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3D-Model of New Reichs Chancellery with location of the bunker
3D-Model of Führerbunker

The Führerbunker (German, literally meaning "shelter [for the] leader" or "[the] Führer's shelter") was located beneath Hitler's New Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. It was in this subterranean bunker where Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun spent the last few weeks of the war and where their lives came to an end on April 30, 1945.

The elaborate complex consisted of two separate levels, the "Vorbunker" (the upper bunker) or "forward bunker" and the newer Führerbunker located one level below. They were connected by a stairway set at right angles (they were not spiral). The Führerbunker was located about 8.2 metres beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery building at Wilhelmstraße 77, about 120 metres north of the new Reich Chancellery building, which had the address Voßstraße 6. The Vorbunker was located beneath the large hall behind the old Reich Chancellery, which was connected to the new Reich Chancellery. The Führerbunker was located somewhat lower than the Vorbunker and west (or rather west/south-west) of it.

The complex was protected by approximately four metres of concrete, and about 30 small rooms were distributed over two levels with exits into the main buildings and an emergency exit into the gardens. The complex was built in two distinct phases, one part in 1936 and the other in 1943. The 1943 development was built by the Hochtief company as part of an extensive program of subterranean construction in Berlin begun in 1940. The accommodations for Hitler were in the newer, lower section and by February 1945 had been appointed with high quality furniture taken from the Chancellery along with several framed oil paintings.

Contents

Events in 1945

July 1947 photo of the rear entrance to the Führerbunker, in the garden of the Reich Chancellery; Hitler and Eva Braun were cremated in a shellhole in front of the emergency exit at left; the cone shaped structure in the center was the bomb shelter for the guards.

On 16 January 1945, Hitler moved into the Führerbunker. He was joined by his senior staff, Martin Bormann, and later, Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels with Magda and their six children who took residence in the upper Vorbunker. Two or three dozen support, medical and administrative staff were also sheltered there. These included Hitler's secretaries (including Traudl Junge), a nurse named Erna Flegel and telephonist Rochus Misch. Hitler's dog Blondi was also one of the occupants of the underground bunker. Initially, Hitler would often stroll around in the chancellery garden with Blondi until March 1945 when shelling became very common.

The bunker was supplied with large quantities of food and other necessities and by all accounts successfully protected its occupants from the relentless and lethal shelling that went on overhead in the closing days of April 1945. In the final days of the war, it is said that Hitler still enjoyed 10 to 16 cups of tea per day even though it was hard to obtain. Many witnesses later spoke of the constant droning sound of the underground complex's ventilation system.

On 16 April the Red Army started the Battle of Berlin by attacking German front line positions on the rivers Oder and Neisse. By 19 April Soviet spearheads had broken through the German lines and were starting to encircle Berlin.[1]

On 20 April, his 56th birthday, Hitler made his last trip to the surface to award Iron Crosses to some boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth.

On 21 April Hitler gave orders which showed that his grasp of the military situation was gone. He ordered German army formations to counter attack to pinch off the two massive Soviet pincers that were encircling Berlin. The northern attack was to be commanded by SS-General Felix Steiner's Army Detachment. Steiner tried to explain to his superiors that the only offensive capability he had was two battalions of the 4th SS Police Division and they had no heavy weapons. No one passed on this information to Hitler. The southern counter attack was also unrealistic, because the German Ninth Army was being pushed back into the Halbe pocket.[2][3]

On April 22, at his afternoon situation conference Hitler fell into a tearful rage when he realised that his plans of the day before were not going to be carried out. He declared that the war was lost, he blamed the generals and announced that he would stay on in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself. In an attempt to coax Hitler out of his rage, General Alfred Jodl speculated that the German Twelfth Army, under the command of General Walther Wenck, that was facing the Americans, could move to Berlin because the Americans, already on the Elbe River, were unlikely to move farther east. Hitler immediately seized on the idea and within hours Wenck was ordered to disengage from the Americans and move the Twelfth Army north-east to support Berlin. It was then realized that, if the Ninth Army moved west, it could link up with the Twelfth Army, in the evening Heinrici was given permission to make the link up.[4]

On 23 April, Hitler appointed German General of the Artillery (General der Artillerie) Helmuth Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area.[5] Only a day earlier, Hitler had ordered that Weidling be executed by firing squad. This was due to a misunderstanding concerning a retreat order issued by Weidling as commander of the LVI Panzer Corps. On 20 April, Weidling had been appointed commander of the LVI Panzer Corps. Weidling replaced Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) Ernst Kaether as commander of Berlin.

Despite the commands issuing from the Führerbunker by April 25 the Soviets had consolidated their investment of Berlin and leading Soviet units were probing and penetrating the S-Bahn defensive ring. By the end of 25 April there was no prospect that the German defence of the city could do anything but delay the capture of the city by the Soviets as the decisive stages of the battle had already been fought and lost by the Germans outside the city.[6]

Hitler summoned Field Marshall Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Göring. On 26 April while flying over Berlin in a Fieseler Storch, von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Hanna Reitsch, his mistress and a crack test pilot, landed von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.[7][8][9]

On 28 April, Hitler learned of Heinrich Himmler's contacts with Count Folke Bernadotte in Luebeck. Himmler had asked Bernadotte to convey a peace proposal to US General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Enraged at Himmler's duplicity, Hitler ordered von Greim and Reitsch to fly to Dönitz's headquarters at Ploen. Field Marshal von Greim was ordered to arrest the "traitor" Himmler.[7]

General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of OKW (German Armed Forces High Command) in Fuerstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that, if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile, Martin Bormann wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: "Reich Chancellery (Reichskanzlei) a heap of rubble."[7] He went on to say that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and "that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer".[10] Bormann was the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery (Parteikanzlei) and Hitler's private secretary.

During the evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Field Marshal von Greim was ordered to get the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz (only a city block from the Führerbunker) and to make sure that Himmler was punished.[11] Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.[12][13]

During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps that had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, no relief for Berlin by his army was now possible. This was even more so as support from the Ninth Army could no longer be expected.[14] Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off his attempt to relieve Berlin.[10]

At 0400 hours on 29 April, in the Führerbunker, General Wilhelm Burgdorf, Goebbels, Krebs, Arin and Bormann witnessed and signed the last will and testament of Adolf Hitler. Hitler dictated the document to Traudl Junge, shortly after he had married Eva Braun.[15][16]

Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted General Alfred Jodl (Supreme Army Command) by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead."[14] In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive."[14][17][18][19]

During the morning of April 30, SS Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, commander of the centre (government) quarter/district of Berlin, informed Hitler the center would be able to hold for less than two days. Later that morning Weidling informed Hitler in person that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked Hitler permission to break out. At about 13:00 Weidling, who was back in his headquarters in the Bendlerblock, finally received Hitler's permission to attempt a breakout.[20] During the afternoon Hitler shot himself and Braun took cyanide. In accordance with Hitler's instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden of the Reich Chancellery.[21] In accordance with Hitler's last will and testament, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, became the new "Head of Government" and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler). At 3:15 am, Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Admiral Karl Dönitz informing him of Hitler's death. Per Hitler's last wishes, Dönitz was appointed as the new "President of Germany" (Reichspräsident).

By the end of the Day the Soviets had captured the Reichstag, which was of huge symbolic importance to the Soviets and one of the last German strong points defending the area around the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.

At about 04:00 on 1 May, Krebs talked to General Vasily Chuikov commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army.[22] Krebs returned empty handed after refusing to agree to an unconditional surrender. Only Reichskanzler Goebbels now had the authority to agree to an unconditional surrender. In the late afternoon, Goebbels had his children poisoned. At about 20:00, Goebbels and his wife, Magda, left the bunker; close to the entrance they bit on a cyanide ampule and either shot themselves at the same time or were given a coup de grâce by the SS guard detailed to dispose of their bodies.[23]

Ruins of the bunker after demolition in 1947

Weidling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the northwest starting at around 21:00 hours on 1 May. The breakout started later than planned at around 23:00 hours. The first group from the Reich Chancellery led by Mohnke avoided the Weidendammer bridge over which the mass breakout took place and crossed by a footbridge, but Mohnke's group became split (Mohnke could not break through the Soviet rings and was captured the next day and like others who were captured and had been in the Führerbunker was interrogated by SMERSH). A Tiger tank that spearheaded the first attempt to storm the Weidendammer bridge was destroyed.[24] There followed two more attempts and on the third attempt, made around 1:00 (2 May), Martin Bormann in another group from the Reich Chancellery managed to cross the Spree. He was reported to have died a short distance from the bridge, his body was seen and identified by Arthur Axmann who followed the same route.[25][26]

Paradoxically the last defenders of the bunker were the French SS volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French) who remained at the bunker until the early morning of May 2 to prevent the Russians from capturing the bunker on May Day.[27]

At 01:00 hours the Soviets picked up radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge. Early in the morning of 2 May the Soviets stormed the Reich Chancellery. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00 hours.[14][28]

General Burgdorf (who played a key role in the death of Erwin Rommel) and General Krebs chose to commit suicide rather than attempt to break out.[14] Few people remained in the bunker, and they were subsequently captured by Soviet troops on 2 May. Soviet intelligence operatives investigating the complex found more than a dozen bodies (the persons had apparently committed suicide) along with the cinders of many burned papers and documents.

Post-war events

Site of Führerbunker in 2005.
Site of Führerbunker in 2007.
Site of Führerbunker in 2007.
Place of Hitler's Bunker in 2007.

The ruins of both the old and new Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets between 1945 and 1949 but the bunker largely survived, although some areas were partially flooded. In 1947 the Soviets tried to blow up the bunker but only the separation walls were damaged. In 1959 the East German government also tried to blast the bunker, apparently without much effect. Since it was near the Berlin Wall, the site was undeveloped and neglected until after reunification. During the construction of residential housing and other buildings on the site in 1988–89 several underground sections of the old bunker were uncovered by work crews and were for the most part destroyed.

The former Chancellery was situated at the corner of Wilhelmstraße and Voßstraße. Other parts of the Chancellery underground complex were uncovered during extensive construction work in the 1990s, but these were ignored, filled in or quickly resealed.

Since 1945 government authorities have been consistently concerned about the site of the bunker evolving into a Neo-Nazi shrine. The strategy for avoiding this has largely been to ensure the surroundings remain anonymous and unremarkable. In 2005 the location of the bunker was not marked in any way. The immediate area was occupied by a small Chinese restaurant and shopping mall while the emergency exit point for the bunker (which had been in the Chancellery gardens) was occupied by a parking lot.

On June 8, 2006, due to the 2006 FIFA World Cup a small plaque was installed with a schematic of the bunker to mark the location. The plaque can be found at the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, two small streets about three minutes' walk from Potsdamer Platz. One of Hitler's bodyguards, Rochus Misch, one of the last people living who was in the bunker at the time of Hitler's suicide, was on hand for the ceremony.

Armin Lehmann, one of the last living bunker occupants, provided researchers with historical facts. Lehmann was a 16-year-old Hitler Youth member assigned to Artur Axmann's staff as Hitler's courier. He died on 10 October 2008 in Coos Bay, Oregon at the age of 80.

On film and television

Dramatisations

  • The Death of Adolf Hitler is a British 1973 made-for-television production. Set in the Führerbunker it follows the last ten days of Hitler’s life. Starring Frank Finlay in the title role.
  • Hitler: The Last Ten Days is a 1973 feature film directed by Ennio De Concini and starring Sir Alec Guinness in the title role.
  • The Bunker was a 1981 made-for-television film directed by George Schaefer. Sir Anthony Hopkins won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Hitler.
  • The 2004 German film Der Untergang (The Downfall) is largely set in and around the Führerbunker, with director Oliver Hirschbiegel accurately reconstructing the actual look and atmosphere as best he could through eyewitness accounts, various survivors' memoirs, and other verified sources.

Documentaries

  • "The Fuehrer Bunker (1935–1942) DVD. Christoph Neubauer Verlag, Waldkirchen 2007, ISBN 978-3-9811593-0-1 (Computer Animation of the Fuehrer Bunker).
  • "Albert Speers Berlin - Die Reichskanzlei DVD. Christoph Neubauer Verlag, Waldkirchen 2008, ISBN 978-3-9811593-3-2 (Computer Animation of the Reich's Chancellery).
  • Adolf Hitler's Last Days, from the BBC series Secrets of World War II, recounts the story of Hitler's last days.
  • The World at War (1974) is a Thames Television episode 21 Nemesis-Germany (February–May 1945). Included interviews with several people who visited the bunker, including secretary Traudl Junge, reminiscing about the very end in the bunker.
  • Unsolved History: Hitler's Bunker (2002), from the Discovery Channel's series Unsolved History. Historians digitally reconstruct the entire bunker as it existed more than 50 years ago using authentic period photographs, samples of paint, state-of-the-art mapping techniques and the original schematics.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 217–233
  2. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 267–268
  3. ^ Ziemke 1969, pp. 87–88
  4. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 89
  5. ^ (Beevor 2002, p. 286) states the appointment was 23 April; (Hamilton 2008, p. 160) states "officially" it was the next morning of the 24 April; (Dollinger 1997, p. 228) gives 26 April for the appointment.
  6. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 111
  7. ^ a b c Dollinger 1997, p. 228
  8. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 322
  9. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 98
  10. ^ a b Ziemke 1969, p. 119
  11. ^ The Luftwaffe order differs in different sources. Beevor states it was to attack Potsdamerplatz, but Ziemke states it was to support Wenck's Twelfth Army attack. Both agree that he was also ordered to make sure Himmler was punished.
  12. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 342
  13. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 118
  14. ^ a b c d e Dollinger 1997, p. 239
  15. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 343
  16. ^ 60 Years On - Hitlers last days: "Hitler's will and marriage" on the MI5 website, citing WWII MI5 agent Trevor Roper's The Last Days of Hitler which records the marriage as taking place after Hitler had dictated his last will and testament.
  17. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 120
  18. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 357 last paragraph
  19. ^ Dollinger 1997, p. 239 says Jodl replied, but Ziemke 1969, p. 120 and Beevor 2002, p. 537 say it was Keitel
  20. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 358
  21. ^ 60 Years On - Hitlers last days: "Preparations for death" and "Disposal of the bodies" on the website of MI5
  22. ^ Dollinger 1997, p. 239 states 3am, and Beevor 2002, p. 367 4am, for Krebs meeting with Chuikov
  23. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 380–381
  24. ^ Weidendammer Brücke de.wikipedia.org
  25. ^ Beevor 2002, pp. 383,389
  26. ^ Ziemke 1969, p. 126 says that Weildling gave no orders for a breakout.
  27. ^ Mabire, Jean (1975), Mourir à Berlin, Fayard, ISBN 9782213001784 
  28. ^ Beevor 2002, p. 386

References

  • Beevor, Antony (2002), Berlin: The Downfall 1945, Viking-Penguin Books, ISBN 0-670-88695-5 
  • Dollinger, Hans (1997), Decline and the Fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, London: Chancellor, ISBN 9780753700099 
  • Hamilton, Stephan (2008), Bloody Streets: The Soviet Assault on Berlin, April 1945, Helion & Co., ISBN 978-1-906033-12-5 
  • Ziemke, Earl F. (1969), Battle For Berlin: End Of The Third Reich, London: MacDonald, OCLC 253711605 

Further reading

Books
  • Boldt, Gerhard, Hitler: The Last Ten Days, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1973
  • Fest, Joachim, Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich, Picador, 2005, ISBN 0-374-13577-0
  • Guido, Pietro, Fuehrerbunker-Discovered its Mysteries", ISEM, Fifth Edition, 2009 - Milan
  • Junge, Traudl, Until the final hour, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003
  • Kellerhoff, Sven Felix. The Führer Bunker - Hitler's Last Refuge. Berlin Story Verlag, Berlin 2006, ISBN 13: 978-3-929829-23-5.
  • O'Donnell, James, The Bunker, Da Capo Press, reprint 2001, (orig. pub. 1978). ISBN 0-306-80958-3
  • Petrova, Ada and Watson. The Death of Hitler The Full Story with New Evidence from Secret Russian Archives (book excerpt and a review by Richard Breitman in Washington Post, April 14, 1996)
  • Ryan, Cornelius, The Last Battle, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1966
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh, The Last Days of Hitler, University Of Chicago Press, paperback edition 1992 (orig. pub. 1947). ISBN 0-226-81224-3
Articles
Visual representations

External links

Coordinates: 52°30′45″N 13°22′53″E / 52.5125°N 13.3815°E / 52.5125; 13.3815



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