Project Riese

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Complex Książ The air raid shelter in Głuszyca Complex Jugowice Complex Włodarz Complex Soboń Complex Rzeczka Complex Osówka Complex Sokolec
Project Riese. Click on the location for a diagram of underground tunnels.

Riese [ˈʁiːzə] (German for "giant") is the code name for the construction project of Nazi Germany, started, and left unfinished, in the Owl Mountains and Książ Castle in 1943-45. It consists of seven complexes of the underground military facilities located in Lower Silesia, previously Germany, now territory of Poland.


Complex Rzeczka

In the presence of the increasing Allied air raids Nazi Germany moved a large part of its strategic armaments production into the assumed safety of the District of Sudetenland. In September 1943[1] a project was created to construct Hitler's headquarters in Książ Castle and underground factories below the Owl Mountains. For this purpose the Schlesische Industriegemeinschaft AG (Silesian Industrial Company) was established in autumn 1943 with headquarters in Jedlina-Zdrój.

Książ Castle

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[2] but the majority of the work was done by forced labourers (chiefly Poles and Russians) and POWs (Italians and Russians).[3] In November 1943 labour camps were established in Jedlinka, Głuszyca Górna, Walim and Kolce.

Dissatisfied with the progress of the project, in April 1944 supervision of construction was handed over to the Organisation Todt[3] headquartered in Jedlina-Zdrój. Prisoners of the nearby concentration camp were assigned to forced labour. They were deployed in thirteen camps and a hospital[4] in the vicinity of the complexes. The network of these camps has been named Arbeitslager Riese (List of subcamps of Arbeitslager Riese) 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.[4]

External images
Map of AL Riese [4]

According to incomplete data, at least 13,000 prisoners worked for the project,[4] most of them transferred from Auschwitz concentration camp.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] The estimated total number of 5,000 victims lost their lives.[4]

Complex Rzeczka

According to Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Third Reich:

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.[8]

Complex Osówka

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.[9]

Part of today's tourist path in Osówka

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.[10][11]

It appears that the castle and its immediate surroundings were prepared as one of Hitler's main headquarters,[8][9] although there is no direct evidence in documents. The purpose of the underground complexes in the mountains has not been determined. The opinions of experts incline towards the assumption that they were shelters for war production.[12][13] None of the underground workings are finished; all are in different states of completion with only a small percentage of tunnels reinforced by concrete, except for complex Książ.

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

Complex Książ

Książ Castle is located in the city of Wałbrzych 50°50′32″N 16°17′32″E / 50.84222°N 16.29222°E / 50.84222; 16.29222 (Książ Castle). 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 the 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 Książ Castle led to the destruction of some chambers, in particular the decorative elements of the ceilings and floors suffered. The most serious work however took place below the castle. There are two levels of corridors and chambers. The first level is 15 m underground, accessible from the castle by a lift and a staircase and also by two entrances from the gardens. It is reinforced by concrete (80 m long, 180 m2, 400 m3).[14] The second level is 53 m under the courtyard. It contains four entrances, the network of wide tunnels (5 m high and 5.5 m wide)[15] and four chambers. Most of the underground is reinforced by concrete. There are three shafts leading to the surface with diameters: 5 m (presently filled with rubble), 3.5 m and 0.7 m. The total length of the complex is 950 m (3,200 m2, 13,000 m3).[16] Presently it contains seismological measuring equipment belonging to the Polish Academy of Sciences; only the first level of the underground is open to visitors. Above ground are foundations for machinery, a series of buildings and storehouses and two reservoirs of water. There are remains of a sewage treatment plant and a narrow gauge railway. The forced laborers camp of AL Fürstenstein was built near the castle.

Complex Rzeczka

Complex Rzeczka

The complex is located on a borderline between the villages of Rzeczka and Walim, inside Ostra Mountain 50°41′19″N 16°26′40″E / 50.68861°N 16.44444°E / 50.68861; 16.44444 (Complex Rzeczka). 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).[14] Built above ground was the main telephone exchange, capable of serving a few hundred phone numbers.[17] 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.

Complex Włodarz

Complex Włodarz

The complex is located near the village of Walim, inside Włodarz Mountain 50°42′8″N 16°25′4″E / 50.70222°N 16.41778°E / 50.70222; 16.41778 (Complex Włodarz). 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).[16] Some of the 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).[14] 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.

Complex Osówka

Complex Osówka

The complex is located near the villages of Kolce and Sierpnica, inside Osówka Mountain 50°40′22″N 16°25′14″E / 50.67278°N 16.42056°E / 50.67278; 16.42056 (Complex Osówka). 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).[14] 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 1,700 m (6,700 m2, 30,000 m3).[14] 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).[16] 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.

Complex Sokolec

Complex Sokolec

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 50°38′44″N 16°27′36″E / 50.64556°N 16.46000°E / 50.64556; 16.46000 (Complex Sokolec 1) 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 50°38′35″N 16°28′2″E / 50.64306°N 16.46722°E / 50.64306; 16.46722 (Complex Sokolec 2) 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.

Complex Jugowice

Complex Jugowice

The complex is located in the village of Jugowice Górne (Jawornik), inside Dział Jawornicki Mountain 50°42′35″N 16°25′12″E / 50.70972°N 16.42000°E / 50.70972; 16.42000 (Complex Jugowice). 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.[18] 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.

Complex Soboń

Complex Soboń

The complex is located near the hamlet of Zimna Woda and the town of Głuszyca, inside Soboń Mountain 50°41′7″N 16°23′58″E / 50.68528°N 16.39944°E / 50.68528; 16.39944 (Complex Soboń). 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).[14] 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 air raid shelter in Głuszyca

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.[3] 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 50°41′13″N 16°22′38″E / 50.68694°N 16.37722°E / 50.68694; 16.37722 (Air raid shelter). It has two entrances and is reinforced by bricks and concrete. The total length of tunnels is 240 m (600 m2, 1,800 m3).[16]

Complex Miłków

The complex is located in the village of Ludwikowice Kłodzkie, the hamlet of Miłków and inside Włodyka Mountain 50°37′34″N 16°29′35″E / 50.62611°N 16.49306°E / 50.62611; 16.49306 (Complex Miłków). It is not classified as one of the complexes of Riese. It consisted of the ammunition and explosives factory Dynamit Nobel AG (code name: Mölke-Werke) which was located around the unused coalmine of Wenceslaus. The explosives from Dynamit Nobel AG were used to blast the tunnels of Riese, and the power station located here supplied the project with electricity.[14] The coalmine was closed and flooded in 1939 because of frequent methane explosions. 191 miners lost their lives in one such explosion in 1930. When adaptation works started in 1942 numerous buildings and bunkers were built for the production and storage of ammunition and explosives. They were connected by the network of concrete roads and protected by anti-aircraft artillery. The forced laborers camps of AL Ludwigsdorf I and AL Ludwigsdorf II were built nearby. Presently the complex is in a state of ruin. The coalmine is still flooded and inaccessible, except for small sections. Small part of the complex is transformed into museum and can be accessed by visitors. A large quantity of ammunition has been found hidden in the area of the complex.


List of subcamps of Arbeitslager Riese

German names Polish names (location) Number of prisoners[19]
AL Dörnhau Kolce 2000
AL Erlenbusch Olszyniec 500
AL Falkenberg Sokolec 1500
AL Fürstenstein Książ 1000
AL Kaltwasser Zimna Woda 2000
AL Lärche Glinica 2000
AL Märzbachtal Marcowy Potok (Glinica) 800
AL Sauferwasser Kłobia (stream) (Osówka) 500
AL Schotterwerk Głuszyca Górna 500
AL Tannhausen Jedlinka 1000
AL Wolfsberg Włodarz 3000
AL Wüstegiersdorf Głuszyca 1000
AL Wüstewaltersdorf Walim 1500
AL Zentralrevier Tannhausen Jedlinka infirmary

Geographical names

English Polish German
Lower Silesia Dolny Śląsk Niederschlesien administrative region
Dział Jawornicki Mittelberg mountain
Dzikowiec Ebersdorf village
Glinica Lärche village
Głuszyca Wüstegiersdorf town
Głuszyca Górna Oberwüstegiersdorf village
Gontowa Schindelberg mountain
Owl Mountains Góry Sowie Eulengebirge mountains
Jawornik Jauering hamlet
Jedlina-Zdrój Bad Chrlottenbrunn town
Jedlinka Tannhausen village
Jugowice Oberdorf village
Kłobia Sauferwassergraben stream
Kolce Dörnhau village
Książ Fürstenstein castle
Ludwikowice Kłodzkie Ludwigsdorf village
Marcowy Potok Märzbachtal stream
Miłków Mölke hamlet
Olszyniec Erlenbusch village
Osówka Säuferhöhen mountain
Ostra Spitzenberg mountain
Rogoźnica Gross-Rosen village
Rzeczka Dorfbach village
Sierpnica Rudolfswaldau village
Soboń Ramenberg mountain
Sokolec Falkenberg village
Sowina Eule village
Silesia Śląsk Schlesien region
Wacław Wenceslaus coalmine
Walim Wüstewaltersdorf village
Wałbrzych Waldenburg city
Wapnica Kalkberg mountain
Włodarz Wolfsberg mountain
Włodyka Bauerberg mountain
Zimna Woda Kaltwasser hamlet

Video games

Project Riese is the basis of Treyarch's fourth Nazi Zombie map in Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Black Ops, entitled "Der Riese". It is also the location of the flash game "Owl's Nest".

See also


  1. ^ Complex Riese, The Krzyzowa Foundation..., p.11
  2. ^ Kosmaty, J: Roboty górnicze..., p.147
  3. ^ a b c Lewandowski, P: The Builders
  4. ^ a b c d e Gross-Rosen Museum in Rogoźnica
  5. ^ Gutterman, B: A narrow bridge to life..., p.126, 127
  6. ^ Cybulski, B: Z badań nad śmiertelnością..., p.277
  7. ^ Complex Riese, The Krzyzowa Foundation..., p.7
  8. ^ a b Speer, A: Inside the Third Reich, p.217
  9. ^ a b von Below, N: Byłem adiutantem Hitlera
  10. ^ Lewandowski, P: Vanishing Files
  11. ^ Lewandowski, P: Convoy
  12. ^ Lewandowski, P: The Giant
  13. ^ Kosmaty, J: Roboty górnicze..., p.145
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Aniszewski, M: Podziemny świat Gór Sowich
  15. ^ Kosmaty, J: Roboty górnicze..., p.158
  16. ^ a b c d Kruszyński, P: Podziemia w Górach Sowich i Zamku Książ
  17. ^ Kosmaty, J: Roboty górnicze..., p.146
  18. ^ Sudecka Grupa Eksploracyjna
  19. ^ Complex Riese, The Krzyzowa Foundation..., p.7, 8, 9


  • (Polish) Kruszyński, Piotr: Podziemia w Górach Sowich i Zamku Książ, Wałbrzych 1989.
  • (Polish) Aniszewski, Mariusz: Podziemny świat Gór Sowich (wyd.2, rozszerzone), Wydawnictwo Technol, Kraków 2006
  • (Polish) Kosmaty, Jerzy: Roboty górnicze prowadzone w Górach Sowich w ramach programu "Riese" w okresie drugiej wojny światowej, Prace Naukowe Instytutu Górnictwa Politechniki Wrocławskiej Nr 117, Studia i Materiały Nr 32, Wrocław 2006
  • Speer, Albert: Inside the Third Reich, The Macmillan Company, New York 1970
  • Lewandowski, Piotr: "The Giant", The Warsaw Voice, April 7, 2004
  • Lewandowski, Piotr: "The Builders", The Warsaw Voice, April 7, 2004
  • Lewandowski, Piotr: "Vanishing Files", The Warsaw Voice, January 19, 2005
  • Lewandowski, Piotr: "Convoy", The Warsaw Voice, April 20, 2005
  • Franke, Annemarie; Ernst, Ulrike; Veit, Charlotte; Kobylarz, Renata; Zajaczkowski, Mariusz; Szurlej, Monika; Grützbauch, Johanna: "Complex Riese", The Krzyzowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding in Europe, 2006
  • (Polish) Sudecka Grupa Eksploracyjna "Kompleks Jawornik", 2008
  • (Polish) von Below, Nicolaus: Byłem adiutantem Hitlera, MON publishers, Warsaw 1990
  • Gross-Rosen Museum in Rogoźnica "History of AL Riese",
  • Gutterman, Bella: A narrow bridge to life: Jewish Forced Labor and Survival in the Gross-Rosen Camp System, 1940-1945, Berghahn Books, 2008
  • (Polish) Cybulski, Bogdan: Z badań nad śmiertelnością wśród więźniów KL Gross-Rosen w Górach Sowich w latach 1944-1945, Acta Universitatis Wratislaviensis: Studia nad Faszyzmem i Zbrodniami Hitlerowskimi, 1982

External links