Riese [ˈʁiːzə] (German for "giant") is the code name for the construction project of Nazi Germany in 1943-45. It consists of seven underground structures located in the Owl Mountains and Książ Castle in Lower Silesia, previously Germany, now territory of Poland. None of them was finished, all are in different states of completion with only a small percentage of tunnels reinforced by concrete.
The purpose of the project remains uncertain because of lack of documentation. Some sources suggest that all the structures were part of Hitler's headquarters, some advocate it was a combination of HQ and arms industry but comparison to similar facilities can indicate that only the castle was adapted as an HQ or other official residence and the tunnels in the Owl Mountains were planned as a network of underground factories.
- 1 History
- 2 The individual structures of the project
- 3 Gallery
- 4 List of camps
- 5 Geographical names
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
In the presence of the increasing Allied air raids Nazi Germany relocated a large part of its strategic armaments production into safer regions including the District of Sudetenland. Plans to protect critical infrastructure also involved transfer of the arms factories to underground bunkers and construction of the air-raid shelters for government officials.
In September 1943 preparations began to build underground structures in the Owl Mountains and Książ Castle. For this purpose the Schlesische Industriegemeinschaft AG (Silesian Industrial Company) was established in autumn 1943 with headquarters in Jedlina-Zdrój.
The plans included adaptation works in Książ Castle, the creation of the underground complex below the castle, and the construction of tunnels and large underground halls at several locations in the Owl Mountains. The rocks of the mountains were drilled and blasted with explosives and the resulting caverns were reinforced by concrete and steel. Then a network of roads, a narrow gauge railway, water supply, sewerage, electricity and telephone lines were put into place. For this purpose mining specialists were employed, mostly Germans, Italians, Ukrainians and Czechs but the majority of the work was done by forced labourers (chiefly Poles and Russians) and POWs (Italians and Russians). In November 1943 labour camps were established in Jedlinka, Głuszyca Górna, Walim and Kolce (List of camps).
|Map of AL Riese |
Dissatisfied with the progress of the project, in April 1944 supervision of construction was handed over to the Organisation Todt headquartered in Jedlina-Zdrój. Prisoners of the nearby concentration camp were assigned to forced labour. They were deployed in thirteen camps and a hospital in the vicinity of the complexes. The network of these camps has been named Arbeitslager Riese (List of camps) and was part of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. The administration of Arbeitslager Riese and the camp commander (SS-Hauptsturmführer Albert Lütkemeyer) were located in AL Wüstegiersdorf. From December 1944 to January 1945 the prisoners were guarded by 853 SS troops.
According to incomplete data, at least 13,000 prisoners worked for the project, most of them transferred from Auschwitz concentration camp. The documents allow the identification of 8,995 prisoners. All of them were Jews, about 70 percent from Hungary, the rest from Poland, Greece, Romania, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. They bored tunnels inside mountains, built roads and railway tracks, worked in the transportation of building materials. Mortality was very high because of disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, dangerous underground works and the treatment of prisoners by German guards. The deportation of 857 exhausted prisoners to Auschwitz concentration camp as well as 14 planned executions after failed escape attempts are documented. The estimated total number of 5,000 victims lost their lives.
And in 1944 he [Hitler] had two underground headquarters blasted into mountains in Silesia and Thuringia, the project tying up hundreds of indispensable mining specialists and thousands of workmen. (...) According to Point 18 of the Führerprotokoll, June 20, 1944, I reported to the Fuehrer that "at the moment a good 28,000 workers are building additions to the Fuehrer's headquarters." According to my memorandum of September 22, 1944, some 36,000,000 marks were spent for bunkers in Rastenburg [Wolf's Lair], 13,000,000 for bunkers in Pullach near Munich to provide for Hitler's safety when he visited Munich, and 150,000,000 for the bunker complex called the "Giant" near Bad Charlottenbrunn. These projects required 328,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete (including small quantities of masonry), 277,000 cubic yards of underground passages, 36 miles of roads with six bridges, and 62 miles of pipes. The "Giant" complex alone consumed more concrete than the entire population had at its disposal for air-raid shelters in 1944.
According to Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's adjutant:
The plans that we kept criticizing in those months [early 1944] included the construction of a huge new Headquarters for the Führer in Silesia, near Waldenburg, which was also to include Fürstenstein Castle within the estate of the von Pless princes. Hitler defended his orders and commanded that construction continue with the use of concentration camp prisoners managed by Speer. During the year, I visited this facility twice and each time had the strong impression that I wouldn't see its completion. I tried to inspire Speer to somehow influence Hitler to give the order that the project be stopped. Speer said that was impossible. The extravagant work continued - at a time when every tonne of concrete and steel was so urgently needed elsewhere.
Together with the Red Army the Polish Army arrived in the area in May 1945. After the war the complexes were stripped of all machinery and raw materials within a few years. They were very valuable to a country ruined as a result of six years of war. Some German documents concerning Project Riese were found by the Polish Army and taken over by The Office of Security and never seen again.
Presently the underground workings are visited by tourists and enthusiasts of military facilities. Much of the underground system is closed because of the risk of accidents. The complexes Rzeczka, Włodarz and Osówka are open to visitors.
The individual structures of the project
Książ Castle (German: Fürstenstein) is located in the city of Wałbrzych (German: Waldenburg) . The castle’s last owner in the inter-war period was the Hochberg family, one of the wealthiest baronial dynasties in Prussia, Hans Heinrich XV, Prince of Pless and his English wife Mary-Theresa Olivia Cornwallis-West (Princess Daisy). In 1941 the Nazis confiscated the castle. At that time sons of Daisy and Hans Heinrich fought against Hitler’s army; one in the British Army and one in the Polish Armed Forces in the West.
The works in the castle were extensive and led to the destruction of many decorative elements. New staircase and elevator shafts were built to improve emergency evacuation routes. The most serious work however took place below the castle. There are two levels of tunnels. The first is 15 m underground and was accessible from the castle by a lift and a staircase and also by an entrance from the gardens. The tunnel (80 m, 180 m2, 400 m3) is reinforced by concrete and leads to an elevator shaft hidden 15 m under the courtyard, the direct way from the castle to the main underground complex. The shaft (35 m) has not been explored because is filled with rubble. Provisional, short tunnel from the gardens was bored to assist in its excavation.
The second level of underground (950 m, 3,200 m2, 13,000 m3) is 53 m under the courtyard. Four tunnels were bored into the base of the hill (1 - 85 m, 2 - 42 m, 3 - 88 m, 4 - 70 m). The complex contains large tunnels (5 m high and 5.6 m wide) and four chambers. Most of the underground is reinforced by concrete. There are two additional shafts leading to the surface. One with dimensions 3,5 x 3,5 m (45 m) and one with diameter 0.5 m (40 m), presently used to supply electricity.
Above ground are foundations of buildings and machinery, two reservoirs of water, pumping station and remains of a sewage treatment plant. Narrow gauge railway connecting tunnels with the railway station in the village of Lubiechów (German: Liebichau) was dismantled after the war.
In May 1944 AL Fürstenstein was established in the vicinity of the castle  Between 700 and 1000 concentration camp prisoners lived in barracks. They were Jews, citizens of Hungary, Poland and Greece. Evacuation of the camp took place in February 1945..
Today the castle and the first level of underground are open to the public. The second level contains seismological and geodesical measuring equipment belonging to the Polish Academy of Sciences.
The complex is located on a borderline between the villages of Rzeczka and Walim, inside Ostra Mountain . There are three entrances leading to parallel tunnels about 45 m away from each other. Between them are large halls (up to 10 m in height), one is reinforced by concrete, two are collapsed. The tunnel number 1 is 100 m long and has an almost finished guardroom. There is one shaft leading to the surface (depth 30 m, diameter 5 m), presently filled with rubble. The length of the complex of tunnels is 500 m (2,500 m2, 14,000 m3). Built above ground was the main telephone exchange, capable of serving a few hundred phone numbers. A narrow gauge railway was used for transportation. In 1995 the complex Rzeczka was opened for visitors and in spring 2001 transformed into museum. It contains exhibits connected to history of Project Riese.
The complex is located near the village of Walim, inside Włodarz Mountain . There are four entrances 80 m - 160 m away from each other leading to tunnels (180 m - 240 m long) containing guardrooms. The entire complex is a large amount of corridors intersecting at right angles and forming a grid. It contains one of the biggest unfinished halls (10 m high). There is a shaft leading to the surface (depth 40 m, diameter 4 m). Some corridors have higher second levels connected by small shafts (depth 3 m - 5 m, diameter 1.5 m). This is a stage of creating big halls. Two tunnels were bored, one over the other and then the ceiling was collapsed to create a large space. Approximately 30% of the complex is flooded and can only be accessed by boat. The total length of the tunnels is 3,100 m (10,700 m2, 42,000 m3). Above ground are foundations for machinery and buildings, the reservoir of water and storehouses with thousands of fossilized bags of cement. The forced laborers camp of AL Wolfsberg was built near the complex. The network of narrow gauge railways, existing here after the war, was disassembled and scrapped. The complex is open to visitors.
The complex is located near the villages of Kolce and Sierpnica, inside Osówka Mountain . It has two entrances and one tunnel not connected to the main underground, all on different levels. There is a shaft leading to the surface (depth 48 m, diameter 5 m). The tunnel number 1 (150 m long) has chambers created for a guardroom. The tunnel number 2 (450 m long) begins on the level 15 m below the main underground. It has a guardroom reinforced by concrete and behind it there is the so-called "fault". It is a connection of two levels created by the collapse of the ceiling. The tunnel number 3 (120 m long) is not connected to the main underground. It is 450 m away from the entrance number 2 and 45 m below the level of the main underground. The tunnel contains two dams and hydraulic equipment of unknown purpose. The total length of the tunnels is 1,750 m (6,700 m2, 30,000 m3). Above ground are foundations for machinery and buildings, the depots of building materials and the reservoir of water. The network of narrow gauge railway existed here after the war. The forced laborers camp of AL Sauferwasser was built near the complex. Two objects are particularly interesting, the so-called "officers' mess" (679 m2, 2,300 m3) and the "power station" (894 m2). The "officers' mess" is a building with walls 0.5 m thick and a roof adapted for a camouflage by vegetation. An unfinished subway (30 m long) connects it with the shaft. The "power station" is a concrete monolith (30 m x 30 m) with tens of pipes, drains, culverts and equipment of unknown purpose. The complex is open to visitors.
The complex is located near the villages of Sokolec and Sowina, inside Gontowa Mountain. It consists of two independent undergrounds 1 km apart on different levels. The underground 640 m AMSL has two entrances 100 m apart leading to tunnels containing chambers for guardrooms. The tunnel number 1 is 130 m long and the tunnel number 2 is 150 m long. The underground is collapsed in many places because the complex was bored in soft rock of sandstone. The underground 580 m AMSL has two independent tunnels 200 m apart. The tunnel number 3 was opened in 2011 (160 m long). The tunnel number 4 (100 m long) was opened in 1994, one of two short tunnels which were found with mining equipment from 1945. The total length of the known tunnels is 1,120 m (3,136 m2, 9,352 m3). Above ground are remains of building and storage infrastructure and a narrow gauge railway. The forced laborers camp of AL Falkenberg was built near the complex.
The complex is located in the village of Jugowice Górne (Jawornik), inside Dział Jawornicki Mountain . It has seven entrances leading to six independent tunnels. The tunnel number 1 is 10 m long. The tunnels number 2 (115 m long) and number 4 lead to an underground of the total length of 450 m. There is a shaft leading from the surface (depth 16 m, diameter 0.5 - 0.6 m) near the underground but not connected to it. The tunnel number 3 is 15 m long. The tunnel number 5 is 5 m long. The tunnel number 6 is collapsed 30 m from the entrance and has not been explored yet. It has double armoured doors, one at the entrance and one behind the collapse. The tunnel number 7 has length of 40 m with concrete reinforcement 10 m long. The identified tunnels of the complex have length of 550 m (1,400 m2, 3,000 m3). Above ground are remains of building and storage infrastructure and a narrow gauge railway. The forced laborers camp of AL Wüstewaltersdorf was built near the complex.
The complex is located near the hamlet of Zimna Woda and the town of Głuszyca, inside Soboń Mountain . It contains three tunnels running from three directions to one point. The tunnel number 1 is 216 m long, number 2 is 250 m long. The tunnel number 3 (180 m long) is not connected to the main underground. It is collapsed 83 m from the entrance and has been explored in 2013 by drilling shaft from above. It is one of two short tunnels which were found with mining equipment from 1945. The total length of tunnels is 700 m (1,900 m2, 4,000 m3). Above ground are several buildings, a bunker and traces of earthworks carried out on a massive scale. A narrow gauge railway was used for transportation. The forced laborers camp of AL Lärche was built near the complex.
The palace is located in the village of Jedlinka (German: Tannhausen) . In 1943 it was purchased by the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV) (National Socialist People's Welfare) from Böhm family as a result of their financial problems. At the beginning of 1944 the plans to transform it into hospital were disrupted because the building was confiscated by military authorities and adapted as headquarters for the Schlesische Industriegemeinschaft AG (Silesian Industrial Company). Air raid shelter was created in the cellar with armoured, gasproof doors. The palace and nearby town of Jedlina-Zdrój (German: Bad Charlottenbrunn) was established as general base of operations for Project Riese. The corporation was responsible for construction work and supervising all companies and local businesses taking part in the project on behalf of the Main Building Commission of the Ministry of Arms.
In April 1944 the Schlesische Industriegemeinschaft AG was deemed too inefficient and replaced by the Organisation Todt (OT) under supervision of the chief engineer Franz Xaver Dorsch. The Oberbauleitung Riese (OBL Riese) was established. It was the OT basic construction sector and administrative HQ. The palace was occupied by the OT until May 1945. Presently it is open to the public.
The town of Głuszyca was in the centre of activity connected to Project Riese. Many camps of forced laborers were located in this area. It was a reloading place for the majority of supplies due to existence of a railway junction. In autumn 1943 the factory of Maschinenbau F. Krupp was relocated here from Essen. It took over local industry, mostly textile factories and adapted them to armaments production. As a preparation for the war an air raid shelter was built inside a hill near the factory of Mayer-Kauffmann Textilwerke AG . It has two entrances and is reinforced by bricks and concrete. The total length of tunnels is 240 m (600 m2, 1,800 m3).
List of camps
|German names||Polish place names||Coordinates||Dates of use|
|Gemeinschaftslager I Wüstewaltersdorf||Walim||Nov 1943-May 1945|
|Gemeinschaftslager II Dörnhau||Kolce||Nov 1943-May 1945|
|Gemeinschaftslager III Wüstegiersdorf||Głuszyca||Nov 1943-May 1945|
|Gemeinschaftslager IV Oberwüstegiersdorf||Głuszyca Górna||Nov 1943-May 1945|
|Gemeinschaftslager V Tannhausen||Jedlinka||Mar 1944-1945|
|German names||Polish place names||Coordinates||Est. prisoners|
|AL Kaltwasser||Zimna Woda||2000|
|AL Märzbachtal||Dolina Marcowa||800|
|AL Schotterwerk||Głuszyca Górna||400-500|
|AL Zentralrevier Tannhausen||Jedlinka||infirmary|
|Lower Silesia||Dolny Śląsk||Niederschlesien||administrative region|
|Owl Mountains||Góry Sowie||Eulengebirge||mountains|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Riese.|
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