The July bomb plot - A role play

Setting up the room

Arrange the room around a large group of tables in the centre of the room – there should be enough space for 24 people. If you have any large maps then spread them across the table. There should also be a table with a radio in the corner and a writing desk. Select a student to be Hitler and position him in the centre. Select a second student to be Colonel Brandt and place him two positions to Hitler's right.

Set the scene by reading out the following contextual introduction:

It is July 1944, the German army is coming under increasing pressure from the west after the D-Day landings in Normandy and in the east from the Russians after they lifted the 900 day seige of Leningrad. Inside the German army a plot to assassinate Hitler has been growing, led by General Ludwig Beck, Count Helmuth von Moltke and supported by Count von Stauffenberg. ‘Operation Valkyrie’ is about to begin.

Start off by asking all of the students the following questions:

Why was there so little opposition to the Nazis?
What happened to opponents of the Nazis?
Why was the army a potential threat to the Nazis?

Remove the Kreisau Circle from the room and give them ten minutes to complete their task:

Whilst this is happening you should have selected a group of 6 students to go into a neighbouring room or outside of the classroom and give them the following task (they have ten minutes to draw up a few plans);

You are members of the Kreisau Circle, the secret organisation inside the German Army that is plotting to assassinate Hitler. You are led by general Beck and Count Helmuth von Moltke, and meet regularly to discuss the future for Gemany after Hitler. Your task is to come up with a variety of suggestions for the assassination of Hitler. You have one vital opportunity – Colonel Klaus von Stauffenberg has sent you this note “I feel I must do something now, to save Germany”. Stauffenberg was appointed Chief of Staff to General Fromm, the Commander in Chief of the Home Army in June 1944. This means that he has direct access to Hitler on a regular basis. The latest information that you have received is that Hitler and his top officials will be at his headquarters, the ‘Wolf’s lair’ on 20th July and Stauffenberg has been asked to attend.

The students need to be steered towards the idea of bringing in a bomb into the room inside a briefcase

Then ask Hitler the following question:

What could you do to protect yourself from assassination? (try to encourage answers about the sentries, guard posts, barbed wire)

Then ask Colonel Brandt the following question:

What was the German Army / SS / Gestapo doing to protect the Fuhrer? (try to encourage answers about spies, secret agents, body doubles)

What concerns does Hitler have about the war situation?

You may have to embellish some of their answers with a few assassination stories such as these

Part two

Ask the students around the table to sit down around the edge of the room and bring in the Kreisau Circle group into the room. They now gather around the table and von Moltke and Stauffenberg present their ideas to the rest of the class who are now in role as supporters of the plot.

If the group have not come up with an idea that is close to the original then explain the idea of bringing in a bomb into the room hidden in a briefcase

Get the students to swap places again and resume the original positions around the table. The Kreisau Circle now sits around the edge of the room with the exception of Stauffenberg who picks up a briefcase and walks towards the table.

Ask Stauffenberg the following questions:

How are you going to set the bomb off?
Where is the best place to place the bomb to cause the most damage?
How are you going to do this without causing suspicion?
How are you going to leave the room?

Explain the details of what happened if the students have not worked it out already, getting the student playing Stauffenberg to act out what you are describing:

12:37 PM - Stauffenberg enters briefing room, shakes hands with Hitler. General Adolf Heusinger is briefing Hitler about eastern front. Stauffenberg takes up position close to Heusinger who is himself right beside Hitler.
Stauffenberg discreetly pushes brief case under map table. Stauffenberg whispers he must make important call to Berlin.
Stauffenberg quietly leaves room and walks calmy but swiftly away from conference hut. Walks to parking lot where Haeften waits anxiously.
12.40 PM – Colonel Brandt leans forward to study the map and his foot catches Stauffenberg’s briefcase with his foot. He picks it up and places it the other side of the heavy oak table support away from Hitler.
12:42 PM - General Heusinger concludes his report to Hitler: "West of the Dvina, strong Russian forces are driving northwards. Their spearheads are already south-west of Dvinsk. Unless at long last, the Army Group is withdrawn from Lake Peipus, a catastrophe will...

I then put up this image on my whiteboard to show the effects of the explosion

and then carried on with the description:


Stauffenberg and Haeften drive swiftly around the Fuehrer compound when they hear explosion. Stauffenberg sees the conference hut in ruins.

Ask the student playing Hitler to stagger away from the table holding his ear with his left hand and leaving his right arm limp (it was temporarily paralysed).

Ask the class to predict what happened next. You can then use the material from historylearningsite or Spartacus to give the accurate details.

I then used the activity on page 155 from the Lacey & Shephard Germany 1918-1945 textbook, which asks students to write a radio speech at 16.30 on the day of the plot from either the perspective of Stauffenberg arriving in Berlin or Hitler.