Operation Zeppelin (assassination plot)
- This article is about the plot to assassinate Stalin in 1944. For the Allied deception plan, go to Operation Zeppelin (Allies)
Operation Zeppelin was the name of an elaborate German plan to assassinate Joseph Stalin in Moscow. It was conceived in July 1944 when Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who succeeded Reinhard Heydrich as head of the RSHA, asked the Luftwaffe's KG 200 unit if they could land a man within 60 miles from Moscow, far in advance of the German front lines at that time.
The plan involved a secret flight by a German transport plane to a landing in the countryside near the Soviet capital. An assassin — a former Soviet prisoner of war who had demonstrated his loyalty — would be provided with a motorcycle and the weapons needed to kill Stalin as he drove through the city. The assassination team members had been thoroughly trained and well-armed. Provisions for escape had been made and a hideout secured for them in Moscow.
Before the mission was to begin a woman — also a former Soviet officer — was added to the team. The two were married on the eve of the mission.
Operation Zeppelin began with a German reconnaissance party parachuting into the proposed landing area to check its suitability, and then sending a "go" radio signal that all was well. On the night of September 4-5, 1944, an Arado Ar 232B transport plane took off from an airfield in Latvia and headed to the designated site, which was about 60 miles from Moscow, between Smolensk and the capital. While most of the flight went without incident, the plane was fired upon by Soviet antiaircraft fire.
It turned out that the advance team had been captured and forced to send the radio signal back to Germany; furthermore the radio checks had failed to detect that the team had been compromised. The antiaircraft guns had fired upon the plane without authorization from the Soviet forces who planned to set a trap for the plane, despite the fact that they were unaware of the mission's purpose.
The pilot was able to regain control of the plane and proceeded to an alternative landing site, near Karmanovo, east of Smolensk. The plane managed to land but a wing hit a tree, tearing off an engine and starting a fire that would draw Soviet troops to the location.
Quickly, Major "Tavrin" and Sub-Lt. "Shilova" got onto the motorcycle carried in the plane and sped off toward Moscow, where they had a place to stay. They carried 428,000 roubles, 116 real and forged rubber stamps and a number of blank documents that would in theory enable them to enter the Kremlin and get close enough to Stalin to assassinate him. Meanwhile the plane's crew set off on foot toward the German lines. The crew carried maps as well as provisions but they could not speak Russian. And, of course, they wore German uniforms.
The assassins rode through the night. When they were stopped by a sentry and challenged, they were able to produce the proper documents. However, when the sentry was about to return the documents, the major made an impromptu remark about having ridden all night. The sentry then noticed that the riders and the motorcycle were dry even though it had rained a short while before. He raised the alarm and the would-be assassins were arrested.
As for the flight crew of the transport plane, they were able to send a radio signal that they were attempting to escape on foot twenty-four hours after the crash. Some of the crew did manage to return to their own lines, but the rest were captured and did not return until the end of the war.
- P.W. Stahl. KG 200: The True Story. London Book Club Associates, 1981.