Führerbunker

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Führerbunker
Führer's bunker
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-V04744, Berlin, Garten der zerstörte Reichskanzlei.jpg
July 1947 photo of the rear entrance to the Führerbunker in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. Hitler and Eva Braun were cremated in a shell hole in front of the emergency exit at left; the cone-shaped structure in the centre served as the exhaust,[1] and as bomb shelter for the guards.
General information
Town or city Berlin
Country Germany
Coordinates 52°30′45″N 13°22′53″E / 52.5125°N 13.3815°E / 52.5125; 13.3815Coordinates: 52°30′45″N 13°22′53″E / 52.5125°N 13.3815°E / 52.5125; 13.3815
Construction started 1943
Completed 23 October 1944
Destroyed 5 December 1947
Cost 1.35 million Reichsmarks
Owner Third Reich
Design and construction
Architect Albert Speer, Karl Piepenburg
Architecture firm Hochtief AG
3D model of New Reichs Chancellery with location of the bunker complex
3D model of Führerbunker (left) and Vorbunker (right)

The Führerbunker (English: "Leader's bunker") was an air-raid shelter located near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. It was part of a subterranean bunker complex which was constructed in two major phases in 1936 and 1943. It was the last of the Führer Headquarters (Führerhauptquartiere) used by Adolf Hitler.

Hitler took up residence in the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945 and it became the centre of the Nazi regime until the last week of World War II in Europe. Hitler married Eva Braun here during the last week of April 1945, shortly before they committed suicide.

After the war both the old and new Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets. Despite some attempts at demolition, the underground complex remained largely undisturbed until 1988–89. During reconstruction of that area of Berlin, the sections of the old bunker complex that were excavated were for the most part destroyed. The site remained unmarked until 2006, when a small plaque with a schematic was installed. Some corridors of the bunker still exist, but are sealed off from the public.

Construction[edit]

The Reich Chancellery bunker was initially constructed as a temporary air-raid shelter for Hitler (who actually spent very little time in the capital during most of the war), but increased bombing of Berlin led to expansion of the complex as an improvised permanent shelter. The elaborate complex consisted of two separate shelters, the Vorbunker ( "forward bunker"; the upper bunker), completed in 1936, and the Führerbunker, located 2.5 metres (8 ft 2 in) lower than the Vorbunker and to the west-southwest, completed in 1944.[2] They were connected by a stairway set at right angles (not a spiral staircase) and could be closed off from each other by a bulkhead and steel door.[3] The Vorbunker was located one-and-a-half meters beneath the cellar of a large reception hall behind the old Reich Chancellery at Wilhelmstraße 77.[4] The Führerbunker was located about 8.5 metres (28 ft) beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery, 120 metres (390 ft) north of the new Reich Chancellery building at Voßstraße 6.[5] Besides being deeper under ground, the Führerbunker was significantly reinforced. Its roof was made of concrete almost three metres (9.8 ft) in thickness.[6] About 30 small rooms were protected by approximately four metres (13 ft) of concrete with exits into the main buildings and an emergency exit up to the gardens. The 1943 development was built by the Hochtief company as part of an extensive program of subterranean construction in Berlin begun in 1940.[7]

The accommodations for Hitler were in this newer, lower section, and by February 1945 it had been decorated with high-quality furniture taken from the Chancellery, along with several framed oil paintings.[8] After descending the stairs into the lower section and passing through the steel door, there was a long corridor with a series of rooms on each side.[9] On the right side were a series of rooms which included generator/ventilation rooms, and the telephone switchboard.[9] On left side was Eva Braun's bedroom/sitting room (also known as Hitler's private guest room), an ante-chamber (also known as Hitler's sitting room), which led into Hitler's study/office.[10][11] On the wall hung a large portrait of one of his heroes: Frederick the Great.[12] A door led into Hitler's modestly furnished bedroom.[11] Next to it was the conference/map room (also known as the briefing/situation room) which had a door that led out into the waiting room/ante-room.[10][11]

As the Führerbunker was below the water table, conditions were unpleasantly damp, with pumps running continuously to remove groundwater. A diesel generator provided electricity, and well water was pumped in as the water supply.[13] Communications systems included a telex, a telephone switchboard, and an army radio set with an outdoor antenna. As conditions deteriorated at the end of the war, Hitler received much of his war news from BBC radio broadcasts and via courier.[14]

Events in 1945[edit]

Plan of the Führerbunker
Plan of the Vorbunker

Hitler moved into the Führerbunker permanently on 16 January 1945. He was joined by his senior staff, Martin Bormann, and later, Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels with Magda and their six children, who took residence in the upper Vorbunker.[15] Two or three dozen support, medical, and administrative staff were also sheltered there. These included Hitler's secretaries (including Traudl Junge), a nurse named Erna Flegel, and telephonist Rochus Misch. Hitler would often stroll around in the chancellery garden with his dog Blondi[16] until April 1945, when shelling became very common.

The bunker was crowded and oppressive, and air raids occurred daily.[17] Hitler mostly stayed on the lower level of the Führerbunker, where it was quieter and he could sleep.[18] Conferences took place for much of the night,[17] often until 05:00.[19]

On 16 April the Red Army started the Battle of Berlin by attacking German front line positions on the rivers Oder and Neisse. By 19 April Soviet spearheads broke through and the Germans were in full retreat. The Red Army started to encircle Berlin.[20]

On 20 April, his 56th birthday, Hitler made his last trip to the surface. In the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery, he awarded Iron Crosses to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth.[21] That afternoon, Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time.[22]

In denial about the increasingly dire situation, Hitler placed his hopes on the units commanded by Waffen-SS General Felix Steiner, the Armeeabteilung Steiner ("Army Detachment Steiner"). On 21 April, Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the encircling Soviet salient and ordered the German Ninth Army, south-east of Berlin, to attack northward in a pincer attack.[23][24] By that evening, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of Berlin.[25]

At his afternoon situation conference on 22 April, Hitler was told Steiner's forces had not moved. Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be carried out. He openly declared for the first time the war was lost—and blamed the generals. Hitler announced he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself.[26] In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the German Twelfth Army, under the command of General Walther Wenck, that was facing the Americans, could turn about and move to Berlin because the Americans, already on the Elbe River, were unlikely to move farther east. Hitler immediately seized on the idea, and within hours Wenck was ordered to disengage from the Americans and move the Twelfth Army north-east to support Berlin. It was then realised that, if the Ninth Army moved west, it could link up with the Twelfth Army. In the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link-up.[27]

On 23 April,[a] Hitler appointed General of the Artillery (General der Artillerie) Helmuth Weidling, commander of the LVI Panzer Corps, as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, replacing Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) Ernst Kaether. Only a short time before, Hitler had ordered that Weidling be arrested for desertion because he had been out of communication since 20 April.[28]

Despite the commands being issued from the Führerbunker, by 25 April the Soviets had consolidated their investment of Berlin, and leading Soviet units were probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of 25 April there was no prospect that the German defence could do anything but delay the city's capture by the Soviets, as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost outside the city.[29]

Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Hermann Göring. On 26 April, while flying over Berlin in a Fieseler Storch, von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Hanna Reitsch, his mistress and a crack test pilot, landed von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.[30][31][32]

On 28 April Hitler learned that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who had left Berlin on 20 April, was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Western Allies through Count Folke Bernadotte.[33] The offer was declined.[34] Himmler had implied that he had the authority for such a surrender. Hitler considered this treason and his anger poured out into a rage against Himmler.[35] He ordered Himmler's arrest and had Hermann Fegelein (Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin) shot.[36][30]

General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) in Fürstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of the Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse, commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile Hitler's private secretary, Martin Bormann, wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: "Reich Chancellery a heap of rubble."[30] He went on to say that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and "that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer".[37]

During the evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Field Marshal von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz (only a city block from the Führerbunker).[b] Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.[38][39]

During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps, which had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, it was no longer possible for his army to relieve Berlin. This was even more apparent, as support from the Ninth Army could no longer be expected.[40] Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off the attempt.[37]

After midnight on 29 April, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. Thereafter, Hitler then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament.[41][c] At approximately 04:00, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Goebbels, and Bormann witnessed and signed the documents.[41] Hitler then retired to bed.[42]

Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted Jodl by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead."[40] In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."[40][43][44][d]

During the morning of 30 April, SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, commander of the centre (government) district of Berlin, informed Hitler he would be able to hold for less than two days. Later that morning Weidling informed Hitler in person that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked Hitler for permission to break out. At about 13:00 Weidling, who was back in his headquarters in the Bendlerblock, finally received Hitler's permission to attempt a break-out.[45] During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Braun took cyanide.[46] [47] In accordance with Hitler's instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery.[48] In accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Goebbels became the new Head of Government and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). At 03:15, Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Dönitz informing him of Hitler's death. In accordance with Hitler's last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new President of Germany (Reichspräsident).[49]

At about 04:00 on 1 May, Krebs talked to General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army.[e] Chuikov demanded unconditional surrender of the remaining German forces, but Krebs did not have the authority to do this, so he returned to the bunker.[50] In the late afternoon, Goebbels had his children poisoned. At about 20:00, Goebbels and his wife, Magda, left the bunker; close to the entrance they bit on cyanide ampoules and either simultaneously shot themselves or were given a coup de grâce by the SS guard detailed to dispose of their bodies.[51]

Ruins of the bunker after demolition in 1947

Weidling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the north-west starting at around 21:00 on 1 May. The break-out started later than planned, at around 23:00. The first group from the Reich Chancellery, led by Mohnke, avoided the Weidendammer bridge, over which the mass break-out took place. His group crossed via a footbridge, and then split up. Mohnke could not break through the Soviet rings and was captured the next day. Like others from the Führerbunker who were captured, he was interrogated by SMERSH. A Tiger tank that spearheaded the first attempt to storm the Weidendammer bridge was destroyed. On the third break-out attempt from the Reich Chancellery, made around 01:00 (2 May), Bormann managed to cross the Spree. Arthur Axmann, who followed the same route, reported seeing Bormann's body a short distance from the bridge.[52][f]

The last defenders of the bunker complex were the French SS volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French), who remained until the early morning of 2 May to prevent the Soviets from capturing the bunker on May Day.[53]

At 01:00 the Soviets picked up a radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge. Early in the morning of 2 May, the Soviets captured the Reich Chancellery.[54] General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00.[40] Down in the Führerbunker, General Krebs and General Burgdorf committed suicide by gunshot to the head.[55] Johannes Hentschel, the master electro-mechanic for the bunker complex, stayed after everyone else had either committed suicide or left, as the field hospital in the Reich Chancellery above needed power and water. He surrendered to the Red Army as they entered the bunker complex on 2 May.[56] The bodies of Goebbels six children were discovered on 3 May. They were found in their beds in the Vorbunker; the clear mark of cyanide shown on their faces.[57]

Post-war events[edit]

Site of Führerbunker in 2005
Site of Führerbunker in 2007

The ruins of both Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets between 1945 and 1949 to destroy the landmarks of Nazi Germany. But the bunker largely survived, although some areas were partially flooded. In December 1947 the Soviets tried to blow up the bunker, but only the separation walls were damaged. In 1959 the East German government began a series of demolitions of the Chancellery, including the bunker.[58] Because it was near the Berlin Wall, the site was undeveloped and neglected until 1988–89.[59] During extensive construction of residential housing and other buildings on the site, several underground sections of the old bunker complex were uncovered by work crews and were for the most part destroyed. Other parts of the Chancellery underground complex were uncovered, but these were ignored, filled in, or resealed.[60]

Information board at the bunker site in 2007

The government authorities wanted to destroy the last vestiges of these Nazi landmarks.[61] The construction of the buildings in the area around the Führerbunker was a strategy for ensuring the surroundings remained anonymous and unremarkable.[62] The emergency exit point for the Führerbunker (which had been in the Chancellery gardens) was occupied by a car park.[63]

On 8 June 2006, during the lead up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, an information board was installed to mark the location of the Führerbunker. The board, including a schematic diagram of the bunker, can be found at the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, two small streets about three minutes' walk from Potsdamer Platz. Hitler's bodyguard, Rochus Misch, one of the last people living who was in the bunker at the time of Hitler's suicide, was on hand for the ceremony.[64] Misch died in Berlin on 5 September 2013 at the age of 96.[65]

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 286 states the appointment was 23 April; Hamilton 2008, p. 160 states "officially" it was the morning of 24 April; Dollinger 1997, p. 228, gives 26 April for the appointment.
  2. ^ The Luftwaffe order differs in different sources. Beevor 2002, p. 342 states it was to attack Potsdamerplatz, but Ziemke states it was to support Wenck's Twelfth Army attack. Both agree that von Greim was also ordered to make sure Himmler was punished.
  3. ^ "MI5 staff 2005: Hitler's will and marriage" on the website of MI5, using the sources available to Hugh Trevor-Roper (a World War II MI5 agent and historian/author of The Last Days of Hitler), records the marriage as taking place after Hitler had dictated his last will and testament.
  4. ^ Dollinger 1997, p. 239, says Jodl replied, but Ziemke 1969, p. 120, and Beevor 2002, p. 537, say it was Keitel.
  5. ^ Dollinger 1997, p. 239, states 03:00, and Beevor 2002, p. 367, 04:00, for Krebs' meeting with Chuikov.
  6. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 126 says that Weildling gave no orders for a break-out.

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Arnold 2012.
  2. ^ Lehrer 2006, pp. 117, 119.
  3. ^ Mollo 1988, p. 28.
  4. ^ Lehrer 2006, p. 117.
  5. ^ Lehrer 2006, p. 123.
  6. ^ McNab 2014, pp. 21, 28.
  7. ^ Lehrer 2006, pp. 117, 119, 121–123.
  8. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 97.
  9. ^ a b McNab 2014, p. 28.
  10. ^ a b McNab 2011, p. 109.
  11. ^ a b c McNab 2014, p. 29.
  12. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 97, 901–902.
  13. ^ Lehrer 2006, pp. 124–125.
  14. ^ Taylor 2007, p. 184.
  15. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 278.
  16. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 902.
  17. ^ a b Bullock 1999, p. 785.
  18. ^ Speer 1971, p. 597.
  19. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 903.
  20. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 217–233.
  21. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 251.
  22. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 255.
  23. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 267–268.
  24. ^ Ziemke 1969, pp. 87–88.
  25. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 255, 256.
  26. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 275.
  27. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 89.
  28. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 934.
  29. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 111.
  30. ^ a b c Dollinger 1997, p. 228.
  31. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 322.
  32. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 98.
  33. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 923–925, 943.
  34. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 943.
  35. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 943–946.
  36. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 946.
  37. ^ a b Ziemke 1969, p. 119.
  38. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 342.
  39. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 118.
  40. ^ a b c d Dollinger 1997, p. 239.
  41. ^ a b Beevor 2002, p. 343.
  42. ^ Kershaw 2008, p. 950.
  43. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 120.
  44. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 357, last paragraph.
  45. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 358.
  46. ^ Joachimsthaler 1999, pp. 160–180.
  47. ^ Linge 2009, p. 199.
  48. ^ Kershaw 2008, pp. 956–957.
  49. ^ Williams 2005, pp. 324, 325.
  50. ^ Shirer 1960, pp. 1135–1137.
  51. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 380–381.
  52. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 383, 389.
  53. ^ Mabire 1975, p. [page needed].
  54. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 387, 388.
  55. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 387.
  56. ^ Joachimsthaler 1999, p. 287.
  57. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 398.
  58. ^ Mollo 1988, pp. 48, 49.
  59. ^ Mollo 1988, pp. 49, 50.
  60. ^ Mollo 1988, pp. 46, 48, 50–53.
  61. ^ McNab 2014, p. 21.
  62. ^ Kellerhoff 2004, pp. 27, 28.
  63. ^ Kellerhoff 2004, p. 27.
  64. ^ Der Spiegel 2006.
  65. ^ Winters & Schüssler 2013.

Sources[edit]

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