3 Squadron STORIES

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search

3 Squadron and the "Plot to Kill Hitler"

By No.3 Squadron Kittyhawk Pilot Tom Russell*.

Count von Stauffenberg was the brave man who placed a bomb next to Hitler in July 1944.  He had been allocated to Hitler's staff after having been seriously wounded in Tunisia on the 7th of April 1943, when his Panzer Division was strafed by Kittyhawks of the Desert Air Force.

It's quite likely that Stauffenberg's injuries were inflicted by No.3 Squadron...

Mussolini and Hitler survey the damage from the bomb.

A German army officer and Catholic aristocrat, Claus Philipp Maria Justinian Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, was one of the central figures of the German Resistance movement within the Werhmacht, and was absolutely opposed to the Nazi Party.  He was one of the leading members of the failed plot of July 20th 1944, to kill Adolf Hitler, and remove the Nazi Party from power in World War II Germany.

Stauffenberg's plot has recently been depicted in two major movies, both called "Operation Valkyrie", starring Sebastian Koch (in the German language version) and Tom Cruise (in the Hollywood version).


Von Stauffenberg ended up with a job on Hitler's staff because he'd been wounded in Tunisia and evacuated back to Germany.  

My interest in von Stauffenberg stems from the fact that No.3 Squadron flew four times on 7th April 1943, and I flew on two of those operations.  Our job was to dive-bomb and strafe the huge convoys on the road between Gafsa and Mezzouna, targetting the Africa Korps, who were retreating very quickly on their way to Tunis.  

Satellite Photo of Southern Tunisia.  3 Squadron's base was at El Hamma and von Stauffenberg's Panzer Division was retreating along the road from Gafsa through Mezzouma towards Mahares on the coast.  (GoogleEarth photo.)

During the fighting in Tunisia, Stauffenberg drove up to be with the leading tanks and troops of the 10th Panzer Division.  This division, together with the 21st Panzer Division, took up defensive positions near Mezzouna.

While he was driving from unit to unit, directing them, Stauffenberg's vehicle was one of the many strafed on 7 April, 1943 by Kittyhawk fighter-bombers of the Desert Air Force, and he was severely wounded.  He lost his left eye, his right hand, and two fingers on his left hand.  He was evacuated from Africa and spent three months in hospital in Munich.  (He jokingly remarked later to friends, never to have really known what to do with so many fingers when he still had all of them...)  For his injuries, Stauffenberg was awarded the Wound Badge in Gold on 14 April, 1943 and for his courage the German Cross in Gold on 8 May, 1943. 

A total of 27 pilots from No.3 Squadron flew on four missions on that day, a total of 45 individual sorties.  I am one of only two pilots remaining today out of that 27.   (Ted Hankey is the other.)

It was from the information gained from the first flight on the 7th April 1943, that our Area Command decided to go all-out with dive bombing and strafing on the convoys, and the job was given to the pilots of 3 Squadron.

The damage to Stauffenberg could well have been from this trip.    Our bombing was accurate and the the type of bomb would have had a great effect.

I flew on the second flight of the day, on which we carried 6 x 40lb bombs.  These bombs were classed as anti-personnel bombs, and had a stick about 18 inches long sticking out from the nose so they would explode above the ground.   No individual claims were made, because it was impossible to be sure whose bombs did the damage.  We reported four direct hits and three near misses.  Some Breda-gun fire was sent up at us.  

The third flight bombed and strafed with very good results.   Total claim of 20 Motor Transport "flamed" or damaged, one Breda-gun position attacked, and Bobby Gibbes strafed a tank.       


There was intense 20mm and Breda anti-aircraft fire, but no pilots were lost, and claims for the last flight of the day were: 12 Motor Transport flamed or damaged, and 1 Gun-Post.

On my 4th strafing run just as I crossed the road, I received some strikes on my starboard wing, and some on the fuselage just behind the cockpit.  I looked down and saw the fire was coming from a gun emplacement.   After gaining some height, I dived to attack and after a couple of bursts, the fire from the gun post stopped.   In the report it shows that I claimed a gun post, and my log book shows that I also claimed a troop carrier.

There were no pilot losses on any of our four  jobs.

All of Stauffenberg's decorations and military history were destroyed by order of Hitler, so there is no archival material left to say at what time of the day he was injured.   Stauffenberg was a good man who loved his country, and I feel sad that I was involved in a chain of events that was eventually to cost him his life, along with about 200 others.

Von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators of the Resistance movement were arrested and condemned to death.  The first, Colonel General Olbricht, was shot before 1am on the night of July 21st 1944.  Stauffenberg was third in line to be executed, and when it was his turn, his colleague Lieutenant von Haeften placed himself between Stauffenberg and the firing squad and took the bullets meant for him.   When his turn finally came, Stauffenberg spoke his last words, “Es Lebe unser heiliges Deutschland” --    “Long Live our Sacred Germany".   

Stauffenberg’s brother was also convicted and with seven others was executed by slow strangulation.   They were just a few of the more than 200 people who were condemned in “show trials” and executed.  Hitler had flown into a rage, and demanded that all involved was to be found and executed.  (Similar to the way he was after The Great Escape, when he ordered that the 56 escapees who had been re-captured, should be shot.)  Another famous casualty of the plot was General Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox", who had gained the great respect of all on the Allied side who fought against him. 

Anyway, this is a piece of world history where 3 Squadron may well have provided one of the random ingredients in the mix!


Editor's Note 3SQN Operations Record Book pages, from page number 800.  
Von Stauffenberg biography notes from
While it's  not possible to conclusively prove that it was 3 Squadron who injured von Stauffenberg, it's an excellent likelihood.  Checking operational records and pilot diaries for Nos. 450, 260 and 112 Squadrons, for example, shows them operating away from Mezzouna, where von Stauffenberg was hit.

VALE Tommy RUSSELL - Passed away aged 98 years, 24/6/2016.

3 Squadron STORIES

3 Squadron HOME/Search