There were over 40 serious attempts on the
life of the Führer in the decade leading up to his suicide at the end of
World War II. That he managed to evade death on so many occasions, in
several instances by what appeared to be nothing more than mere chance,
instilled in Hitler the unshakable belief that he was an agent of fate.
‘What will be will be’ he said on more than one occasion, and as the
numerous efforts of would-be assassins failed time and again, the German
people likewise began to believe in the infallibility of their leader.
Not that everything, of course, was left
entirely to chance. The SS, Hitler’s personal bodyguard, was drawn from
the ranks of the SA, the Nazi Stormtroopers then under the command of
Ernst Röhm. In contrast to Winston Churchill’s almost non-existent
security forces the SS would eventually number in the hundreds of
thousands, though of course only a fraction of that number were assigned
to Hitler’s personal protection corps. Swearing fealty to Hitler above
all else, SS men chosen for their physical and racial characteristics
pledged to protect the maniacal dictator, and unfortunately for the
50-70 million people who died during World War II they did, for the most
part, a decidedly decent job.
Courtesy of the production team responsible
for the documentaries World War II at a Glance and Churchill’s
Bodyguard, this comprehensive study leaves no stone unturned in its
exploration of Hitler’s personal security forces. The excellent archive
footage is effectively employed, the narrative proves dramatic and
engrossing from the start and the bitter infighting and jealous
rivalries of the Nazi high command are all put neatly into context.
That being said, the series is not without
its flaws. Though each episode stands alone brilliantly the ten-hour,
sixteen-part series does run out of steam towards the middle, saved only
by some excellent later episodes regarding the Berghof assassination
attempt and Hitler’s ultimate demise in his dank Berlin bunker. The
fact that much of the footage is recycled and the way themes constantly
encircle one another also discourages the watching of several episodes
at once. There is no scene selection menu, and the lack of an episode
list on the box cover or discs themselves means you don’t know what is
on each of the four discs until you insert it.
The episode list is, incidentally, as
The Inner Circle
In the 1920s, Hitler recruited street-fighting bullies to guard party
meetings. They would soon become known as the SA. As Hitler's career
evolved, the SA grew and their rival SS was created, with the two
factions endlessly competing for the prestigious position of guarding
The rivalry between the SA and the SS heats up as Hitler's power grows.
Hermann Goering and Ernst Röhm square off in their attempts to get
closer to their rising leader. Hitler's near-fatal revolt of 1923 and
his subsequent arrest serve to promote his ambition.
Kill the New Chancellor
When Hitler becomes Chancellor in 1933, immediate threats on his life
are made and quickly thwarted. These threats escalate into serious
attempts when Hitler seizes absolute power after the burning of the
A storm brews as the SA grows into a force of more than 4 million. Röhm's
ambition is to make the SA the main power in the Nazi state. The SA has
become most serious threat to Hitler's survival, and is rumoured to be
plotting his overthrow.
Enemies of the Führer
Within a few months of Hitler becoming dictator of Germany, his enemies
increase substantially. The persecution of the Jews leads to several
attempts to kill him, whilst students, organizations and the Soviet
Union all contemplate or attempt killing the beleaguered Hitler.
Before the War
In 1938, Hitler makes his aggressive intentions clear. Occupations of
Austria and Czechoslovakia enormously increase his personal enemies.
German officers plot to overthrow and kill Hitler, but their plans
diminish with the invasion of Poland.
As Hitler begins his aggressive expansion, the German army sets up a
special unit of trained soldiers to guard his military headquarters and
escort him on visits to the front. A Communist sympathiser named Georg
Elser is arrested after Hitler comes close to being killed by the bomb
Elser planted in a beer hall where Hitler was engaged to speak.
The Paris Attempt
Hitler was a car fanatic, however his love of travelling through massive
crowds in open-topped Mercedes presented his guards with particular
problems. While following his armies during the Blitzkriegs in Poland
and France, Hitler recklessly puts himself in danger.
Hitler appreciated the power of aircraft, not only as a military weapon,
but as a political tool. During the early 1930s, he hired aircraft for
election campaigning, often facing weather and mechanical problems, as
well as specific assassination attempts.
As Hitler's empire expanded, the need for a secure, mobile military
headquarters led him to use a specially reinforced train, the
Führer-Sonderzug. Code named 'Amerika', this became an armoured monster
with anti-aircraft armaments and state-of-the-art communications.
The Wolf's Lair
Hitler's most famous headquarters, the Wolfschanze or 'Wolf's Lair', was
near Rastenburg deep in the forests of East Prussia. From here Hitler
directed the titanic campaign against the Soviet Union.
The Berghof, near Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Obersalzberg, was the
nearest Hitler had to a home. Here he was surrounded by close
colleagues and their families, and relax amid the mountain scenery.
The Bunker Plot
By early 1945, Hitler was held up in his bunker deep beneath the
Reichschancellery as the Red Army surrounded Berlin. His colleagues and
officers plot to either kill Hitler or escape the bunker and negotiate
with the Allies.
Despite the detail and the near flawless
presentation of Hitler’s Bodyguard, my main problem with the
series (other than the duplication of footage) is the fact that peerless
narrator Robert Powell feels it incumbent upon himself to impersonate
Hitler and other prominent National Socialists like Röhm and Goering.
His dodgy German accent and silly voices completely rob the Nazis’ words
of any power, and appear comical and grating in a series that is
otherwise as polished and professional as any ever released on the
Regardless of its flaws Hitler’s
Bodyguard still stands as an exhaustive and enlightening glimpse
into the daily life of the Führer, the extraordinary efforts taken to
protect him, and the demise of the fascinating personality that brought
Europe and much of the rest of the world to the brink of total chaos.