, with close ties between Britain and France leading to a new Triple Entente between Washington, London and Paris. These three powers presided over a powerful voting bloc in the United Nations and were successfully able to slowly dismantle British and French colonial possessions, with a watchful United States to keep the newly-independent nations reasonably democratic. Perhaps the most controversial of these new states was the former British Mandate of Palestine, which became independent in 1948. The United States sponsored a UN resolution to create a Jewish state in the region to be known as Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. Germany surprisingly supported the move, ironically with the help of the Soviet Union.
Many believe Germany did this to make up for all the atrocities committed during the war and it would have been seen as immoral and unjust had they not supported the creation of a Jewish state. In March 1949, the United States detonated the first Atomic Bomb, in the Nevada desert. So began the Cold War, an ideological battle between the capitalist West, Communist USSR (and China from 1951), with a nuclear arsenal as the only deterrent to outright warfare. Germany could do little but gain from the conflict as a handy Central European buffer for both sides, with the Treaty forbidding either nation from stationing troops in Germany. Indeed, it was Adenaur and his successor Gerhard Schroeder (from 1967) that played a crucial role in defusing many of the United States-Soviet tensions. After Stalin's death, his successor Beria was extremely opposed to many of the provisions of the Treaty and desired revenge upon Germany. Beria's old-fashioned outlook and warmongering led to the Bohemian Incident in 1955, when Soviet troops in western Czechoslovakia crossed into Germany in a treaty violation. Germany mobilised troops in response. The USA and Britain, though still wary of German ambitions, were more concerned with Soviet expansion under Beria and pledged to defend German territorial interests. The Bohemian Incident could easily have led to World War III. Fortunately, tensions cooled after a Politburo revolt against Beria, who was deposed in the spring of 1956 and later tried and executed for his role in the Stalinist purges. His level-headed, practical successor was Malenkov, who opposed nuclear armament and engagement with Germany in Europe. Malenkov remained the Soviet leader for two decades, and arguably the Cold War ceased to be a major threat to Europe or the world on the day he became Premier.
Politically, Europe is dominated by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990, brought on by failing economies, the increasing Westernisation of Russia and German economic and cultural influence, has rendered Eastern Europe impoverished, though great inroads have been made to addressing this.
In 1992 Czechoslovakia split into two separate nations the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yugoslavia split apart in 1992 and 1993 into Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbia and Montenegro remained together as one nation until 2006 when Montenegro voted in favor of an independence referendum 55 to 44. Serbia announced it would respect the result and both nations would go their separate ways. In recent years, moves toward European unity are becoming more common. A customs union, the European Customs Community, was established in 1962; in 2009, most Western European nations are members, as well as some Eastern states. Germany's Chancellor, Peer Steinbruck, and French President Segolene Royal have both called for a common European currency and a common judicial system. The reaction to both proposals has been coolest in Great Britain, with the governing Conservatives vowing never to abandon the Pound or allow foreign courts jurisdiction over British citizens.
A referendum on whether to abandon the Franc and move to a single currency failed in France in early 2009 by a margin of 54 to 46. A referendum also failed in Germany in June 2009 56 to 43 to abandon the Mark. Referendums to create a single currency and a European Parliament have failed over the last several years in Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Norway, and Sweden. Ireland being the most recent to vote no on a referendum to create a European Parliament and a single currency. With the rejections in several countries including the most recent one in Ireland the idea of a European Parliament and single currency have been shelved for the near future. Slovenia, Spain and Bulgaria are the only nations to date to vote in favor of a single currency and European Parliament. Hungary and Poland are the only nations to vote in favor a European Parliament but against a European currency. Austria voted in favor of an independence referendum in June of 2009 by a margin of 54 to 46. Most European states are reasonably democratic, with the possible exception of many former Soviet republics.