Hitler's stay in Wolf's Lair
Hitler came to Wolf's Lair with his adjutants on 24 of June 1941. He spent over 800 days here. Life of all residents focused around him. In 1944 more than 2000 people lived here, among them only 20 women (Eva Braun never visited Wolf's Lair)
Residential buildings were constructed in a relatively modest but functional way. There was a small room to work in lit mostly by daylight which had basic equipment like wooden cabinets, shelving for files, tables, chairs and stools. Most of the rooms had parquet floors.
Führer's working day begun with receiving reports from the battle fronts.
Between 9.00 and 10.00 Hitler would go out with his dog for a walk which no one could disturb without special reason.
At approximately 10.30 Hitler would begin looking through the morning mail which was delivered to headquarters from Berlin by aircraft or courier trains.
Consultation was at about 12.00 . After meetings Hitler would have lunch. Until September 1942 he ate meals in the dining room of casino I and later in his bunker. The number of guests during a meal at the casino was limited and consisted of people closest to Hitler.
“Evening meetings” were held at about 18.00 during which problems of airspace war were mostly dealt with. Those meetings lasted for approximately one hour and usually took place in Hitler's work room.
The dates of Hitler's visits in Wolf's Lair: June 24, 1941 - July 16, 1942, November 1, 1942 - November 7, 1942, November 23, 1942 - February 17, 1943, March 13, 1943 - March 19, 1943, May 9, 1943 - May 21, 1943, July 1, 1943 -18 July 1943, July 20, 1943 - February 27, 1944, July 14, 1944 - November 20, 1944.
Localization and construction
The decision about the construction on the site was taken in autumn 1940. The following considerations had decided about the location of the headquarters right here: closeness to the former Soviet Union border of the Kętrzyn forest /this had an important psychological meaning (the Barbarossa plan foresaw an attack against the Soviet Union)/, East Prussia was one of the most fortified districts of the Third Reich, there were many fortresses in this area (Giżycko, Toruń, Kłajpeda, Pilawa) and there were also the so called 'fortified areas' with entrenchments and barbed wire.
The area selected for the headquarters was located far from major roads in an old forest which formed a natural shield all year round. Also the Great Mazurian Lakes were a natural barrier against land troops.
The stated in many guide books overall number of employees /3000 to 5000 / seems to be severely underestimated. Prof. F. Seidler in the monograph about F.Todt says that in programming assumptions the construction of the main field at Hitler's headquarters projected to hire 50 thousand workers (20, p. 352). Peter Hoffmann in a letter to the author of this guide indicates that on 20 July 1944 (the day of the attack on Hitler) about 5 thousand labourers worked in the headquarters. The author of this publication - despite the widely circulated rumours about hiring prisoners of war and forced labourers - didn't find any documents confirming that opinion.
Protection and masking
Reich Security Service (RSD) was responsible for Hitler's personal security. RSD consisted of two Groups. There were 10 officers of criminal service and a dozen of Hitler's personal guards in each of them. RSD officers had an injunction to stay away from each other during service and not to talk without need and above all not to come into Hitler's shelter unless it was dictated by the need to review workers at the facility. When Hitler was outside his shelter the RSD officer had to be so far from the Führer that the forthcoming person could be stopped without disturbing Hitler.
Führer's Armored Battalion (FBB) which until July 1944 had grown to the size of a regiment, was responsible for external protection of the headquarters . It was equipped with tanks, anti-aircraft guns and heavy weapons. A unit of landing troops stationed near Gołdap in a distance of approximately 75 km from Ketrzyn. Any aircraft would be detected in a radius of 100 km from Wolf's Lair.
A specialized gardening company "Seidenspinner" from Stuttgart was responsible for masking. Most buildings constructed here had flat roofs 10 to 30 cm deep. They were filled with earth in which bushes, grass and artificial trees were planted. There were metal bows in the shape of the inverted letter U on the edges of the roofs. Masking grids were stretched between them and the surrounding trees. The effectiveness of masking was tested with the use of aerial photographs - it gave the impression of a dense forest.
Very sophisticated psychological masking was also used. All the people working in the construction of Wolf's Lair had civilian passports. Up to 21 June 1941 Russian linear aircraft flying between Berlin and Moscow was allowed to fly over the site. This way it was suggested that buildings constructed in the forest could not have any real military significance.
Destruction of Wolf's Lair
In October 1944 Red Army troops reached the eastern border of East Prussia. Therefore, on 20 November 1944 the main headquarters were moved to Zossen near Berlin. Two days later the decree to destroy Wolf's Lair was issued and it was executed during the night on 24/ 25 January 1945 . Huge concrete blocks were flying in the air at a distance of 20-30 meters. As witnesses stated, as a result of the explosions ice cracked on the nearby lake Siercze. It is estimated that around eight tonnes of TNT were used to destroy one bunker.
On January 27 1945, Red Army troops took over Wolf's Lair without a single shot.
The securing of the minefields lasted until 1955. More than 54 thousand landmines were discovered and secured. It was necessary to secure 72 hectares of forest and over 52 hectares of land altogether. The Polish population settling after the war near Ketrzyn, used construction materials – which had often not been used during the construction of Wolf's Lair - for their own economic purposes. From here they exported brick, reinforced steel, panelling, pieces of stone, copper and aluminum pipes and masking grid.
The prolonging war with the Soviet Union, failures on the Eastern Front, the increasing problems with food and air-raids on German cities since the summer of 1942 caused accumulating pessimistic moods among the civilian population. After the Staliningrad defeat this situation transformed into more or less active resistance which began to spread among wider and wider circles of society.
Senior officers had most opportunity to fight with the regime. Under certain circumstances they could use the armed forces in order to make the transformation in the country. The military opposition group became more active when the members established contacts with Leipzig Carl Friedrich Goerdeler and General Ludwick Beck who became the leading opposition representatives in both civilian and military circles of society. However, disputes about the place, time and manner of the coup's implementation had to be stopped because of the tragic situation on the frontline.
On 4 June 1944 Rome was independent again, two days later English and U.S. troops landed in Normandy . At the beginning of July great areas of the USSR had been liberated and the Red Army entered Poland. A new person appeared on the political stage: Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg. He took on the risk of the attack on Hitler and guiding the transformation in the country. Preparations for take-over based on the plan under the cryptonym "Valkyrie", which was provided in case of a possible prisoners’ and forced laborers’ rebellion in Germany, were made. Approved by Hitler, the plan was to serve as legal basis for the beginning of the intended military coup. With the help of the army (ready to stifle a possible rebellion), under Colonel Stauffenberg they planned to take over district government , the ministry of propaganda, all the important facility missions, the radio, press and to arrest officers.
Assassination attempt 20.07.1944
Stauffenberg along with his adjutant Werner von Haeftenem appeared in Wolf's Lair in the morning of July 20. Their plane from Berlin landed near headquarters at about 10.15. Stauffenberg announced that he wished to refresh himself and change his shirt. John von Freyend made his room available to him. Haeften came together with Stauffenberg to the designated area to help and prepare explosives.
Each explosive (made in England) had a single chemical starter working with a 10-minute delay. Getting detonators working turned out to be quite complex and lengthy. "It was necessary to first press copper scales which consisted of glass ampoules with acid. Acid had to destroy the wires in a specified time, tensioning spiral feathers with starter pins. It had to be done very carefully in order not to press the tensioning wires. Then checking whether the detonators were still tight was done through a hole and then the fuse was removed and the starter inserted."
A few minutes before 12.30 Stauffenberg went to the barrack for the meeting. On the way John von Freyend offered to help Stauffenberg carry the briefcase, but the colonel refused. However, just in front of the barrack he passed the briefcase to him, wanting it to be as near Hitler as possible. They came to the barrack when the General Heusinger was discussing the situation on the Eastern Front. John von Freyend asked Admiral Voss to move to other side of the table to make place for Stauffenberg. The briefcase with explosives was placed outside the right bracket table at a distance of about 2.5 - 3 meters from Hitler. After several minutes had passed Stauffenberg announced that he had to make a phone call. The phones were in a neighbouring room. His adjutant went with him. At the time when Stauffenberg and his adjutant got into the car the explosion shook the ground.
Driving near the barrack they saw clouds of smoke, charred papers rotating in the air, injured and running people. They managed to leave the zone without difficulty: the car's passenger was a widely recognized person - his military career, wounds from Africa and position made him highly respected. At 13.15 they flew away back to Berlin. Stauffenberg and Haeften landed in Berlin convinced of the success of their mission. Gen. Olbricht announced the launch of the operation "Valkyrie". The putsch attempt lasted approximately 7 hours and collapsed at midnight. Count Claus von Stauffenberg was arrested and sentenced to death the same night at about 0.30 . He was executed immediately.
Explosives planted by Colonel Stauffenberg destroyed the interior meeting hall. There were broken chairs, glass and papers everywhere and only a small piece of the solid oak table remained. There was a hole in the ground about 1.5 m in diameter on the spot where the bomb was placed.
At the time of explosion there were 24 people in the room. Hitler stood in the middle of the table's length, turned to face the three open windows on the shorter barrack wall. He was leaning on the table with his head on his hands.
The participants of the meeting described the explosion as a powerful blow of air, accompanied by loud noise and flames. Almost everyone was thrown on the floor by the impact, but no one was thrown through the window as some studies indicate. Suddenly someone cried: "Where is the Führer?" -- it was Keitel. After several seconds he found Hitler and helped him leave the premises.
Prof. von Hasselbach put on the first bandages and then prof. Morell took over Hitler. The Führer’s right elbow was bleeding, but the arm functioned normally. His skin was slightly scratched on the left hand. No serious damage of the hearing organ was detected apart from the breaking of the eardrum. Führer was clearly excited. He said that he had been aware for a long time that there were traitors surrounding him. Three hours after the attack Hitler was already able to welcome Mussolini at the local railway station (the visit of the Italian leader in Wolf's Lair lasted only 2.5 hours).
As a result of the explosion the stenografer and three generals were mortally wounded. The majority of participants had to be treated in hospital due to injuries such as broken eardrums or brain shock. Professor von Hasselbach looked after the patients.
"The experts researching the effects of bomb explosions agreed with the fact that the quantity of the explosive brought by Stauffenberg to the meeting would have killed all participants if it had been held in the concrete bunker. Because the meeting was held in a barrack, injuries were relatively small " (14, p. 476).
On July 21 at about 1.00 A.M. a night radio broadcast Hitler's speech : "... German companions, I don't know how many times already someone planned and made an attempt to kill me. If today I speak to you, I do it for two reasons: First, I want you to hear my voice to let you know that I'm alive and healthy. Secondly, I want you to learn more about the crime, which has nothing equal in the history of Germany. A small group of selfish, devoid of conscience and at same time murderous, foolish officers planned a plot to remove me together with my military command. The bomb planted by Colonel Count von Stauffenberg exploded 2 meters from my right hand... I survived entirely without damage except for minor scratches, bruises and burns. I accept this as a confirmation of my tasks commissioned by Providence to continue to pursue my goal in life as I did until now. The group of people represented by those traitors has nothing in common with Wermacht or the German Army. This time we are going to make even in the National Socialists’ style! " (7, p. 324).
The rest of the speech was a mixture of vulgar insults ended with the announcement that traitors will be mercilessly removed.
To investigate the events and detect further conspirators Himmler set up a "special committee” on July 20, The Protocols of the results were directed to Himmler, who in turn submitted them to Hitler or other Nazi leaders. About 700 people were arrested in all. Approximately 180 people were killed - 89 of them in Plötzensee.