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Assassination Priorities during Operation Overlord


In light of the recent declassification of confidential, top secret documents from the Second World War by the National Archives in the UK, a number of sensational accounts and key pieces of source material have been made available to historians. Of particular note is the document relating to assassination of key National Socialists and leaders with the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. Written by British political officer, Charles Peake, in 1944, the memo entitled “Assassination Priorities for Overlord” lists key figures in the German war machine including field marshals Erwin Rommel and Gerd von Rundstedt and General Carl Heinrich von Stülpnagel and various members of Vichy France.



The memo discussed the notion of selecting key personnel to kill off. British staff devoted its pages to the question of assassination in the preamble and duration after Operation Overlord: “The Chief of Staff has asked me to look at this, and to advise him about suitable candidates to who attention might be paid, prior to, on and after 'D' Day.” Detailed in the report demonstrated that the Special Operations Executive, British wartime sabotage organisation, had various agents planted within France poised to instigate assassination operations, that they “would be ready to have a shot at it." However, there was much dissent from individuals within both the Government and within the military:

 

In regard to Germans, I see no snags in General Morgan’s proposal. There will probably be bloody reprisals as Mr. Harrison suggests. The Germans have already taken savage reprisals in many parts of France where Germans have been bumped off.

 

Commentators highlighted within the report were anxious about certain reprisal measures that could be taken against such proposals. Would be assassins might aggravate the situation further were they to mount a successful operation. The assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer and General der Polizei, Reinhard Heydrich, demonstrated that revenge would be swift and fierce; estimates attribute more than 5,000 deaths as a result of his killing. Leaders were hesitant, therefore, to authorise plans which might risk the lives of thousands of French citizens, assuming of course that an assassination could even have been possible. Indeed, one Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee spoke of the plan with caution:
 
I agree…in disliking this scheme, not out of squeamishness, as there are several people in this world whom I could kill with my own hands with a feeling of pleasure…but I think that it is the type of bright ideas which in the end produces a good deal of trouble and does little good. The Poles have destroyed a number of German officials…but I think they cursed the day when Heydrich was killed. Whenever the French have gone in for the liquidation or collaborators or enemy personnel this has resulted in bloody reprisals, and has, I believe, been deprecated by the higher resistance authorities.
 
Researchers, historians and key enthusiasts that wish to learn more or simply to read the documents in full are encouraged to visit the National Archives directly or they can download the documents from www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.
 
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War: general; assassination priorities for OVERLORD, 15 April – 21 June 1944, British National Archives, FO 1093/292.
 
All copyrighted material used in this article or cited by this website is the property of their respective owners and ajjmackenzie.co.uk in no way accepts any responsibility for an infringement on one of the above.
 
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