How Hitler cheated death in 1943 coup... thanks to the Allies

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DER Führer Adolf Hitler ist tot. These six words, announcing the death of the Nazi leader, should have brought the Second World War to an end in November 1943.

The sentence was part of a press release drafted by disaffected German officers who hatched an audacious plot to kill Hitler and then use a secret army to seize control of key sites before suing for peace with the Allies.

The full story - which surpasses any Hollywood war movie for drama, farce and ironic twists - has been uncovered by a German academic who closely examined detailed records left behind by the plotters.

Major General Henning von Tresckow created a new force of around 20,000 troops based in German-controlled territory in the east, telling High Command it was needed to protect against a potential revolt by slave labourers.

Tresckow then organised a 'fashion parade' at which Hitler was to inspect new uniforms, little suspecting one of the models was a suicide bomber. Once the Fhrer was dead, Tresckow planned to blame the killing on rogue SS elements, use his secret army to take command, and end the war.

But the putsch was foiled days before it was due to be launched, thanks to the RAF. The uniforms were among the casualties from two nights of bombing raids on Berlin, so the plot was abandoned.

Documents minutely detailing every moment of the overthrow of Nazi Germany and its aftermath were immediately buried by the panicked plotters. They were uncovered by the victorious Soviets in 1945 and lay in Moscow archives until a recent study by Professor Peter Hoffmann of the McGill University, Montreal.

Hoffman, a world authority on wartime resistance to Hitler within the German army, believes another of the plotters was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who earned his place in history by almost killing the Fhrer with a briefcase bomb in 1944.

Interest in the subject of anti-Hitler plotting is likely to reach new heights later this year when Hollywood actor Tom Cruise begins shooting a major movie in which he plays Stauffenberg.

The new research shows Tresckow was an equal, if not greater, threat to Hitler. Among a close-knit group of conspirators, he worked on the demise of a man he called "the enemy of the world" and a "dancing dervish".

At least two earlier plots have been uncovered, both involving cognac bottles packed with explosives. After they failed, Tresckow began work, in the summer of 1943, on a far more ambitious scheme.

Trescow's plan was to kill Hitler at his war HQ, dubbed the 'Wolf's Lair', in East Prussia, now part of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Hitler would be shown new German army winter uniforms, one of them modelled by Axel von dem Bussche, a decorated war hero who had vowed to kill the Fhrer after witnessing a massacre of Soviet Jews. Bussche would pose in the new uniform while holding two hand grenades, fully aware he too would die.

Meanwhile, Tresckow and his colleagues used their power to assign divisions to a new internal security force. The cover story for creating the army was to put down any attempts to rebel by enemies of the Reich such as slave workers.

It was planned that the army would begin an exercise 12 hours before the assassination and move in on Hitler's East Prussian HQ, with other troops deploying near government offices in Berlin.

Seven hours before the assassination, commanders would establish the exact location of SS troops and two hours after that be fully prepared for combat against them.

Within 10 minutes of Hitler's death, the code-words for a successful operation would be given, and the next phase of the plan would begin.

At "X plus 25 minutes" Tresckow's army would occupy the Wolf's Lair, along with the East Prussian HQs of Hermann Gring, Heinrich Himmler, and Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.

After 30 minutes, a news statement was to be read on German radio, saying that Hitler was dead and accusing a "a traitorous clique" of SS and party leaders for trying to take personal advantage of the dismal situation on the Eastern Front. The statement would reassure the nation that a group of army officers had taken control and would bring stability.

But then disaster struck. On the nights of November 22 and 23, a series of bombing raids destroyed the trains containing the fashion show uniforms.

Hoffmann told Scotland on Sunday: "The plans demonstrate, and give details of, a thorough and promising preparation of a coup to seize control of Germany that was to accompany the assassination. This would have been followed by immediate armistice talks, or surrender. The plans show that the preparations of autumn 1943 were more thorough and promising of success than any other plans."

He added: "The plans demonstrate Tresckow's central role in these preparations, and his role as the driving force and leader of the movement to remove Hitler and his regime."

Professor David Stafford, of Edinburgh University's Centre for Second World War Studies, said: "The timing is very significant. It was after the great defeats of 1943 and the German Army knew the writing was on the wall. It is fascinating that we are still learning new things about the Second World War."

Stauffenberg was executed for his role in the July 1944 attempt to kill Hitler, and Tresckow killed himself with a grenade because he feared being tracked down. Bussche - the only one of the three who was meant to die in the plots - survived the war and died in 1993.