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Adolf Hitler's bodyguard

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RSD bodyguards mingling during the arrival of Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring, 1936

Adolf Hitler, the dictator of Nazi Germany, was at the centre of World War II in Europe and the Holocaust. He was hated by his persecuted enemies and even by some of his own military commanders, yet in 25 years no one managed to assassinate him. In contrast to Britain's Winston Churchill, who relied on one main bodyguard, Hitler's bodyguard grew to include thousands of men.[1]

When Hitler returned to Munich from military service in 1918, he became a member of the Nazi Party, an extremist far-right political party in Bavaria. In 1921, he was elected leader of the party. As his speeches promoted violence and racism, Hitler needed permanent security.

Founded in 1920, the Sturmabteilung (SA) was the first of many paramilitary protection squads that worked to protect Nazi officials. In 1923, a small bodyguard unit, which became known as the Stosstrupp-Hitler (SSH), was set up specifically for the Führer. It was under the control of the SA. Then in 1925, as the Nazi Party grew, the Schutzstaffel (SS) was created as a sub-section of the SA. Initially only about a hundred men, it was also originally a personal protection unit for Hitler. Several other bodyguard organisations, such as the Führerbegleitkommando (FBK), Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) and Reichssicherheitsdienst (RSD) were created as sub-sections of the SS. Police forces available for security included the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo), Ordnungspolizei (Orpo), Kriminalpolizei (Kripo) and Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo). In addition, the Nazi intelligence organization, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), was formed to investigate and perform security checks on people, including party members. If the SD personnel determined an arrest was to be made, they passed the information on to the Gestapo, who made the arrest.

As Hitler began to put his aggressive plans outlined in his political manifesto Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") into action, the number of his enemies expanded. To combat this threat, his bodyguard commanders established a structure that was followed throughout the rest of World War II.


Adolf Hitler was 29 years old in 1918, when he returned to Munich after Germany's humiliating defeat in World War I. Like many other German veterans at the time, he felt bitter and frustrated; believing the widely held "Stab-in-the-back myth", that the German Army did not lose the war on the battle field but on the home-front due to the communists and Jews.[2]

The 1930s were a time of civil unrest in Germany, compounded by the economic problems of the Great Depression. In this environment, a number of extremist political parties were formed, including the German Workers' Party (DAP), a short-lived predecessor of the Nazi Party.[3] Sensing an opportunity, Hitler decided to join the DAP, which was renamed the Nazi Party in 1920.[4] His talent for charismatic oratory led to him being chosen the leader of the party the following year.[5] Like many autocratic rulers, he surrounded himself with guards for protection.[6]

Bodyguard organisations

  • Sturmabteilung ("Storm Detachment"; SA) was a paramilitary organization of the Nazi Party created in 1920 to police party rallies and disrupt their opponents' meetings. By the time the Nazis seized power in 1933, it had grown to almost four million men. It was commanded by Ernst Röhm, who was shot in 1934 on Hitler's orders after refusing to commit suicide.[7]
  • Stosstrupp-Hitler ("Shock Troop-Hitler"; SSH) was a separate small bodyguard unit formed on Hitler's order in 1923. It was dedicated to his service rather than "a suspect mass" of the party, such as the SA.[8] Members included Rudolf Hess, who was later the dictator's deputy; Julius Schreck, who later became Hitler's personal chauffeur; and Emil Maurice, who was imprisoned with Hitler after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. Others included Ulrich Graf, a butcher who was nearly killed during the 1923 putsch, and Bruno Gesche, a tough street fighter who longed for a life of action, as he was too young to have served in the war. On 9 November 1923, the Stosstrupp, along with the SA and several other Nazi paramilitary units, took part in the abortive putsch in Munich. In the aftermath, Hitler was imprisoned and his party and all associated formations, including the Stosstrupp, were disbanded.[1]
  • Schutzstaffel ("Protection Squadron"; SS) was a personal protection squad for Hitler created in 1925.[9] Whereas the SA numbered in the millions, the SS started with less than a hundred men.[10] The SS uniform included a black tie and a black cap with a Totenkopf ("death's head") skull and bones symbol on it. The SS had stricter entry requirements than the general SA.[1] Although subordinate to the SA until the summer of 1934, its members behaved as though they were the Nazi Party elite.[10] From January 1929 forward, the SS was commanded by Heinrich Himmler in his capacity as Reichsführer-SS;[11] later in 1936, Himmler was appointed chief of all German police.[12] Within the SS main branches of the Allgemeine SS, SS-Totenkopfverbände and Waffen-SS, there further existed sub-branches, including the RSHA (which had as departments: the SD, Gestapo and the Kripo). After the war, according to the judgments rendered at the Nuremberg trials, as well as many war crimes investigations and trials conducted since then, the SS was responsible for the majority of Nazi war crimes. In particular, it was the primary organisation which carried out the Holocaust.[13]
  • Sicherheitsdienst ("Security Service"; SD) was a security and intelligence service of the SS and later of the Nazi Party as a whole. The SD was founded by Himmler in 1931 as the Ic-Dienst.[14] It was headed by Reinhard Heydrich.[15] In 1932, the organisation was renamed the Sicherheitsdienst, and by April 1934 it was considered a sister organization of the Gestapo. The SD was mainly the information-gathering agency, and the Gestapo, and to a degree the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), was the executive agency of the political police system. Under Heydrich's control, the SD and the Gestapo answered to Himmler as Chief of the German Police and Reichsfuhrer-SS.[16] By 1944, the SD had more than 6,000 members. After Heydrich's death, the agency was led by Ernst Kaltenbrunner.[15][14]
  • SS-Begleitkommando des Führers ("Escort Command of the Führer") was an elite SS protection unit formed in February 1932 as Hitler's protection escort while travelling. The unit consisted of eight men chosen for their "outstanding loyalty". They served around the clock protecting the Führer in three eight-hour shifts.[1][17] Later the SS-Begleitkommando was expanded and became known as the Führerbegleitkommando ("Führer Escort Command"; FBK). It continued under separate command and remained responsible for Hitler's personal protection.[17]
  • Führer Schutzkommando ("Führer Protection Command"; FSK) was a protection unit founded by Himmler in March 1933.[18] Originally charged with protecting the Führer only while he was inside the borders of Bavaria, its members consisted of police detectives of the Bavarian police and ministry. In the spring of 1934, they replaced the SS-Begleitkommando for Hitler's overall protection throughout Germany.[19] The FSK was renamed the Reichssicherheitsdienst ("Reich Security Service"; RSD) in August 1935.[20] Thereafter, the RSD and FBK worked together for security and protection during trips and public events, but they operated as two groups and used separate vehicles. Johann Rattenhuber, chief of the RSD, was in overall command and the current FBK chief acted as his deputy.[21]
  • Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler ("Life Guards SS Adolf Hitler"; LSSAH) was an elite SS protection unit founded in 1933 as a palace guard to provide protection for Hitler's residences and offices.[22][23] The LSSAH had some of the strictest entry requirements. The commander, Sepp Dietrich insisted that the men be in good physical condition, between the ages of 23 to 35, and have a confirmed ancestry record, without Jewish blood.[1] The LSSAH eventually grew into an elite division of the Waffen-SS. Although nominally under Himmler, Dietrich was the real commander and handled day-to-day administration.[24] By 1945, while the LSSAH fought on the Eastern Front during World War II, a core group of 800 men stayed in Berlin and made up the Leibstandarte Guard Battalion (Wache Reichskanzlei), assigned to guard the Führer.[25][26]
  • Geheime Staatspolizei ("Secret State Police"; Gestapo) was the secret police force of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe. Formed in April 1933 by the aviation minister Hermann Göring, it was by the following year administrated by the SS and regarded as a sister organization of the SD.[15] The Gestapo relied on members of other agencies, spies and a huge network of informants for information.[27] It was led by Heydrich and Heinrich Müller. Whether trained as police originally or not, Gestapo agents themselves were shaped by their socio-political environment. Historian George C. Browder contends that there was a four-part process (authorization, bolstering, routinization, and dehumanization) in effect which legitimized the psycho-social atmosphere conditioning members of the Gestapo to radicalized violence.[28] The power of the Gestapo included what was called, Schutzhaft ("protective custody"), a euphemism for the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings.[15]
  • Ordnungspolizei ("Order Police"; Orpo) was the uniformed police force in Nazi Germany.[12] Created in 1936 by the interior ministry, it was responsible for law enforcement throughout Germany.[12][29] It was originally under the command of police general Kurt Daluege, but after he suffered a heart attack in 1943, he was replaced by Alfred Wünnenberg. By 1944, the organisation had more than 400,000 members, making it the largest police force in Germany.[30]
  • Kriminalpolizei ("Criminal Police"; Kripo) were the criminal police of Nazi Germany. The agency's employees were mostly plainclothes detectives and agents, and worked in conjunction with the Gestapo.[31] It was under the directive of Arthur Nebe of the Reichskriminalpolizeiamt (which later became Amt V of the RSHA) until 1944. In the last year of its existence, Amt V was commanded by Friedrich Panzinger, who answered to Kaltenbrunner.[32][33]
  • Sicherheitspolizei ("Security Police"; SiPo) was the criminal investigation security agency of Nazi Germany. Created in 1936, it was made up of the combined forces of the Gestapo and the Kripo.[34] In September 1939, the agency was folded into Reichssicherheitshauptamt ("Reich Main Security Office"; RSHA).[12]
  • Führer Begleitbattalion ("Führer Escort Battalion"; FBB) was a military protection unit set up just before war began. It had the task of protecting Hitler's military headquarters and accompanying him when visiting battlefronts. It originally consisted of little more than a hundred men and was commanded by then infantry colonel Erwin Rommel.[1] Otto Ernst Remer went on to command an expanded FBB, which played a key role in putting down the attempted military coup against Hitler of 20 July 1944 in Berlin.[35]

Reichssicherheitsdienst incident

One night in 1933, while traveling in Munich, Hitler became aware of a large car following his own. He told his driver Erich Kempka to accelerate the supercharged Mercedes-Benz, so the other car could not keep up. It turned out that the car pursuing Hitler was full of RSD bodyguards, who had not thought to inform the Führer or any of his immediate entourage.[19] Hitler was enraged; he had always been suspicious of the Bavarian police, who had come close to killing him during the failed putsch attempt.[1]

Hitler wanted the RSD abolished, but Himmler managed to talk him out of it, promising structural changes and overall improvements to prevent such an incident from happening again. Thereafter, the RSD remained in overall charge of Hitler's personal security.[1]

Protection structure

As Hitler went from being a stateless street politician to supreme leader of Nazi Germany, the responsibilities of his bodyguard expanded enormously. The ring of bodyguard leaders in the Führer's inner circle eventually established a routine.[1]

Everywhere Hitler went, he was accompanied by men of the FBK. They worked in three eight-hour shifts, providing close protection of Hitler. Before a trip or important public event, the RSD checked the route, the buildings along it, and the places which Hitler was to visit.[1] The local Gestapo office provided intelligence reports, along with information as to any assassination rumours, to the RSD.[36] Orpo police officers were called in as necessary to help with security. As far as possible, the streets or approaches to a building were lined with uniformed SS men, with every third man facing the crowd. There were marksmen on the roofs while plainclothes RSD men or Kripo undercover police mingled with the crowd. Hitler's motorcade was preceded by a single pilot car to alert the guards to stand at attention. Hitler's car, usually an open Mercedes-Benz, followed 50 metres behind. Hitler always stood or sat in the front seat, beside the driver, with a FBK member and an adjutant behind him. Following his car were two cars to the left and right, one with the rest of the FBK and the other with a detachment of RSD men. Then came the car of other Nazi chieftains and/or SS leaders; after a further 100-metre gap came the car with foreign guests.[1]

The LSSAH guarded Hitler's private residences and offices, providing an outer ring of protection for the Führer and his visitors.[37] Buildings protected included the old Reich Chancellery, the new Reich Chancellery, and the Berghof in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria. LSSAH men manned sentry posts at the entrances to the old Reich Chancellery and the new Reich Chancellery. The Orpo police also had sentry posts inside, where people's passes and identity cards were checked.[38] The RSD were responsible for having the Gestapo and Kripo run security checks on any employees and workers.[39] They were assisted by the SD, which investigated and monitored people for subversive activities and passed the information gathered on to the Gestapo for action when needed.[40] Wherever Hitler was in residence, members of the RSD and FBK would be present. The RSD men patrolled the grounds and the FBK men provided close security protection. For special events, the number of LSSAH guards were increased.[41] At the Berghof residence in the Obersalzberg, a large contingent of the LSSAH were housed in adjacent barracks. They patrolled an extensive cordoned security zone that encompassed the nearby homes of other Nazi leaders. Further, the nearby former hotel "Turken" was turned into quarters to house the RSD.[42] The FBK men provided close security protection inside the Berghof.[1]

After the war started, the FBB provided wider security protection for Hitler as he travelled by vehicle to front-line command posts and military headquarters. They would be in heavily armed vehicles at the front and back of Hitler's convoy. In addition, army motorcycle riders were part of the convoy. The RSD were responsible for checking the route, and the FBK would ride with Hitler during the trip.[1]

Security breaches

Bürgerbräukeller beer hall

On 8 November 1939, Hitler went to the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich for the annual anniversary celebration of the attempted putsch of 1923. He began speaking just after 8:00 pm, earlier than usual because he had urgent business in Berlin. He left the hall at around 9:07 pm. Twelve minutes later, a time bomb which had been concealed inside a pillar behind the speaker's rostrum exploded, killing eight and injuring sixty.[43] The man behind the elaborate assassination attempt was Johann Georg Elser, a cabinet maker and ardent communist from Baden-Württemberg. He was apprehended near the Swiss border and interrogated by the Gestapo before being sent to Dachau concentration camp. He was executed on 9 April 1945.[43] The assassination attempt was an embarrassment for the RSD, who were responsible for checking the venue prior to Hitler's speech. In the Gestapo investigation, and 60-page report which followed, it was determined that the RSD, Gestapo, and SS needed to work more closely together in protection procedures for Hitler.[1]

Smolensk front-line visit

On 13 March 1943, in preparation for the Battle of Kursk, Hitler visited the Eastern Front at Smolensk. Upon leaving, staff officer Heinz Brandt, who was traveling in Hitler's entourage, agreed to take a box containing two expensive bottles of wine back to Berlin. The package was given to him by General Henning von Tresckow, a member of the Nazi resistance group, who had carefully hidden a bomb inside one of the bottles. The plane took off with both Hitler and Brandt on board, but it arrived safely at the Wolf's Lair field headquarters in East Prussia. The bomb most likely failed to detonate because of the freezing temperatures in the storage compartment of the plane.[1]

Wolf's Lair military conference

Hitler's most famous military headquarters during the war was the Wolf's Lair (Wolfsschanze). He spent more time at that Eastern Front military field headquarters than any other. Hitler first arrived at the headquarters in June 1941. In total, he spent more than 800 days there during a ​3 12-year period until his final departure on 20 November 1944.[44] It was guarded by personnel from the RSD and FBB.[45]

It had several security zones. Sperrkreis 1 (Security Zone 1) was located at the heart of the Wolf's Lair. Ringed by steel fencing and guarded by RSD and FBK men, it contained Hitler's bunker and ten other camouflaged bunkers built from 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) thick steel-reinforced concrete.[46] Sperrkreis 2 (Security Zone 2) surrounded the inner zone. This area housed the quarters of several Reich ministers and the HQ personnel, as well as the military barracks for the FBB. Sperrkreis 3 (Security Zone 3) was a heavily fortified outer security area which surrounded the two inner zones. It was defended by land mines and the FBB, which manned guard houses, watchtowers and checkpoints.[45] Despite the security, the most notable assassination attempt against Hitler was made at the Wolf's Lair on 20 July 1944.[47]

With Germany suffering major defeat on all fronts, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and his ring of conspirators decided to eliminate Hitler and the Nazi leadership, establish a new pro-Western government and save the country from destruction.[48] On 20 July 1944, during a military conference at the Wolf's Lair, Stauffenberg planted a briefcase bomb underneath Hitler's conference table and then quickly left, claiming he had to make an important telephone call. Shortly after, the bomb exploded, fatally wounding three officers and the stenographer, who died soon after. Hitler survived with only minor injuries, as did everyone else who was shielded from the blast by the conference table leg.[49]

The FBB closed the Security Zone checkpoints, but by then Stauffenberg's car had been let through two of them as he left the area. Contrary to the imposed security doctrines in place, Stauffenberg and his adjutant were able to pass through the Security Zone 3 checkpoint and proceed to the airport, succeeding in getting away before clarity could be established back at the now completely demolished briefing hut.[45]

See also



  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 How Hitler's Bodyguard Worked 2015.
  2. Kershaw 2008, pp. 61–63.
  3. Kershaw 2008, pp. 80, 82.
  4. Kershaw 2008, p. 87.
  5. Kershaw 2008, pp. 89–92.
  6. Stein 1984, pp. xviiii.
  7. Allen 2005, pp. 12–13.
  8. McNab 2009, pp. 14, 16.
  9. Weale 2012, p. 29.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Collier & Pedley 2005, pp. 51–53.
  11. Weale 2012, p. 33.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Williams 2001, p. 77.
  13. Office of the United States Chief of Counsel For Prosecution of Axis Criminality (1946). Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression (PDF). 1. Washington, DC: Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office. pp. 70–71.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Gerwarth 2011, pp. 56–57.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Gellately 1990, pp. 44–45.
  16. Weale 2012, pp. 131–135, 144.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Hoffmann 2000, pp. 36–48.
  18. Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 288.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Hoffmann 2000, p. 32.
  20. Hoffmann 2000, p. 36.
  21. Felton 2014, pp. 32–33.
  22. Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 8, 9, 12, 17–19.
  23. Hoffmann 2000, pp. 157, 160, 165, 166, 181–186.
  24. Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 19, 33.
  25. Fischer 2008, pp. 42–43.
  26. Hoffmann 2000, p. 262.
  27. McNab 2009, p. 163.
  28. Browder 1996, pp. 33–34.
  29. Weale 2012, p. 133.
  30. Hillebrand 1969, p. 322.
  31. Weale 2012, pp. 133, 134, 144.
  32. Weale 2012, pp. 134, 140-141, 149.
  33. Friedlander 1995, p. 55.
  34. Weale 2012, pp. 133, 134.
  35. Kershaw 2008, pp. 837–839.
  36. Hoffmann 2000, p. 60.
  37. Cook & Bender 1994, pp. 9, 12, 17–19.
  38. Hoffmann 2000, p. 157.
  39. Hoffmann 2000, p. 167.
  40. McNab 2009, p. 159.
  41. Hoffmann 2000, pp. 160, 165, 166.
  42. Hoffmann 2000, pp. 181–186.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Early Attempts on Hitler's Life 2015.
  44. Kershaw 2008, p. 624.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Martin & Newark 2009.
  46. Kershaw 2008, pp. 624, 792.
  47. Kershaw 2008, pp. 829–831.
  48. Housden 1997, p. 106.
  49. Housden 1997, pp. 107–108.


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