Death of Adolf Hitler – Part 1: The Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker


. Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj.

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Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler

In 1986, the East German government made plans to build a massive apartment complex on the corner of Vossstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse in what was then East Berlin. For constructing the complex it was necessary to demolish concrete from a darker past. Under the construction site, located 28 feet (8.5 metres) deep in the ground, was the most notorious and imposing bunker complex used by Adolf Hitler and his murderous band of Nazis at the close of World War II.

In 1987, Robert Conrad, a German photographer, disguised as a construction worker took the risk to secretly photograph Adolf Hitler’s decaying Reichskanzlei-Vorbunker-Führerbunker complex. Conrad said:

Of course there was nothing in the newspapers about the Nazi bunkers. That was very much a taboo subject, as was everything about the Nazi period… Officially, they were just constructing a new residential neighborhood.”

Wilhelmstrasse in 1934, Reich Chancellery and Foreign Office on the left
Wilhelmstrasse in 1934, Reich Chancellery and Foreign Office on the left

Wilhelmstrasse (German: Wilhelmstraße) is a major thoroughfare in the central Mitte and Kreuzberg districts of Berlin, Germany. The street whose former name was Husarenstraße was renamed Wilhelmstraße in honor King Frederick William I, who died in 1740.

Wilhelmstraße was recognized as the centre of the government, first of the Kingdom of Prussia, later of the unified German Reich, housing in particular the Reich Chancellery and the Foreign Office.

King Frederick William I (August 14, 1688 –  May 31, 1740) of Prussia built the Palais Schulenburg, at Wilhelmstraße 77, for his esteemed Lieutenant General Count Adolph Friedrich von der Schulenburg. The building was completed in 1739.

Palais Schulenburg - Main building and courtyard formerly located on Wilhelmstraße.
Palais Schulenburg – Main building and courtyard formerly located on Wilhelmstraße.

In 1875, after many ownerships, the feuding Radziwill heirs sold Palais Schulenburg to the German Reich. It became the Reichskanzlerpalais (Chancellor’s palace). It was the Chancellery of the German Reich from 1871 to 1945 from the time of Otto von Bismarck, the first Chancellor of Germany, and subsequent German Chancellors, the last being Adolf Hitler.

The Reichskanzlei-Vorbunker

Adolf Hitler (center) with his architects Professor Leonhard Gall (left) and Albert Speer (right) (Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H29050)
Adolf Hitler (center) with his architects Professor Leonhard Gall (left) and Albert Speer (right) (Source: Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H29050)

In 1933, Adolf Hitler decided to expand the Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery), which he considered too small for his needs. On July 21, 1935, Professor Leonhard Gall, one of Adolf Hitler’s architects, submitted unique plans for a large reception hall to be built as an expansion of the old Chancellery, that could also be used as a ballroom.

The plan envisaged a bunker 5 feet (1.5 metres) beneath the cellar of the large reception hall behind the old Reich Chancellery at Wilhelmstraß. It had a 6.25 feet (1.6 metres) thick roof. The thick walls of the bunker were designed to support the weight of the large reception hall on top of it. The bunker had three doorways – to the north, west and south.

The construction was completed in 1936.

Schematic diagram of the Reichskanzlei-Vorbunker as it was in April 1945 (Source: Dennis Nilsson)
Schematic diagram of the Reichskanzlei-Vorbunker as it was in April 1945. (Source: Dennis Nilsson)

The bunker was meant to be a temporary air-raid shelter for Adolf Hitler, his guards, and servants. It was officially called the “Reich Chancellery Air-Raid Shelter” until 1943, with the construction to expand the complex with the addition of the Führerbunker, located one level below. From then on this bunker became known as the Vorbunker or forward bunker or upper bunker.

The New Reich Chancellery

Though Hitler lived in Reichskanzlerpalais he once commented that Bismarck’s Old Chancellery was “fit for a soap company” but not suitable as headquarters of a Greater German Reich. So, in January 1938, Hitler asked Albert Speer, his chief architect, to build a larger, grander, new Reich Chancellery on the same site as the existing structure. Hitler said he needed the new building built in a year, in time to host the foreign diplomats during his next New Year’s reception.

This huge undertaking was a tall order because the existing Chancellery was in full operation. After consultation with his assistants, Speer agreed to build it.

However, the site was cleared only in April, 1938. Speer employed thousands of workers in two shifts. He completed the task successfully in nine months.

New Reich Chancellery - The Eastern Administrative Building.
New Reich Chancellery – The Eastern Administrative Building.

Albert Speer presented the fully furnished New Reich Chancellery to Hitler two days earlier than the allotted last day.

Hitler, who had remained away from the project, was overwhelmed when he saw the large, impressive, structure that included a 480-feet (146 metres) long “Marble Gallery,” almost twice the length of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. In appreciation Hitler awarded Speer the Nazi Golden Party Badge. But in Winston Churchill’s words, it was the hub of “a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.”

The Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker

3D model of Führerbunker (left) and Vorbunker (right) by Christopher Neubauer
3D model of Führerbunker (left) and Vorbunker (right) by Christopher Neubauer

The most famous and arguably the most notorious and elaborate bunker complex in Germany consisted of two separate shelters, constructed in two phases. The Vorbunker completed in 1936, and the Führerbunker, to the west-southwest, completed in 1944. Since the bunkers were kept secret, information and details about them are rather scarce.

Increased bombing of Berlin led to the expansion of the Vorbunker as an improvised permanent air-raid shelter. The Führerbunker located 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) lower than the Vorbunker was built about 28 feet (8.5 metres) beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery, 390 feet (120 metres) north of the new Reich Chancellery building at Voßstraße 6.

The Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker was the last of the Führer Headquarters used by Adolf Hitler.

Schematic diagram of the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker  as it was in April 1945. (Source: Dennis Nilsson)
Schematic diagram of the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker as it was in April 1945. (Source: Dennis Nilsson)

The above sketch of Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker is based on the photographs taken in 1988 by researcher Tom Posch of the remains of the bunkers and published in the book titled “The Berlin Führerbunker: The Thirteenth Hole, After the Battle, No.61“, Special Edition, Battle of Britain International Ltd, 1988.

The Vorbunker and the Führerbunker were connected by a stairway set at right angles and could be closed off from each other by a bulkhead and a steel door.

Besides being deeper underground, the Führerbunker had significantly more reinforcement than the Vorbunker. Its roof was made of concrete almost 10 feet (3 metres) thick. About 30 small rooms were protected by approximately 13 feet (4 metres) of concrete; exits led into the main buildings, as well as an emergency exit up to the garden.

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Previous – Prelude

Next → Part 2: Hitler retreats to the Reichskanzlei-Führerbunker

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