Friedrich Olbricht (4 October 1888 – 21 July 1944) was a German general during World War II and one of the plotters involved in the 20 July Plot, an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944.
Olbricht was born October 4, 1888, in Leisnig, Saxony, to Richard Olbricht, a mathematics professor and director of the Realschule (secondary school) in Bautzen.
Olbricht successfully passed the Abitur (university preparatory school exit examination) in 1907, subsequently accepting a commission as a Fahnrich (ensign) with Infantry Regiment 106 in Leipzig. He fought in World War I, was promoted to captain and chose to stay in the Treaty of Versailles-decimated military (the Reichswehr) after the war.
Olbricht was assigned to the Reich Defense Ministry as leader of the Reichswehr's Foreign Armies Bureau in 1926. After the Night of the Long Knives raid, he was able to save several of those arrested from execution by finding or creating positions for them in the Abwehr.
Olbricht was appointed chief of staff of the 4th Army Corps stationed in Dresden in 1935, an assignment that lasted until 1938, when he was promoted to commander of the 24th Infantry Division.
Olbricht has the distinction of being one of the few officers who supported General Werner von Fritsch, the commander in chief of the German armed forces who was accused of homosexuality in January 1938. After von Fritsch’s resignation, it was discovered that the charges had been invented, based on the contrived testimony of a man whom some say was recruited by Himmler. The tale had been concocted as part of Hitler's plan to gain control of the military—which he did.
During the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Olbricht commanded the 24th Infantry Division and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. On 15 February 1940, Olbricht was promoted to General of the Infantry. He was appointed Chief of the General Army Office (Allgemeines Heeresamt) in the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres). He was furthermore made Chief of the Armed Forces Reserve Office (Wehrersatzamt) at the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht.
Starting in the winter of 1941–42, Olbricht developed the plan for Operation Valkyrie, a General Staff plan which was ostensibly to be used to put down internal unrest, but was in fact a blueprint for a coup d'état. Together with the resistance circles around Colonel-General Ludwig Beck, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and Major-General Henning von Tresckow, he worked to find a means of assassinating Adolf Hitler and using the coup plan to bring down the Nazi regime. In 1943, he asked that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg come to work at his office; Stauffenberg would later be the key man in the assassination attempt, with the job of actually planting the bomb near Hitler.
On the day of the attempted coup d'état, 20 July 1944, Olbricht and Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim initiated Operation Valkyrie by mobilizing the Replacement Army (Ersatzheer). It eventually became clear that Stauffenberg's briefcase bomb had failed to kill Hitler, however, and so the plan to seize key sites in Berlin using units from the reserve army began to falter. Many consider one of the overwhelming factors which prevented this coup from gathering any real pace was the failure of troops on the ground to gain control of the communications coming into and out of Berlin; Adolf Hitler and his commanders in the Wolfsschanze were able to broadcast a speech after the coup which in turn led to quick demise of the coup as a whole. As a result, the Nazi leadership was able to regain control using its own loyal troops within a few hours.
Arrest and execution
At 21:00, Olbricht was arrested at his headquarters in the Bendlerblock by soldiers from the Berlin garrison. Later that evening, Colonel-General Friedrich Fromm held a hastily-arranged court martial, supposedly in an attempt to protect himself from being exposed as a silent conspirator. Olbricht, Quirnheim, Stauffenberg, and his aide Werner von Haeften were then taken outside to the courtyard and executed by firing squad, against Hitler's orders to take the would-be assassins alive (those who got captured alive received more painful and prolonged means of execution). Olbricht was the first of the four to be shot.
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 27 October 1939 as Generalleutnant and commander of 24. Infanterie-Division