Valkyrie: The story of the plot to kill Hitler by its last member
Philip Freiherr von Boeselager, translated from French by Steven Rendall
Vintage Books, New York, June 2010.
That's be the quickest way to summarize this highly readable and fascinating book.
As members here are well aware, the Von Boeselager's were involved in the July 20, 1944 plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. The Von Boeselagers (Georg and Philip) were part of the same circle of cavalrymen that included Claus Von Stauffenberg and several other of the plotters, although they actually came into the plots quite early and well before Von Stauffenberg. This books title would lead the reader to believe that this book is an insiders account of the last, and most famous, of the plots.
It really is not that, but is rather much more, even though it is a very short book (211 pages) and that is why I am highly recommending it. This book is rather a memoir of a member of a lost class. Philip Von Boeselager's book starts with his youth, describing in charming detail growing up in an aristocratic Catholic German family. As his name indicates, he was born into German nobility, and even though he was born after World War One his family was still very much a noble family. His father's main pursuit in life was hunting, and the Von Boeselager boys followed him in that. Philip and Georg were so dedicated to hunting that they engaged in hunting wherever they were, even in World War Two. The description of their early lives is fascinating. They were brought up in a privileged and religious household, and did not attend school until quite late. Their father openly regarded school as a modern bother. Upon leaving school, both Philip and George (and ultimately another older brother) joined the German army, less out of a desire for military service than in accordance with the traditional role of aristocracy being to enter diplomatic or military service. Philip actually intended originally to enter diplomatic service, but was dissuaded by a relative who had done that for a career. They entered the cavalry in Paderborn German (where the "Holschers" of my last name had immigrated from in the 1840s) and enjoyed the prewar lives of equestrian officers.
The description of George and Philip's wartime career is fascinating. The book's title, as noted above, would lead you to belive that this book was only about the July 20 plot, but over half of the details on the war actually entail their military service, with a vast amount of data on German cavalry. Much of what is discussed about the German cavalry, and how it operated during the war, is new to me, and I've never seen it in print elsewhere. For example, Von Boeselager details that mid war the German cavalry had become so vital that replacement cavalrymen were recruited right out of the infantry at the front and trained in theater. Given the requirements of German manpower, that's a surprising thing to learn, and there are many other such details in this book.
The various plots to kill Hitler that Von Boeselager was involved in are also discussed from an insider's point of view. Von Boeselager is frank that the plots were compartmentalized, so that he never had all the details on most of the plots. He came into the plots very early and was a central figure in the early attempt to blow up Hitler's airplane (he secured the British explosives for that event, and may have had some role in providing explosives for the later attempt, although that is not clear). He also details a concurrent plot with that one in which officers simply planned to shoot Hitler at a lunch. Interestingly, Von Boeselager was never disarmed when he surrendered to the British at the end of the war (his entire unit actually retained its weapons) and he kept his sidearm until his death. For that matter, he actually returned home with two of the horses he used throughout the war.
As noted in another thread, Von Boeselager has described his role in the plot as requiring him to withdraw his men from the front, take them to truck transport, and then truck them to a point where they could have been flown to Berlin. That account has come into question, but in reading it, it seems fairly evident to me that those criticizing the account have a poor grasp on military movement and the description of the event. Basically, he describes a movement that was not atypical for the time on the Eastern Front. In terms of transporting the men by truck and plane, it's clear that they were jamming men into a confined space in a desperate situation, so the account is credible. It actually went fairly far before he became aware the July 20 plot had failed, and he never had the details on how the assassination was to fully take place.
This is an excellent little book, and any student of World War Two would enjoy it. For the student of WWII cavalry, it is a must.
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