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Operation Foxley – British hunt for Adolf Hitler

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.

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One of the most interesting attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler was a British operation code-named Foxley, declassified only about 50 years after the end of the war. The British SOE (Special Operations Executive) in 1944 prepared a plan to kill the leader of the Third Reich in his residence in Berghof, located in the Salzburg Alps near Berchtesgaden in Germany. The Allies knew from testimony of POWs, spies, and also from radio listening, that it was there that Hitler stayed often, felt safe and at times ignored the rules of his safety. The Führer said that Berghof reminded him of his childhood in Austria, where he could relax and think freely. It was there that he made the most important strategic decisions during the war, including the attack on the USSR.

Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s teahouse belonging to the Berghof complex.
Źródło: Cezary p via Wikipedia

The British intelligence got to know the details of his life in the residence, his preferences and the details of his protection. They knew what the schedule of the day was and they knew the time of meals. Hitler went to sleep late, at 4 a.m., and ate his dinner at 10 p.m. He got up even at 10 a.m., and for breakfast he walked to the Mooslahnerkopf tea house, which took him 15 – 20 minutes. The most important thing was that Hitler was walking there alone, as the presence of the guard made him extremely annoyed. If the Führer saw the guard patrolling the road while walking around Berghof, he shouted to him “if you are afraid, go and watch out for yourself”.

Despite Hitler’s disregard for his safety, it had to be admitted, that the Berghof residence itself was perfectly 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 in Berghof was guarded by his eight-person elite guard unit, the SS Escort Command of the Führer (SS Begleit-Kommando), who slept in the same building on the same floor as their commander.

The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitlerparades in Berlin, 1938
Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons

However, the British intelligence found weaknesses in this strong German protection system. Among other things, it was noted that every time Hitler came to Berghof, his people were placing a large flag on the staff, which symbolized the presence of the German Chancellor. However, attention was mainly drawn to Hitler’s lonely walks, as mentioned above, and one area between his apartment and the tea house which was chosen, where for a long time there was no guard in his vicinity, and the leader himself was in an open area and was visible from as far away as 200 meters.

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That very moment when Hitler was walking to the tea shop, the British command decided to use when when planning an assassination attempt on his life. The SOE intended to send a sniper to reach a maximum of 200 metres from Hitler’s walking route and to shoot a deadly shot from there. The plan was difficult, but the British additionally set themselves the goal of preventing the news that the German leader was killed by the Allies from reaching the public opinion. To put it bluntly – it was not desired to make Adolf Hitler a martyr, and also preventing the guilt for his death going to be thrown on an Austrian or German, suggesting in this way betrayal from a citizen of the Third Reich. This sniper was supposed to know sabotage and sniping techniques perfectly, speak German fluently and have a carefully prepared German uniform. His equipment was to consist of a Mauser sniper rifle equipped with a telescopic sight, wire shears and hand grenades. The sniper was to carry false German documents and know the carefully planned road to Berghof, the place of hiding and, of course, the later evacuation.

Adolf Hitler and Joachim von Ribbentrop in front of the train Amerika.
Source: fanwave.it

Seeing the complexity of the above plan and the high risk of failure of the operation, people from SOE also considered other variants of the attack on Hitler in his alpine villa. These were among them:

  • ambush on Hitler’s car near Berghof, in case of failure to kill him by a sniper. To this end, it was planned to send there a group of people equipped with a bazooka or PIAT grenade launcher, which would be able to break through the Führer’s armoured limousine .
  • derailment of Hitler armoured train Amerika, or a sniper shot when he would get off the train at the railway station. However, it would be very difficult to get close to the train station because of the numerous protections during the stops. Soldiers of the Begleit battalion, SS men from Leibstandarte and Gestapo patrolled not only the train itself, but also the station and surrounding areas. Additionally, the railway tracks were checked in detail before the armoured train would pass.
  • British commandos landing at Berghof. This plan was rejected because of the high risk of such an operation and the possible difficulty in keeping it secret – many people would have to be involved in its execution.
  • To poison Hitler with a odourless substance thrown into tea, or by anthrax bacteria. The death was to take place after a week, making it impossible to use an antidote.

Eventually, the British command did not decide on any of the above variants of the attempt to kill Adolf Hitler. Events on the eastern front caused that in July 1944 he left for the front quarters in Wolf’s Lair and never came back to Berghof. After that, among the high-ranking Allied military, the dominant view was that for Germany the war was already lost and it made no sense to take Hitler off the stage, who, as it was believed, together with his generals, only worsened the hopeless situation of the Third Reich.

There is also an indication that an assassination attempt was made. In the German archives there is a reference to the fact that a German patrol near Berghof shot a sniper in a German uniform. Perhaps it was a sniper sent by the Allies, who failed to make a deadly shot in the direction of Adolf Hitler. This has not been able to be authenticated, because a large part of British special operations documents was allegedly burnt in a fire at SOE headquarters in 1946, and those that survived can be kept secret forever.

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