Thursday, April 28, 2016

November 8, 1939: Hitler Almost Killed

Wednesday 8 November 1939

8 November 1939 Hitler Bürgerbräukeller Munich
Hitler giving his speech at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, 8 November 1939. A commenter below helpfully identified the two SS men sitting in the front row as panzer leaders Hans Pfeiffer and Max Wünsche. Needless to say, sitting there was a huge honor.
German Opposition: November 8, 1939, is the 16th Anniversary of the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Hitler always commemorates it by returning to the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich where the major steps in the attempted coup took place. As usual, his old cronies from the old days are there, including:
  • Joseph Goebbels, 
  • Reinhard Heydrich, 
  • Rudolf Hess, 
  • Robert Ley, 
  • Alfred Rosenberg, 
  • Julius Streicher, 
  • August Frank, 
  • Hermann Esser and 
  • Heinrich Himmler. 
Hitler begins the speech 30 minutes earlier than usual to a packed house. He condemns the British as warmongers and for the first time predicts a five-year war. He can't fly home due to the weather, so he leaves earlier than he might otherwise to board his train for the ride back to Berlin.

Thirteen minutes later, at 21:20, a time bomb explodes that is concealed in a building support pillar near the speaking platform. Eight people are killed and 63 injured, sixteen seriously. Hitler, of course by now is on the train.

As usual, when something terrible happens and nobody knows the cause, people jump to various theories. Most blame Hitler himself, conjecturing that he planted the bomb himself to discredit the hard-core opposition to him that he may have gotten an inkling of at his dramatic meeting just a few days before, on 5 November 1939. However, this is unlikely, because Joseph Goebbels blames the British, and if it were a unified effort to discredit domestic foes, Goebbels would be on board with that theory.

8 November 1939 George Elser of the Hitler bombing at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich
George Elser.
That night, border control at the Swiss border at Konstanz is unaware of the bombing. However, they detain a carpenter, Johann Georg Elser, with what appears to be suspicious items (wire cutters, sketches of bombs, and a postcard of the interior of the Bürgerbräukeller). It is just odd enough for them to detain Elser, 25 paces from the Swiss border. During interrogation, news arrives of the attempt on Hitler's life, and Elser is returned to Munich for interrogation. However, he remains one of many suspects, including the entire staff of the Bürgerbräukeller.

Hitler rarely is in a specific public place at a specific time, varying times and places of visits with very little notice or none at all. The anniversary of the Putsch is a very rare exception. This unpredictability has been Hitler's best defense against assassinations in the past, and it is the breakdown in this pattern which placed him in jeopardy. If the bomb plot had succeeded, Hermann Goering, who was not at the event despite being a Putsch veteran, would have acceded to power. Goering being a confirmed opponent to the conflict (but always bowing to Hitler's wishes), the vast majority of World War II might have been averted.

8 November 1939 Hitler Bürgerbräukeller Munich
The venue of Hitler's speech at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich, 8 November 1939.
Western Front: There are three minor German attacks along the border.

European Air Operations: A New Zealand operates at extreme altitude over an RAF aerodrome in France and brings down a Luftwaffe reconnaissance plane.

A Heinkel 111 is reportedly shot down over the North Sea.

Battle of the Atlantic: US freighters Express and Exeter are detained, the first by the British, the second by the French. The Express is released the same day, along with the freighters Tulsa and Wacosta, which has some of its freight seized as contraband.

U-26 conducts a frustrated attempt to lay mines off heavily guarded Gibraltar.

Convoy OB 32 departs from Liverpool, OA 32G departs from Southend, SL8 departs from Freetown, HXF 8 departs from Halifax.

Collaborator Girls: British party girl Unity Mitford, one of Hitler's pre-war favorites and a member of his inner circle, is in the hospital in Munich following a suicide attempt. She had shot herself in the head due to her conflicting loyalties upon the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939. Hitler genuinely cares for Unity and, before his big speech, goes out of his way to visit her. He pays her bills, then arranges for her safe conduct home to England and her family via Switzerland.

Poland: Gauleiter Hans Frank takes office and plans to transfer 600,000 Jews and 400,000 Poles to un-annexed but German-occupied Poland. He plans this to begin 1 December 1939.

Holland: there are reports of German troop movements just across the border. The government authorizes the widening of the defensive areas just behind the border which will be flooded upon a German invasion.

Finland: The government takes a hard line in its negotiations with the USSR. Commander-in-chief Marshal Mannerheim instead favors trying to reach a settlement but is overruled.

8 November 1939 Hitler Unity Mitford Munich
Unity Mitford with Hitler before the war.

November 1939

November 1, 1939: The Jet Flies Again
November 2, 1939: The Soviets Devour Poland
November 3, 1939: Amending the Neutrality Act
November 4, 1939: Roosevelt Signs Neutrality Laws
November 5, 1939: The Spirit of Zossen
November 6, 1939: First Dogfight
November 7, 1939: More Lies About SS Athenia
November 8, 1939: Hitler Almost Killed
November 9, 1939: The Venlo Incident
November 10, 1939: Dutch Panic
November 11, 1939: Poignant Armistice Day
November 12, 1939: Peace Efforts Made and Rejected
November 13, 1939: First Bombing of Great Britain
November 14, 1939: The Dyle Plan
November 15, 1939: Elser Confesses to the Bürgerbräukeller Bombing
November 16, 1939: Martial Law in Prague
November 17, 1939: International Students Day
November 18, 1939: Magnetic Mines
November 19, 1939: Walls Around the Warsaw Ghetto
November 20, 1939: First RN Submarine Victory
November 21, 1939: Salmon & Gluckstein on the Prowl
November 22, 1939: British Recover A Magnetic Mine
November 23, 1939: HMS Rawalpindi Sunk
November 24, 1939: Japanese Enter Nanning
November 25, 1939: The Olympics are a War Casualty
November 26, 1939: Soviets Stage an "Incident" at Mainila
November 27, 1939: German Marriage Becomes Perilous
November 28, 1939: Judenrats in Poland
November 29, 1939: The Soviets Prepare to Invade Finland
November 30, 1939: Winter War Begins



  1. I believe the two SS officers sitting in the center of the audience and listening attentivelly to AH are quite well known members of the Führerbegleitkommando - on the left Hans Pfeiffer (who later died as a Panther commander in Normandy) and on the right the Max Wunsche.

    1. Thank you Mike - I did not notice their identities, appreciate the ID greatly. Wunsche I am pretty familiar with, Pfeiffer I've heard of but don't know much about. There are probably some other famous names sitting there, too, but I only half recognize them and I don't want to make a mistake and mislead people.