Führerbunker 1945

The Führerbunker was an air-raid shelter located near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. It was part of a subterranean bunker complex constructed in two phases in 1936 and 1944. It was the last of the Führer Headquarters (Führerhauptquartiere) used by Adolf Hitler during World War II.

Hitler took up residence in the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945, and it became the centre of the Nazi regime until the last week of World War II in Europe. Hitler married Eva Braun there on 29 April 1945, less than 40 hours before they committed suicide.

After the war, both the old and new Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets. The underground complex remained largely undisturbed until 1988–89, despite some attempts at demolition. The excavated sections of the old bunker complex were mostly destroyed during the reconstruction of that area of Berlin. The site remained unmarked until 2006 when a small plaque was installed with a schematic diagram. Some corridors of the bunker still exist but are sealed off from the public.



Floor plan of the bunkers

The Reich Chancellery bunker was initially constructed as a temporary air-raid shelter for Hitler (who actually spent very little time in the capital during most of the war). The increased bombing of Berlin led to the expansion of the complex as an improvised permanent shelter.
The elaborate complex consisted of two separate shelters, the Vorbunker (“forward bunker”; the upper bunker), completed in 1936, and the Führerbunker, located 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) lower than the Vorbunker and to the west-southwest, completed in 1944.

They were connected by a stairway set at right angles and could be closed off from each other by a bulkhead and steel door.
The Vorbunker was located 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) beneath the cellar of a large reception hall behind the old Reich Chancellery at Wilhelmstrasse 77. The Führerbunker was located about 8.5 metres (28 ft) beneath the garden of the old Reich Chancellery, 120 metres (390 ft) north of the new Reich Chancellery building at Voßstraße 6.
Besides being deeper underground, the Führerbunker had significantly more reinforcement. Its roof was made of concrete almost 3 metres (9.8 ft) thick. About 30 small rooms were protected by approximately 4 metres (13 ft) of concrete; exits led into the main buildings, as well as an emergency exit up to the garden.
The Führerbunker development was built by the Hochtief company as part of an extensive programme of subterranean construction in Berlin beginning in 1940.

Hitler’s accommodations were in this newer, lower section, and by February 1945 it had been decorated with high-quality furniture taken from the Chancellery, along with several framed oil paintings.

Rooms inside the Führerbunker

After descending the stairs into the lower section and passing through the steel door, there was a long corridor with a series of rooms on each side. On the right side was a series of rooms which included generator/ventilation rooms and the telephone switchboard.
On the left side was Eva Braun’s bedroom/sitting room (also known as Hitler’s private guest room), an ante-chamber (also known as Hitler’s sitting room), which led into Hitler’s study/office.
On the wall hung a large portrait of Frederick the Great, one of Hitler’s heroes. A door led into Hitler’s modestly furnished bedroom.
Next to it was the conference/map room (also known as the briefing/situation room) which had a door that led out into the waiting room/ante-room.

The bunker complex was self-contained. However, as the Führerbunker was below the water table, conditions were unpleasantly damp, with pumps running continuously to remove groundwater. A diesel generator provided electricity, and the well water was pumped in as the water supply. Communications systems included a telex, a telephone switchboard, and an army radio set with an outdoor antenna. As conditions deteriorated at the end of the war, Hitler received much of his war news from BBC radio broadcasts and via courier.


Events in 1945

Hitler outside the Führerbunker, April 1945

Hitler moved into the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945, joined by his senior staff, including Martin Bormann. Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels joined them in April, while Magda Goebbels and their six children 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 telephone switchboard operator Sergeant Rochus Misch.
Initially, Hitler continued to utilize the undamaged wing of the Reich Chancellery, where he held afternoon military conferences in his large study.
Afterwards, he would have tea with his secretaries before returning to the bunker complex for the night. After several weeks of this routine, Hitler seldom left the bunker except for short strolls in the chancellery garden with his dog Blondi.
The bunker was crowded, the atmosphere was oppressive, and air raids occurred daily. Hitler mostly stayed on the lower level, where it was quieter and he could sleep. Conferences took place for much of the night, often until 05:00.

Führerbunker, Then & Now

On 16 April, the Red Army started the Battle of Berlin, and they started to encircle the city by 19 April. Hitler made his last trip to the surface on 20 April, his 56th birthday, going to the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery where he awarded the Iron Cross to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth. That afternoon, Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time.

Hitler was in denial about the dire situation and placed his hopes on the units commanded by Waffen-SS General Felix Steiner, the Armeeabteilung Steiner (“Army Detachment Steiner”). On 21 April, Hitler ordered Steiner to attack the northern flank of the encircling Soviet salient and ordered the German Ninth Army, south-east of Berlin, to attack northward in a pincer attack.
That evening, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of Berlin. Hitler was told at his afternoon situation conference on 22 April that Steiner’s forces had not moved, and he fell into a tearful rage when he realised that the attack was not going to be carried out. He openly declared for the first time the war was lost—and he blamed his generals. Hitler announced that he would stay in Berlin until the end and then shoot himself.

Remaining entrance to the Bunker

On 23 April, Hitler appointed General of the Artillery Helmuth Weidling, commander of the LVI Panzer Corps, as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, replacing Lieutenant-Colonel (Oberstleutnant) Ernst Kaether.
The Red Army had consolidated its investment of Berlin by 25 April, despite the commands being issued from the Führerbunker.
There was no prospect that the German defence could do anything but delay the city’s capture. Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Hermann Göring, and he arrived on 26 April along with his mistress and test pilot Hanna Reitsch.

On 28 April, Hitler learned that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Western Allies through Count Folke Bernadotte, and Hitler considered this treason.
Enraged, he had Himmler’s SS representative in Berlin Hermann Fegelein shot and ordered Himmler’s arrest. On the same day, General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker to Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of German Armed Forces High Command (OKW) in Fürstenberg. Krebs told him that all would be lost if relief did not arrive within 48 hours.
Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of the Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse, commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile, Hitler’s private secretary Martin Bormann wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: “Reich Chancellery a heap of rubble.”
He said 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”.

Site of the Bunker

That 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.
During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front and it was no longer possible for his army to relieve Berlin. Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off the attempt.

Hitler married Eva Braun after midnight on 28–29 April in a small civil ceremony within the Führerbunker. He then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his last will and testament.
Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Goebbels, and Bormann witnessed and signed the documents at approximately 04:00. Hitler then retired to bed.

Late in the evening of 29 April, Krebs contacted Jodl by radio: “Request the immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck’s spearheads. Secondly of the time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army.
Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will breakthrough. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste’s spearhead.”
In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: “Firstly, Wenck’s spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, the Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue the attack on Berlin. Thirdly, the bulk of the Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste’s Corps on the defensive.”

The Bunker on Voßstraße excavated in preparation for the demolition

SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke, commander of the central government district of Berlin, informed Hitler during the morning of 30 April that he would be able to hold for less than two days. Later that morning, Weidling informed Hitler that the defenders would probably exhaust their ammunition that night and again asked him for permission to break out. Weidling finally received permission at about 13:00.
Hitler shot himself in the Führerbunker that afternoon, and Braun took cyanide. In accordance with Hitler’s instructions, the bodies were burned in the garden behind the Reich Chancellery. Goebbels became the new Head of Government and Chancellor of Germany (Reichskanzler) in accordance with Hitler’s last will and testament.
Reichskanzler Goebbels and Bormann sent a radio message to Dönitz at 03:15, informing him of Hitler’s death, and Dönitz was appointed as the new President of Germany (Reichspräsident) in accordance with Hitler’s last wishes.

Krebs talked to General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 8th Guards Army, at about 04:00 on 1 May, and Chuikov demanded the unconditional surrender of the remaining German forces. Krebs did not have the authority to surrender, so he returned to the bunker.
In the late afternoon, Goebbels had his children poisoned, and he and his wife left the bunker at around 20:30. There are several different accounts on what followed.

Virtual view inside the Führerbunker

According to one account, Goebbels shot his wife and then himself. Another account was that they each bit on a cyanide ampule and were given a coup de grâce immediately afterwards. Goebbels’ SS adjutant Günther Schwägermann testified in 1948 that the couple walked ahead of him up the stairs and out to the Chancellery garden.
He waited in the stairwell and heard the shots, then walked up to the remaining stairs and saw the lifeless bodies of the couple outside. He then followed Joseph Goebbels’ order and had an SS soldier fire several shots into Goebbels’ body, which did not move. The bodies were then doused with petrol and set alight, but the remains were only partially burned and not buried.

Weidling had given the order for the survivors to break out to the northwest, and the plan got underway at around 23:00. The first group from the Reich Chancellery was led by Mohnke; they tried unsuccessfully to break through the Soviet rings and were captured the next day.
Mohnke was interrogated by SMERSH, like others who were captured from the Führerbunker.
The third breakout attempt from the Reich Chancellery was made around 01:00 on 2 May, and Bormann managed to cross the Spree. Arthur Axmann followed the same route and reported seeing Bormann’s body a short distance from the Weidendammer bridge.

Doorway to the Führerbunker

At 01:00, the Soviet forces picked up a radio message from the LVI Panzer Corps requesting a cease-fire. Down in the Führerbunker, General Krebs and General Burgdorf committed suicide by gunshot to the head.
The last defenders in the area of the bunker complex were French SS volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne (1st French), and they remained until the early morning.
The Soviet forces then captured the Reich Chancellery. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 6:00, and his meeting with Chuikov ended at 8:23. Johannes Hentschel, the master electro-mechanic for the bunker complex, stayed after everyone else had either left or committed suicide, as the field hospital in the Reich Chancellery above needed power and water. He surrendered to the Red Army as they entered the bunker complex at 09:00 on 2 May.
The bodies of Goebbels’ six children were discovered on 3 May. They were found in their beds in the Vorbunker with the clear mark of cyanide shown on their faces.


Post-war events

Entrance to the Führerbunker

The ruins of both Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets between 1945 and 1949 as part of an effort to destroy the landmarks of Nazi Germany. The bunker largely survived, although some areas were partially flooded.
In December 1947, the Soviets tried to blow up the bunker, but only the separation walls were damaged.
In 1959, the East German government began a series of demolitions of the Chancellery, including the bunker.
Because it was near the Berlin Wall, the site was undeveloped and neglected until 1988–89. During extensive construction of residential housing and other buildings on the site, work crews uncovered several underground sections of the old bunker complex; for the most part, these were destroyed. Other parts of the Chancellery underground complex were uncovered, though these were ignored, filled in, or resealed.

Government authorities wanted to destroy the last vestiges of these Nazi landmarks. The construction of the buildings in the area around the Führerbunker was a strategy for ensuring the surroundings remained anonymous and unremarkable. The emergency exit point for the Führerbunker (which had been in the Chancellery gardens) was occupied by a car park.

On 8 June 2006, during the lead-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup, an information board was installed to mark the location of the Führerbunker. The board, including a schematic diagram of the bunker, can be found at the corner of In den Ministergärten and Gertrud-Kolmar-Straße, two small streets about three minutes’ walk from Potsdamer Platz. Hitler’s bodyguard, 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.

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