The Alpine Fortress (German: Alpenfestung) or Alpine Redoubt was the World War II national redoubt planned by Heinrich Himmler in November and December 1943[a] for Germany's government and armed forces to retreat to an area from "southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy".[b] The plan was never fully endorsed by Hitler and no serious attempt was made to put the plan into operation, although it would serve as an effective tool of propaganda and military deception by the Germans in the final stages of the war.
In the six months following the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, the American and British armies advanced to the Rhine and seemed poised to strike into the heart of Germany, while the Soviet Army, advancing from the east through Poland, reached the Oder. It seemed likely that Berlin would soon fall and Germany be divided. In these circumstances, it occurred both to some leading figures in the German regime and to the Allies that the logical thing for the Germans to do would be to move the government to the mountainous areas of southern Germany and Austria, where a relatively small number of determined troops could hold out for some time.
A number of intelligence reports to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) identified the area held stores of foodstuffs and military supplies built up over the preceding six months, and could even be harbouring armaments production facilities. Within this fortified terrain, they said, Hitler would be able to evade the Allies and cause tremendous difficulties for the occupying Allied forces throughout Germany.
The minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, set up a special unit to invent and spread rumours about an Alpenfestung. Goebbels also sent out rumours to neutral governments, thus keeping the Redoubt myth alive and its state of readiness unclear. He enlisted the assistance of the intelligence service of the SS, the SD, to produce faked blueprints and reports on construction supplies, armament production and troop transfers to the Redoubt. This utter deception of allied military intelligence is considered to be one of the greatest feats of the German Abwehr during the entire war.
Although Adolf Hitler never endorsed the plan, he issued an order on 24 April 1945 for the evacuation of remaining government personnel from Berlin to the Redoubt; he made it clear that he would not leave Berlin himself, even if it fell to the Soviets, as it did on 2 May 1945 (see Battle of Berlin).
Nevertheless, the National Redoubt had serious military and political consequences. Once the Anglo-American armies had crossed the Rhine and advanced into western Germany, a decision had to be made whether to advance on a narrow front towards Berlin or in a simultaneous push by all Western armies spanning from the North Sea to the Alps. America's most aggressive commander, Third Army head General George S. Patton in General Omar Bradley's centrally located Twelfth Army Group, had advocated a narrow front ever since D-Day, and did so again; likewise at this point British 21st Army Group chief Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in the north, each lobbying to be the decisive spearhead. Cautious Allied commander in chief U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, however, resisted both. Ultimately, this broad front strategy left the Seventh Army of General Jacob L. Devers' southern Sixth Army Group in a position at war's end to race south through Bavaria into Austria to prevent German entrenchment in any mountain redoubt and cut off alpine passes to Nazi escape.
When the American armies penetrated Bavaria and western Austria at the end of April, they met little organized resistance, and the National Redoubt was shown to have been a myth.
The Alpine Fortress was one of three reasons[which?] associated with SHAEF's movement of forces towards southern Germany rather than towards Berlin, which was planned to be in the Soviet Zone of Occupation, and the battle for which would have entailed unacceptably high Western Allied casualties.
Evacuations to the Alpine Fortress
- In February/early March 1945, SHAEF received reports that German military, government and Nazi Party offices and their staffs were leaving Berlin for the area around Berchtesgaden, the site of Hitler's retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
- In February 1945, the SS evacuated V-2 rocket scientists from the Peenemünde Army Research Center to the Alpine Fortress.
- SS Generalleutnant Gottlob Berger claimed Hitler had signed a 22 April 1945 order to evacuate 35,000 prisoners to the Alpine Fortress as hostages, but Berger did not carry out the order (many evacuated locations also failed to obey Hitler's order requiring Demolitions on Reich Territory, e.g., Mittelwerk).
Post-war claims regarding the Alpine Fortress include:
- The Alpine Fortress "grew into so exaggerated a scheme that I am astonished we could have believed it as innocently as we did. But while it persisted, this legend of the Redoubt was too ominous a threat to be ignored." (General Omar Bradley)
- Allied assessments of the Alpine Fortress were "the worst intelligence reports of all time, but no one knew that in March of 1945, and few even suspected it." (author Stephen E. Ambrose)
- "Himmler started laying the plans for underground warfare in the last two months of 1943.... The plans are threefold, embracing (1) Open warfare directed from Hitler's mountain headquarters; (2) Sabotage and guerrilla activity conducted by partisan bands organized by districts, and (3) Propaganda warfare to be carried on by some 200,000 Nazi followers in Europe and elsewhere. Strongholds Established Already picked S.S. (elite) troops have been established in underground strongholds and hospitals in the Austrian, Bavarian and Italian Alpine area and it is the plan of Nazi leaders to flee to that region when the German military collapse comes" Gallagher, Wes (13 December 1944). "Nazis Prepared for Five Years Underground Warfare". Evening Independent. St. Petersburg, Florida. Associated Press. Retrieved 4 February 2018..
- "But what of the top Nazis who cannot hide? With a compact army of young SS and Hitler Youth fanatics, they will retreat, behind a loyal rearguard cover of Volksgrenadiere and Volksstürmer, to the Alpine massif which reaches from southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy. There immense stores of food and munitions are being laid down in prepared fortifications. If the retreat is a success, such an army might hold out for years" ("World Battlefronts: Battle of Germany: The Man Who Can't Surrender". Time. February 12, 1945.)
- Headquarters, European Theater of Operations (15 April 1945). "World War II Operational Documents". pp. 382–383. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
- Nichol, John; Rennell, Tony (2002). "The Last Escape". Penguin UK. Archived from the original on 2014-02-20. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- Shirer, William L. (15 November 1990). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Simon & Schuster. pp. 1106–. ISBN 978-0-671-72868-7.
- Ambrose, Stephen E (1970). The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower (2nd reprint, illustrated ed.). University Press of Mississippi. p. 624. ISBN 9781578062065.
- United States Army in World War II, European Theater of Operations: The Last Offensive (Washington, D.C. 1973): Chapter XVIII: "The Myth of the Redoubt"