11 July – Today in German History

1918

  • Even with a deadly influenza epidemic spreading among German troops, the German High Command decides to go ahead with plans for a renewed assault on the Allies on the Western Front in the summer of 1918, making their final plans on July 11.

The Spanish flu, an unusually powerful strain of influenza, spread throughout North America, Europe, and eventually around the world during 1918, claiming millions of lives. The First World War, with its massive movements of men in close quarters, under harsh conditions, undoubtedly acted as a factor in the epidemic. The soldiers fighting for the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, were hit especially hard by the virus beginning in the early summer of 1918, just as the Allies prepared to counter the German spring offensive on the Western Front.

With Austria-Hungary virtually eliminated as a military force by the third year of World War I, Vienna looked to Germany as the Dual Monarchy’s last chance for survival. People have only one more hope, the German Front, the German ambassador to Austria-Hungary reported to Berlin on July 11. Even a hope in a separate peace does not exist anymore. That same day, the German army’s High Command, which had previously considered pushing back their plans for a renewed offensive due to the flu epidemic’s effect on their troops, decided instead to push ahead. The German attack on July 15, near the Marne River in the Champagne region of France would be the final German offensive of World War I.

Claus von Stauffenberg.

1944

  • On July 11, 1944, Count Claus von Stauffenberg, a German army officer, transports a bomb to Adolf Hitler’s headquarters in Berchtesgaden, in Bavaria, with the intention of assassinating the Fuhrer.

As the war started to turn against the Germans, and the atrocities being committed at Hitler’s behest grew, a growing number of Germans within the military and without began conspiring to assassinate their leader. As the masses were unlikely to turn on the man in whose hands they had hitherto placed their lives and future, it was up to men close to Hitler, German officers, to dispatch him. The leadership of the plot fell to Claus von Stauffenberg, newly promoted to colonel and chief of staff to the commander of the army reserve, which gave him access to Hitler’s headquarters at Berchtesgaden and Rastenburg.

Stauffenberg had served in the German army since 1926. While serving as a staff officer in the campaign against the Soviet Union, he became disgusted at his fellow countrymen’s vicious treatment of Jews and Soviet prisoners. He requested to be transferred to North Africa, where he lost his left eye, right hand, and two fingers of his left hand.

von Stauffenberg with Hitler in East Prussia.

After recovering from his injuries, and determined to see Hitler removed from power by any means necessary, Stauffenberg traveled to Berchtesgaden on July 3 and received at the hands of a fellow army officer, Major-General Hellmuth Stieff, a bomb with a silent fuse that was small enough to be hidden in a briefcase. On July 11, Stauffenberg was summoned to Berchtesgaden to report to Hitler on the current military situation. The plan was to use the bomb on July 15, but at the last minute, Hitler was called away to his headquarters at Rastenburg, in East Prussia. Stauffenberg was asked to follow him there. On July 16, a meeting took place between Stauffenberg and Colonel Caesar von Hofacker, another conspirator, in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee. Hofacker informed Stauffenberg that German defenses had collapsed at Normandy, and the tide had turned against them in the West. The assassination attempt was postponed until July 20, at Rastenburg.

1945

  • Fulfilling agreements reached at various wartime conferences, the Soviet Union promises to hand power over to British and U.S. forces in West Berlin. Although the division of Berlin and of Germany as a whole into zones of occupation was seen as a temporary postwar expedient, the dividing lines quickly became permanent. The divided city of Berlin became a symbol of Cold War tensions.

During a number of wartime conferences, the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed that following the defeat of Germany, that nation would be divided into three zones of occupation. Berlin, the capital city of Germany, would likewise be divided. When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, however, Soviet troops were in complete control of eastern Germany and all of Berlin. Some U.S. officials, who had come to see the Soviet Union as an emerging threat to the postwar peace in Europe, believed that the Soviets would never relinquish control over any part of Berlin. However, on July 11, 1945, the Russian government announced that it would hand over all civilian and military control of West Berlin to British and American forces. This was accomplished, without incident, the following day. The United States and Great Britain would later give up part of their zones of occupation in Germany and Berlin to make room for a French zone of occupation.

In the years to come, West Berlin became the site of some notable Cold War confrontations. During 1948 and 1949, the Soviets blocked all land travel into West Berlin, forcing the United States to establish the Berlin Airlift to feed and care for the population of the city. In 1961, the government of East Germany constructed the famous Berlin Wall, creating an actual physical barrier to separate East and West Berlin. The divided city came to symbolize the animosities and tensions of the Cold War. In 1989, with communist control of East Germany crumbling, the Berlin Wall was finally torn down. The following year, East and West Germany formally reunited.

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