Phillip von Boeselager was the last known surviving conspirator in the 1944 July Bomb Plot. He died aged 90 in May 2008. Phillip von Boeselager was the man who made the bomb that was used in ‘Operation Valkyrie’ - the plot to kill Adolf Hitler in at his military headquarters in Eastern Prussia.
Boeselager was born in September 1917 near Bonn. He had planned to do a Law degree at university but his uncle persuaded him that his future lay in the German Army. By 1944 Boeselager was a lieutenant and he was thought of as a skilled bomb maker and despite being in the 41st Cavalry was assigned to an explosive research team, which gave him easy access to explosives. He supplied Claus von Stauffenberg with the briefcase bomb that Stauffenberg was to take to the Wolf’s Lair in Eastern Prussia.
“An officer told me, “We shot them! All the Jews and gypsies we pick up are shot! Our mission is to liquidate them!” This changed my view of the war. I was disgusted and afraid.”
However, ‘Operation Valkyrie’ was not the first plot to kill Hitler that Boeselager had been involved in.
In 1943, he and his brother Georg plotted with other officers to kill Hitler when he visited them at the Russian front. The idea was for them to shoot Hitler in the face as he ate at a dinner. The plot was only shelved when it became known that Heinrich Himmler would not be accompanying Hitler to the dinner as was previously believed. It was felt that both had to be killed if the Nazi regime was to crumble.
Boeselager was also involved in a plot to destroy Hitler’s personal aeroplane while he was on it. The plan was to place a bomb on the aircraft and detonate it while the aircraft was in the air. This also failed as the detonator froze.
Boeselager also made a bomb-belt that an officer called Rudolph Gersdorff was going to wear in what would have been a suicide attack on Hitler. However, a last minute detour by Hitler ended this plot.
The failure of the July 1944 Bomb Plot put Boeselager in extreme danger.
Within hours of its failure, Stauffenberg and others had been tried and shot by the army. In one sense they were lucky as Hitler was later to publicly promise that anyone involved in the plot would be caught and would pay the price. A People’s Court was later used to try anyone thought to have been involved in the plot.
Boeselager had luck on his side. He was based on the Russian Front. After the bomb had exploded at the Wolf’s Lair, he attempted to travel to Berlin, first on horseback to a western Russian airfield and then by aeroplane to the capital. The plan was to take with him those 1000 men he commanded (none of whom knew of the plot) who would then carry out the next part of the plan – the occupation of important buildings in Berlin.
With him was a fellow conspirator, Captain Hidding who was carrying the relevant documents associated with the plot. On Boeselager’s journey to the Russian airfield, his brother contacted him with the code “All back to the old holes”, that meant that the plot had failed and that Boeselager and his men had to get back to the Russian Front as soon as was possible to avoid suspicion.
During this part of the journey a mine killed Hidding. Before anyone else could get to his body, Boeselager managed to retrieve the incriminating evidence from Hidding’s map bag – maps that showed the key buildings that the conspirators would occupy immediately after the assassination of Hitler. Boeselager covered up his actions by pretending to pray over Hidding’s body.
Phillip von Boeselager had an exemplary military record and he was never associated with the July Bomb Plot by Nazi leaders in the months that the regime had left. Others were not so lucky and almost 200 conspirators were caught, tried and executed – some were hanged by piano wire. Their families were also punished, such as Hitler’s anger, and many were sent to concentration camps
Boeselager survived the war but kept his part in the plot secret for many years fearing reprisals from Nazi sympathisers. The part Boeselager played only became known many years later when the French recognised this when they awarded him the Legion d’Honneur. He received similar awards from the post-war West German government. In an interview just before he died, Boeselager stated that he was always haunted after the war by the fact that in the 1943 plot Hitler was only two feet from him but that the planned assassination had been called off due to Himmler’s absence. He kept the pistol that he was meant to have used right up to his death.