Wolfsschanze

Coordinates: 54°04′45.64″N 21°29′36.76″E / 54.0793444°N 21.4935444°E / 54.0793444; 21.4935444

Wolf's Lair is the standard English name for Wolfsschanze, Adolf Hitler's first World War II Eastern Front military headquarters, one of several Führerhauptquartier (Führer Headquarters) or FHQs located in various parts of Europe. The complex, which was built for Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, was located in the Masurian woods, about 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) from the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg, now Kętrzyn in Poland.

The original bunker system was constructed by Organisation Todt, but the later planned enlargement was never finished; the expansion work was stopped only a few days before the Russian advance to Angerburg (now Węgorzewo), only 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) away.

Hitler first arrived at the Wolf's Lair late on the night of 23 June 1941, and departed for the last time on 20 November 1944. Overall, he spent over 800 days there during that 3½-year period.

The complex was blown up and abandoned on 25 January 1945, but many of the bunkers were so thick that their damaged walls and ceilings remain. The remains are located in Poland at the hamlet of Gierłoż (German: Forst Görlitz) near Kętrzyn.

Overview

The decision to build the Wolf's Lair was made in the autumn of 1940. Built in the middle of a protecting forest, and located far from major roads, the complex occupied more than 6.5 km2 (2.5 sq mi) and consisted of three separate security zones, the most important of which was Sperrkreis 1 (Security Zone 1), in which was located the Führer Bunker and concrete shelters of members of the inner circle such as Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, OKW chief Wilhelm Keitel and "chief of operations" OKW Alfred Jodl. There were a total of ten bunkers in this area, all camouflaged and protected by 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) of steel-reinforced concrete. Hitler's was on the northern end, with all its windows facing north to avoid direct sunlight. Both Hitler's and Keitel's bunkers had rooms in which military conferences could be held.

Sperrkreis 2 (Security Zone 2) included military barracks and housing for several important Reich Ministers like Albert Speer, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Fritz Todt as well as Hitler's escort battalion, the Führer Begleit Brigade. Sperrkreis 3 (Security Zone 3) made up the outer security area of the compound, complete with land mines, special security troops and guard houses.

Close by was a facility for the Wehrmacht Operations Staff, and army headquarters was located several kilometres to the northeast of the FHQ complex. All these installations were served by a nearby airfield and train lines.

About two thousand people lived and worked at the Wolf's Lair at its peak, among them twenty women.

Name origin

A self-adopted nickname of Hitler's was "Wolf", likely suggested by the derivation of his given name Adolf from the Old High German adal and wolf ("noble wolf"). Hitler began using the nickname in the early 1920s, and was so addressed only by those in his intimate circle. The nickname is reflected in the names of his various headquarters scattered throughout continental Europe, which also include Wolfsschlucht in Belgium and Wehrwolf in Ukraine.

Although the standard name in English for Wolfsschanze is "Wolf's Lair", the German name does not actually mean this. Schanze is a term from military engineering and is best translated as "fortification" or "sconce".

Daily routine

When Hitler was in residence, he would begin the day by taking a walk alone with his dog around 9 or 10 a.m., and at 10:30 a.m. would look at the mail which had been delivered by air or courier train, but the daily routine centred on a noon situation briefing held in Keitel's and Jodl's bunker, which frequently ran as long as two hours. This was followed by a long lunch at 2 p.m., where Hitler would invariably sit in the same place, as he did at every meal, between Jodl and Otto Dietrich, the Nazi Press Chief, while opposite him sat Keitel, Hitler's secretary, Martin Bormann and General Karl Heinrich Bodenschatz, Göring's adjutant.

After lunch, Hitler would deal with non-military matters for the remainder of the afternoon. Coffee was served around 5 p.m., followed by a second military briefing by Jodl at 6 p.m. Dinner, which could last as long as two hours, began at 7:30 p.m., after which films were shown. The late nights were taken up by Hitler's monologues to his entourage, including two of his female secretaries, who had accompanied Hitler to the Wolf's Lair. Occasionally Hitler and his entourage listened to gramophone records of Beethoven symphonies, selections from Wagner or other operas, or German lieder.

Security and camouflage

The Reichssicherheitsdienst (Reich Security Service) or RSD had overall responsibility for Hitler's personal security, but external protection of the complex was provided by the Führer Escort Battalion (FBB), which, despite its name, had reached regiment strength by July 1944. The Battalion was heavily equipped, with tanks, anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons. Aircraft could be detected about 100 kilometres (62 mi) from the complex. Additional troops were stationed about 75 kilometres (47 mi) away.

The buildings in the complex were camouflaged by having bushes, grass and artificial trees planted on the flat roofs, and by the use of camouflage netting between the building and the surrounding forest. From the air, the installation looked like dense forest.

Assassination attempt

The Wolf's Lair was the location of the July 20 plot to kill Hitler. During the period of reconstruction of the Führer Bunker in the summer of 1944, the daily strategy meetings were moved to the little building known as the Lager barrack, where staff officer Claus von Stauffenberg carried a bomb hidden in a briefcase into the meeting room and placed it just a few feet away from Hitler. At 12:43 p.m. the bomb devastated the interior of the building but left Hitler only slightly injured. However, four others died from their wounds a few days later. The force of the blast was diminished because, due to a war injury to his hand, Stauffenberg was unable to arm both bombs in the briefcase; and a staff officer unknowingly moved the briefcase on the opposite side of a thick wooden table leg from where von Stauffenberg had placed it, probably saving Hitler's life. It is believed that had the bomb exploded in the massive concrete Führer Bunker as originally intended, everyone in the structure including Hitler would have been killed.

Plotters' escape

Just moments before the blast, the would-be assassin and his adjutant, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften rapidly made their way from the conference barrack toward the first guard post just outside Sperrkeis 1. After a short delay they were allowed to pass and proceeded along the southern exit road toward Rastenburg airport. By the time they reached the guard house at the perimeter of Sperrkreis 2, the alarm had been sounded. According to the official Gestapo report, "at first the guard refused passage until von Stauffenberg persuaded him to contact the adjutant to the compound commander who then finally authorized clearance". It was between here and the final checkpoint of Sperrkreis 3 that von Haeften tossed a second briefcase from the car containing a second bomb which was also intended to explode in the conference barrack. It is believed that had this bomb also been placed with the other, everyone inside would have been killed. Checkpoint three, the final barrier located at the outer reaches of the Wolfsschanze, was expected to prove impenetrable, but the two men were simply waved through to the Rastenburg airport.

Thirty minutes after the bomb blast the two men were airborne and on their way back to Berlin and Army general headquarters. It was in this building, called the Bendlerblock, that "Operation Valkyrie", a covert plan to react to the breakdown in civil order of the nation and suppress any revolt was transformed into the secret plot to assassinate the Führer of the German Reich. However, when it was discovered that Hitler was still alive, the plan was doomed and along with it von Stauffenberg, his adjutant Werner von Haeften and co-conspirators General Friedrich Olbricht and his chief of staff Colonel Albrecht Mertz von Quirnheim, who were arrested and executed in the courtyard of the Bendlerblock on the evening of July 20, 1944.

Aftermath

On 20 August 1944, Hitler personally presented the survivors of the bomb blast with a special award: The Wound Badge of 20 July 1944, along with an ornate award document. Hitler had believed that his survival was "divine providence", and had the special wound badge made to reflect this belief, although he did not award one to himself. Next-of-kin of those killed in the bomb blast were given this wound badge in Gold.

Demolition

The Red Army reached the nearby border of East Prussia in October 1944. Hitler departed on 20 November and two days later the order was given to destroy the complex. The actual demolition did not take place until the night of 24–25 January 1945. Many tons of explosives were required to do the job; one bunker required an estimated 8 tons of TNT. The Red Army took the site without a shot two days later, on 27 January. It took until 1955 to clear over 54,000 landmines which surrounded the installation.

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