The Wolf's Lair (German: Wolfsschanze; Polish: Wilczy Szaniec) was Adolf Hitler's first Eastern Front military headquarters in World War II. The complex, which became one of several Führerhauptquartiere (Führer Headquarters) in various parts of Eastern Europe, was built for the start of Operation Barbarossa—the invasion of the Soviet Union—in 1941. It was constructed by Organisation Todt.
|Part of Führerhauptquartiere|
Hitler's reinforced bunker at the Wolfsschanze
|Type||Camouflaged concrete bunkers|
|Built by||Hochtief AG, Organisation Todt|
|In use||June 1941 – January 1945|
|Materials||2 m (6 ft 7 in) steel-reinforced concrete|
|Fate||Partially demolished by retreating German forces|
|Events||20 July Plot|
The top-secret, high-security site was in the Masurian woods about eight kilometres (5.0 mi) east of the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg. Three security zones surrounded the central complex where the Führer's bunker was located. These were guarded by personnel from the Reichssicherheitsdienst and the Wehrmacht's armoured Führerbegleitbrigade. Despite the security, the most notable assassination attempt against Hitler was made at Wolf's Lair on 20 July 1944.
Hitler first arrived at the headquarters on 23 June 1941. In total, he spent more than 800 days at the Wolfsschanze during a 3½-year period until his final departure on 20 November 1944. In mid-1944, work began to enlarge and reinforce many of the Wolf's Lair original buildings. The work was never completed because of the rapid advance of the Red Army during the Baltic Offensive in late 1944. On 25 January 1945, the complex was blown up and abandoned 48 hours before the arrival of Soviet forces.
Wolfsschanze is derived from "Wolf", a self-adopted nickname of Hitler. He began using the nickname in the early 1930s and it was often how he was addressed by those in his intimate circle. "Wolf" was used in several titles of Hitler's headquarters throughout occupied Europe, such as Wolfsschlucht I and II in Belgium and France and Werwolf in Ukraine.
The decision was made in late 1940 to build Wolf's Lair in the middle of a forest, far from major roads and urban areas. The 6.5 km2 (2.5 sq mi) complex was completed by 21 June 1941 and consisted of three concentric security zones. About two thousand people lived and worked at Wolf's Lair at its peak, among them twenty women, some of whom were required to eat Hitler's food to test for poison. The installations were served by a nearby airfield and railway lines. Buildings within the complex were camouflaged with bushes, grass, and artificial trees on the flat roofs; netting was also erected between buildings and the surrounding forest so that the installation looked like unbroken dense woodland from the air.
- Sperrkreis 1 (Security Zone 1) was located at the heart of the Wolf's Lair, ringed by steel fencing and guarded by the Reichssicherheitsdienst (RSD). It contained the Führer Bunker and ten other camouflaged bunkers built from 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) thick steel-reinforced concrete. These shelters protected members of Hitler's inner circle such as Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel, and Alfred Jodl. Hitler's accommodation was on the northern side of Führer Bunker so as to avoid direct sunlight. Both Hitler's and Keitel's bunkers had additional rooms where military conferences could be held.
- Sperrkreis 2 (Security Zone 2) surrounded the inner zone. This area housed the quarters of several Reich Ministers such as Fritz Todt, Albert Speer, and Joachim von Ribbentrop. It also housed the quarters of the personnel who worked in the Wolf's Lair and the military barracks for the RSD.
- Sperrkreis 3 (Security Zone 3) was the heavily fortified outer security area which surrounded the two inner zones. It was defended by land mines and the Führer Begleit Brigade (FBB), a special armoured security unit from Wehrmacht which manned guardhouses, watchtowers, and checkpoints.
A facility for Army headquarters was also located near Wolf's lair complex. The RSD had overall responsibility for Hitler's personal security, although external protection of the complex was provided by the FBB, which had become a regiment by July 1944. The FBB was equipped with tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and other heavy weapons. Any approaching aircraft could be detected up to 100 kilometres (62 mi) from the Wolf's Lair. Additional troops were also stationed about 75 kilometres (47 mi) away.
Hitler's secretary Traudl Junge recalled that Hitler repeatedly spoke in late 1943 or early 1944 of a possible bomber attack on the Wolfsschanze by the Western Allies. She quoted Hitler as saying, "They know exactly where we are, and sometime they’re going to destroy everything here with carefully aimed bombs. I expect them to attack any day."
According to Speer, between 28 July 1941 and 20 March 1942, Hitler left Rastenburg only four times for a total of 57 days. Afterwards, Hitler spent the next three months in Obersalzberg before returning to Rastenburg for the next nine months.
Hitler's entourage returned to the Wolfsschanze from an extended summer stay at the Berghof in July 1944. The previous small bunkers had been replaced by the Organisation Todt with "heavy, colossal structures" of reinforced concrete as defense against the feared air attack. According to Armaments Minister Albert Speer, "some 36,000,000 marks were spent for bunkers in Rastenburg [Wolf's Lair]." Hitler's bunker had become the largest, "a positive fortress" containing "a maze of passages, rooms and halls." Junge wrote, "We had air-raid warnings every day" in the period between the 20 July assassination attempt and Hitler's final departure from the Wolfsschanze in November 1944, "but there was never more than a single aircraft circling over the forest, and no bombs were dropped. All the same, Hitler took the danger very seriously, and thought all these reconnaissance flights were in preparation for the big raid he was expecting."
No air attack ever came. It has never been revealed whether the Western Allies knew of the Wolfsschanze's location and importance. The Soviet Union was unaware of both the location and the scale of the complex until it was uncovered by their forces in their advance towards Germany in early 1945.
Hitler's daily routine
Hitler would begin his day when he was in residence by taking a walk alone with his dog around 9 or 10 am, and at 10:30 am he looked at the mail that had been delivered by air or courier train. A noon situation briefing was convened in Keitel's and Jodl's bunker and frequently ran for two hours. This was followed by lunch at 2 pm in the dining hall. Hitler invariably sat in the same seat between Jodl and Otto Dietrich, while Keitel, Martin Bormann, and Göring's adjutant General Karl Bodenschatz sat opposite him.
After lunch, Hitler dealt with non-military matters for the remainder of the afternoon. Coffee was served around 5 pm, followed by a second military briefing by Jodl at 6 pm. Dinner could also last as long as two hours, beginning at 7:30 pm, after which films were shown in the cinema. Hitler then retired to his private quarters where he gave monologues to his entourage, including the two female secretaries who had accompanied him 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.
In July 1944, an attempt was made to kill Hitler at Wolf's Lair which became known as the 20 July plot. It was organized by a group of acting and retired Heer officers and some civilians who wanted to remove Hitler in order to establish a new government in Germany. After several failed attempts to kill him, Wolf's Lair was chosen as a viable location, despite its security. Staff officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg would carry a briefcase bomb into a daily conference meeting and place it just a few feet away from Hitler.
The location was changed to a briefing building (Lagebaracke) on the day of the strategy meeting due to the reconstruction of the Führer Bunker in mid-1944. Stauffenberg's assassination attempt was unsuccessful because of this change in venue, along with several other factors, such as Hitler unexpectedly calling the meeting earlier than anticipated. The bomb exploded at 12:43 pm; the interior of the building was devastated, but Hitler was only slightly injured. Four people died from their wounds, either a few days later or in the months ahead.
Before the bomb detonated, Stauffenberg and his adjutant Lieutenant Werner von Haeften had already begun to leave the Wolfsschanze in order to return to Berlin. Their escape involved passing through various security zones that controlled all access around the site. After a short delay at the RSD guard post just outside Sperrkreis 1, they were allowed to leave by vehicle. The two officers were then driven down the southern exit road towards the military airstrip near Rastenburg.
The alarm had been raised by the time they reached the guardhouse at the perimeter of Sperrkreis 2. According to the official RSHA report, "at first the guard refused passage until 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 Haeften tossed another briefcase from the car containing an unused second bomb. The two men reached the outer limit of the Wolfsschanze security zones and were allowed to catch their plane back to army general headquarters in Berlin.
The attempted assassination of Hitler at the Wolf Lair was part of Operation Valkyrie, a covert plan to take control and suppress any revolt in the German Reich following Hitler's death. News arrived from Wolf's Lair that Hitler was still alive, and troops loyal to the Nazi regime quickly re-established control of key government buildings. Von Stauffenberg, his adjutant Werner von Haeften, and several co-conspirators were arrested and shot the same evening outside the Bendlerblock in Berlin.
On 20 August 1944, Hitler personally presented survivors of the bomb blast with a gold "20 July 1944 Wound Badge". Next-of-kin of those killed in the blast were also given this award.
Demise and capture
The Red Army reached the borders of East Prussia during the Baltic Offensive in October 1944. Hitler departed from the Wolf's Lair for the final time on 20 November when the Soviet advance reached Angerburg (now Węgorzewo), 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) away. Two days later, the order was given to destroy the complex. The demolition took place on the night of 24–25 January 1945, ten days after the start of the Red Army's Vistula–Oder Offensive. Tons of explosives were used; one bunker required an estimated 8,000 kg (18,000 lb) of TNT. Most of the buildings were only partially destroyed due to their immense size and reinforced structures.
The Red Army captured the abandoned remains of the Wolfsschanze on 27 January without firing a shot, the same day that Auschwitz was liberated farther south. It took until 1955 to clear over 54,000 land mines that surrounded the installation.
The area was cleared of abandoned ordnance such as land mines following the war, and the entire site was left to decay by Poland's Communist government. The Wolf's Lair has been developed as a tourist attraction since the Fall of Communism in the early 1990s. Visitors can make day trips from Warsaw or Gdańsk. Hotels and restaurants have grown up near the site. Plans have periodically been proposed to restore the area, including the installation of historical exhibits.
As of 2019, the site was drawing almost 300,000 visitors a year. The Srokowo Forest District, which manages the site, announced plans to upgrade the area. These include a new entrance building, a new car park, and new information panels. The District is also considering building a hotel and restaurant, and staging re-enactments with static figures in Nazi uniforms. Critics worried that the planned changes could turn the site into a place for neo-Nazi pilgrimages, although the District's spokesperson said that they would "make every effort" to maintain "due seriousness and respect for historical truth". Pawel Machcewicz, a Polish historian who specializes in World War II, said that "[T]he scars left by the war should be preserved and presented as a lesson, a warning. ... Exhibitions should explain the history, contextualise the place, but not completely overshadow it."
- Kershaw 2000
- Wolf's Lair website
- Claire Cohen (18 September 2014). "Last surviving female food taster, 96: 'I never saw Hitler, but I had to risk my life for him every day'". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
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- Speer, Albert (1995). Inside the Third Reich. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 401. ISBN 9781842127353.
- Junge, Traudl. Until the Final Hour. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003, p. 126.
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- Berlin: The Fateful Siege, Antony Beevor
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- Wolf's Lair amenities Archived 25 March 2015 at the Wayback Machine
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- Peter, Lawrence (31 July 2019) "Wolf's Lair: Will Hitler HQ makeover create a Nazi theme park?" BBC News
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- Junge, Traudl, "Voices from the Bunker", New York: G.P.Puttnam's sons, 1989.
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