Monday, May 18, 2015

Führerbunker (Berlin)

With the failure of the Ardennes Offensive, Hitler left FHQ Adlerhorst on 15 January 1945 and returned to Berlin. The city was much changed, having sustained months of heavy Allied bombing. The Reich Chancellery buildings were no longer safe, so Hitler and his staff retreated to the bunkers beneath. These had not been designed for permanent occupation but rather as a short-term refuge from isolated air raids.

In spite of the danger, Hitler insisted that he would stay in the capital rather than flee to the relative safety of southern Germany. Unable to change his mind, his staff now took steps to make this last bastion more habitable. Improvised telecommunication, ventilation, water and power systems were installed to enable the Fuhrer to govern the shrinking Reich. But conditions in the bunker were still grim and grew steadily worse as the Red Army firstly encircled the city and then slowly advanced on the Reich Chancellery. Some of Hitler's most trusted followers now took their leave and fled to other parts of Germany, but others stayed on, determined to be with the Fuhrer to the bitter end.

On 30 April 1945 Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in the bunker, and their bodies were burned in the garden outside. Goebbels and his wife took the same route out after having callously killed their children. With their leader dead the remaining staff escaped from the bunker and tried to break through the Soviet lines with differing levels of success. Some perished, others were captured by the Soviets and spent many years in captivity and still others reached the relative safety of the western Allies, where they were tried and punished according to their crimes.


The bunkers that were constructed beneath the Reich Chancellery were originally designed as air-raid shelters, but the incessant bombing forced Hitler and his staff to seek permanent refuge underground and these rooms were adapted for use as an improvised Führerhauptquartier. The so-called Vorbunker, from the earliest build phase, consisted of 12 rooms branching off a single corridor. In the final act of the war, a number of the rooms were given over to Goebbels and his family with the rest used to store, prepare, cook and serve food for the residents. From the Vorbunker a set of stairs led down to the Führerbunker. This was not only deeper underground, but also a significantly stronger construction with a roof almost 3m thick and walls over 2m thick. An armoured door protected the main access to the bunker. Beyond this were 20 or so small rooms reached by a long corridor. On the right of this corridor were a series of rooms that housed the engine room, ventilation equipment and the small telephone switchboard. It was also home to the medical room and a separate cabin for Hitler's personal physician. Farther down the main corridor, on the left, were Hitler's private rooms. The section of corridor that led to his apartments served as a waiting room and, by contrast with the rest of the bunker, was lavishly decorated with red carpet and paintings rescued from the Chancellery. From the corridor a small ante-room led to Hitler's study, which was furnished with a sofa, a radio and a desk, above which was a picture of Frederick the Great. A door led to Hitler's bedroom. This was again sparsely furnished with a bed, a safe and an oxygen cylinder. A further door led from Hitler's study to his dressing room and Eva Braun's bedroom/sitting room. Next to the ante-room was the cramped conference room where all the military briefings were held. At the end of the main corridor was a cloakroom and finally an exit with a flight of stairs that led out into the Chancellery garden.

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