Geoff Walden

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Wolfschanze (Wolf's Lair) Führer Headquarters

   Adolf Hitler's primary command headquarters on the Eastern Front was located near the town of Rastenburg in East Prussia (now the town of Kętrzyn in Poland). Hitler called this headquarters complex the "Wolfschanze," which is generally translated into English as "Wolf's Lair" (although a closer translation might be "Wolf's Fort," as a Schanze is an earthwork fortification). The name is sometimes spelled Wolfsschanze, but on this page I use the spelling found on period documents. The Wolf's Lair was the largest of Hitler's field headquarters and he spent more time there during World War II than at any other command site.  (Google Maps link)

   The Wolfschanze was built in 1940-41 (many of the buildings were later rebuilt or added to) and first occupied just before the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. The site chosen was located in a densely wooded area, ideal for camouflage from aerial reconnaissance, and located behind a string of lakes that would hinder any ground attack from the east. A convenient rail line ran through the middle of the site. Although Hitler had other headquarters in the east, he spent over 800 days at the Wolfschanze and it was from there that the major operations on the Russian Front were controlled. At the height of the war, over 2000 military staff, guards, and support personnel worked at the Wolf's Lair, which consisted of over 80 buildings including several heavy bunkers. The area was subdivided into three security zones: Sperrkreis I was the inner area where Hitler and his closest staff lived and worked, Sperrkreis II was an adjacent area where support staff lived and worked, and Sperrkreis III was an outer security zone that surrounded the other two, and contained defense and guard forces and flak batteries. A minefield of some 50,000 land mines and anti-personnel mines surrounded the entire area. As the Soviet Army approached the area in late November 1944 the site was abandoned, and the buildings and bunkers were blown up by the retreating Germans on 24-25 January 1945.  

   In addition to the main Wolfschanze headquarters area, there were other nearby bunker sites for SS chief Heinrich Himmler ("Hochwald"), Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring ("Robinson"), and other Nazi leaders, as well as staff of the Army High Command (OKH) at Mauerwald. Click here to visit these sites (on a separate page).

 

Most of the buildings in the Wolfschanze complex were brick or cement block structures, some with a reinforced concrete coating, and with metal shutters that could be closed over the windows. Buildings such as these served as the ordinary living and working areas for the military staff (in contrast, Hitler lived and did much of his work in his windowless concrete monolith bunker). These photos show Hitler with various commanders and staff officers such as Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring, SS leader Heinrich Himmler, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reichs Leader Hans Lammers, Party leader Martin Bormann, ambassador Walter Hewel, Armaments Minister Albert Speer, adjutant Otto Günsche, and others.  (Bundesarchiv)

 

The following photos present a small "virtual tour" of the Wolfschanze Sperrkreis I and Sperrkreis II areas (not every object or ruin is shown on this page).

Near the entry to Sperrkreis I are several bunker ruins, which served as air raid shelters for adjacent buildings. Most of the ruined objects bear painted numbers on them today, but these numbers have nothing to do with their original designations or purposes. However, these numbers are keyed to all the modern maps and plans of the site, and they are a convenient way to refer to the objects. Some sources say that Bunker 0, on the left above, covered a well or water pumping station. Some sources say that the bunker on the right above covered an emergency generator. The large parking area found today just inside the site entrance is a postwar construction, for tourist parking. Some 200,000 visitors tour the Wolf's Lair annually. Note the green colored rough coating on the sides of Bunker 0 on the left - this coating will be discussed in more detail below. (This wall coating can also be seen in the two period photos just above.)

 

The structures above were used by the SS guard force (Begleitkommando) and the Reichssicherheitsdienst (RSD) security force, charged with Hitler's personal security. Object 1 (on the left), which was just outside the Sperrkreis I fence, has been rebuilt as a hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor, where garages for the SS vehicles were originally located. Object 2 (right) appears only as a ruin today.

 

Proceeding further into Sperrkreis I, the next building (object 3) was a hardened building called the Lagebaracke, which was used for military briefings during the summer of 1944. When Hitler returned to the Wolfschanze from the Obersalzberg in mid-July 1944, reinforcements to his large personal bunker were not finished yet, so he lived in the so-called Guest Bunker (see below), and his military situation conferences took place in this nearby Lagebaracke building. This was the site of the assassination attempt on Hitler on 20 July 1944, when Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in this building during a conference. The period photo above is said to have been taken on 20 July 1944, before the bomb was planted, and shows various personnel such as Hermann Göring, adjutant Julius Schaub, Gen. Bruno Loerzer, and Martin Bormann in conversation outside the Lagebaracke. Note how the native trees were left in place as far as possible as natural camouflage, augmented by camouflage netting seen on the building roof here, as well as netting strung between the trees (remains of the wires holding these nets can be seen on several trees at the site today, as well as small pieces of the green and brown plastic camouflage netting). Only the foundations and wall fragments of the Lagebaracke exist today. The ruins have memorial monuments to Stauffenberg and the other assassination conspirators (below).  (Bundesarchiv)

 

Nearby is a memorial to engineers and sappers from the Polish military who were
killed while clearing the minefields surrounding the Wolfschanze in the 1950s.

 

The famous photo on the left above, taken on 15 July 1944 before the assassination attempt, shows (from left) Colonel Stauffenberg, Admiral Jesko von Puttkammer (naval aide, in background), Gen. Karl Bodenschatz shaking hands with Hitler, and Field Marshal Keitel. The group is standing near the Lagebaracke, with the Guest Bunker (object 6) in the background. The center photo shows a group of staff officers in the same area, with a closer view of the Guest Bunker in the background. This area was a special closed-off security zone within Sperrkreis I, during the period when Hitler lived in the Guest Bunker. Note the artificial trees and camouflage netting. The Guest Bunker (Gästebunker) was one of the larger air raid shelters built in the area, as protection for prominent visitors to the Wolf's Lair. Its roof featured two light caliber flak gun mounts, reached by the metal rung ladder running up the side of the bunker, seen on the right below.  (Bundesarchiv; center - private collection)

 

Many of the bunkers and buildings also had trees and vegetation planted on their roofs as further camouflage.  (Bundesarchiv)

 

Near the Guest Bunker were two brick buildings with reinforced concrete roofs, used by (left - object 7) military stenographers and secretaries who recorded the situation conferences, and (right - object 8) SS-Gruppenführer Johann "Hans" Rattenhuber, head of the RSD and Hitler's personal security (this building also served as a post office).

 

Due to his personal importance to Hitler, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann had his own reinforced concrete air raid shelter bunker adjacent to Hitler's own bunker. In common with most of the Wolf's Lair bunkers, Bormann's bunker (object 11) has a couple of outer walls more-or-less intact, but the other walls and most of the roof were blown out and the inner ceilings collapsed during the January 1945 demolition. (The sticks seen in the photos below do not actually hold these walls up - their presence is just a tourist activity.)
Adjacent to Bormann's bunker was his personal house, also made of reinforced concrete, seen as a ruin on the right below.

 

The largest object in the Wolf's Lair was Hitler's personal bunker (object 13), with 5-meter thick walls of reinforced concrete covered with a roof of 8-meter-thick reinforced concrete (the roof mounted a flak gun). This colossus served Hitler as a home, work area, and sleep area. The bunker had two wings, also of thick concrete (seen below), that housed a kitchen and ventilation and heating apparatus. The explosive charges used in the 1945 demolition were sufficient to crack the western face completely through (above), blow most of the other walls and the roof apart, and fling huge chunks of concrete several meters away. 

 

Hitler's bunker was originally built with walls 2-3 meters thick, but in common with most of the Wolfschanze buildings, it was further reinforced during two subsequent construction phases (many of the brick and concrete buildings at the Wolf's Lair started as wooden buildings, which later had concrete and masonry added to their walls and roofs). The major bunkers, such as those for Hitler, Göring, Bormann, and guests, later had 2-3 additional meters of concrete added in a second layer, with a 50cm layer of gravel and rubble between, to absorb shock waves from bomb explosions. Although the final products appear huge from the outside, the inner rooms were actually quite small, as (with the exception of Hitler's bunker) they were meant only as air raid shelters, not as living or working spaces (see the intact bunkers at Mauerwald).

 

Immediately adjacent to Hitler's bunker was a flak tower bunker (object 12). This bunker was completely destroyed, with the rooftop flak and machinegun positions lying on the ground today. A water reservoir originally for fire-fighting purposes, located beside the flak bunker, now has several pieces of the bunker in it (another such reservoir was located in Sperrkreis II). This reservoir (object 14) figured in the never-ending battle against the hordes of mosquitoes that infested the Wolfschanze in the summer (and still do). In an effort to control these insects, the water reservoirs were covered with a layer of oil. However, all this did was kill the frogs that lived in the reservoirs, which made the situation even worse because these frogs were the natural predators of the mosquitoes. Hitler ordered the reservoirs to be cleaned and replacement frogs brought in.

 

Adjacent to Hitler's bunker on the other side was a Kasino (dining hall) and Teehaus. Hitler normally ate meals and took tea here with his closest supporters. The dining hall of Kasino I was decorated with a red star cut from a downed Russian aircraft. Today only sections of the Kasino walls with tiles attached exist along the path behind Hitler's bunker (seen in the distance on the right above). Brick walls remain of the so-called Old Tea House (Altes Teehaus) nearby (below).  (Bundesarchiv)

 

As second man in the Third Reich leadership hierarchy, Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring had his own house (object 15) and bunker (object 16) near Hitler's bunker in Sperrkreis I. In spite of this, Göring actually spent most of his time at his own Luftwaffe headquarters complex and personal hunting lodge in the Rominten area, some 90 kilometers to the northeast of the Wolfschanze. The period photo shows the bunker on the left surrounded by specially planted natural trees and artificial trees with camouflage netting, with Göring's house visible in the background.  (Bundesarchiv)

 

Göring's bunker is one of the most interesting ruins found at the Wolf's Lair today, as it is more intact than most, with accessible corridors and interior spaces. Although the roof was damaged by the 1945 demolition, it too is mostly intact and can also be reached by the adventurous explorer.

 

Appropriate for the chief of the Luftwaffe, Göring's bunker had three anti-aircraft positions on the roof - two for light flak guns and one for a machinegun mount. These roof positions could be reached via two metal rung ladders - one climbing through a shaft on the inside of the bunker (seen on the right below) and another running up the outside wall (seen in the postcard view on the left above and in the photo on the left below). Both of these rung ladders can be climbed today to give access to the roof.  (author's collection)

 

Although the roof of Göring's bunker was cracked by the demolition charges, it did not collapse in pieces like the other bunker roofs. The two light flak positions featured built-in ammunition storage areas, and one of these mounts was reached through the interior of the bunker by a rung ladder (the other had an entry door through the outer wall). The machinegun position (below), located adjacent to the top of the exterior rung ladder, still has its original iron gun mount ring and imbedded iron loops for tying off camouflage netting.

 

Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, chief of the Wehrmacht operations staff, had a headquarters building with living quarters in Sperrkreis I (left above - object 17). Nearby was another dining facility, Kasino II (right above - object 18 - this building is labeled with the name Buhle on a sketch map of Sperrkreis I drawn for the Nuremberg Trials - apparently a reference to Gen. Walter Buhle, chief of the Army staff of OKW). A shooting range for tourists has been installed in Jodl's bunker today.

 

Jodl's boss Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel had a personal bunker near Hitler's bunker and staff buildings (object 19). Keitel's bunker suffered badly during the 1945 demolition.

 

A multi-wing reinforced building in the vicinity of Hitler's bunker served as a residence and working area for Hitler's personal adjutants Julius Schaub, Albert Bormann, Otto Günsche, and also military adjutants and liaison officers under the leadership of Hitler's chief Wehrmacht adjutant Gen. Rudolf Schmundt (object 20, left above). A heating plant (chimney, center) and a cinema (right above) were also located in Sperrkreis I. A garage for staff vehicles was located nearby (object 22, below).

 

Large bunkers to shelter communications personnel (Nachrichtenbunker) were located in Sperrkreis I near the Guest Bunker (object 21, above), and in Sperrkreis II.

 

Press chief Otto Dietrich had a personal residence with attached bunker in the southwest corner of Sperrkreis I. This ruin (sometimes labeled as object 23) is not on any of the marked tour routes and is rarely visited today. The 1945 demolition largely collapsed the entire structure.

 

These are two of the miscellaneous structures that exist in Sperrkreis I. The building on the left (object 5) was used by the SS-Begleitkommando and personal staff and valets. The underground space on the right (object 10), near Bormann's bunker, is sometimes identified as a storage area for foodstuffs, and sometimes as an underground sauna.

 

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)   Proceed to the Wolfschanze Sperrkreis II

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)   Proceed to the Army High Command (OKH) center at Mauerwald

Lstone.gif (1289 bytes)   Back to the Third Reich in Ruins homepage

 

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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