Hidden in the forest of Masuria in current day Poland just outside the city of Ketrzyn (Rastenburg in German) you find one of the best kept secrets of World War II – the Wolfsschanze or the Wolf’s Liar. This place served as Hitler’s war time headquarter. The construction of the Wolf’s Liar started in 1940 and by 21 June 1941 the place was ready to serve as wartime headquarter for Hitler and most of the leadership of Germany.
The area was a huge area with a total staff of 3,000 men to protect and serve the leadership of Nazi Germany during the war. Further protection was provided to the east by the old Boyen Fortress which defended the Eastern border of Germany against direct attacks from the Soviet Union.
The large complex had three different security zones – the most important was zone one where Hitler had his personal bunker along with the highest ranking member of the Nazi party and the military. Some of the most prominent people staying within the highest security zone were in addition to Hitler Göring the head of the German Airforce, Martin Bormann Hitler’s personal secretary and the military leader’s field marshal Keitel and Generaloberst Jodl. Inside this security zone the most prominent visitors to Hitler would also stay in a special bunker these quest included all the leaders of countries allied to Germany during the war – the most prominent of these visitors were Mussolini the leader of the Italian Fascist government. The security within this security zone was controlled by Hitler’s most trusted guards who had been responsible for his personal security for years before the war.
In the second security zone you would find the secondary ministers of the German government including leading ministers as armaments minister Albert Speer and foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The final third security zone was the outside security perimeter where Special Forces protected the area which was heavily mined to prevent a surprise attack from a possible raiding party.
Hitler arrived at the headquarter shortly after it was finished at the 23rd of June 1941 just one day after the attack of the Soviet Union. He stayed at this headquarter for most of the time the following 3½ years with only one longer departure from the area when he stayed at a forward headquarter in Ukraine during the early part of the war on the eastern front. Hitler finally left the complex on 20th November 1944 when the situation on the Eastern front meant the security situation of the area became uncertain. The complex was blown up by the German army on the 25 January 1945 just 48 hours before the Soviet forces arrived at the area. The Soviet conquered the Wolf’s Lair without any resistance but there were only the destroyed remains of the bunkers left.
A lot effort was put in to hide the complex so the allied would bomb the area. It is uncertain whether or not the allied actually spotted the complex via aerial surveillance. If they did discover the complex they never took action against the complex – it was never bombed nor was there any attempt to make any attack by a land force before the final conquest of the Soviet forces.
After the war the complex was abandon for many years and left to decay. It took ten years to clear away all the mines there had been spread around the area. Supposedly the whole area is safe to walk around today – but for safety reason you probably shouldn’t walk away from the marked trails.
The complex has been made into a tourist attraction today and you can go inside the complex to see the bunkers. The ticket to the area gives you access to security zone I – I guess you can go into security zone II and III for free – but let’s face it if you go here you want to see Hitler’s personal bunker so you better pay the ticket for security zone I. You can get an audio guide but it cost extra. We got the audio guide and found it gives a lot of extra information compared to the different signs spread across the area – so we found it worth the extra cost.
Walking into the area we quickly spot a little wire up in a tree – apparently this used to hold up some camouflage which had been put up to keep the area invisible from the air.
After spotting the old camouflage we continue down the trail and get to a special place. There is only a little foundation left here. But on top of this foundation was a little barrack which were the location of a briefing of Hitler on 20 July 1944. At this meeting Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg was present and he had brought a bomb which was used during the most famous assassination attempt of Hitler. The assassination attempt failed and Hitler survived with only minor injuries. Of the 23 other participants of the meeting 4 was killed and another 11 were wounded.
After we have passed this barrack we get to the major bunkers. These were very strong constructions which were almost impossible to destroy and even though the Germans put 8 tons of explosive inside explosive inside each bunker they are only partly destroyed. The bunkers were among the strongest bunkers constructed anywhere in Europe during the war. They were giant constructions from the outside – but despite this giant size there were only a few usable rooms inside the bunkers. The bunkers were actually built as a bunker inside a bigger bunker the two bunkers were separated by a little layer of small rubbles. The idea was in case of a bomb attack the outside bunker might be damaged but the inside bunker would survive unscattered. If it worked in practice was never tested since no bombing attack was ever launched at the Wolf’s Liar.
We walk through the different bunkers until we reach Hitler’s old bunker. This is actually the second bunker built for Hitler. His first bunker which he used for the first two years of the war he had a fairly small bunker but then finally decided to have a bigger construction. His new bunker measures an enormous size of 38 by 67 meters and was the biggest bunker at the complex. The bunker was finally finished in November 1944 and Hitler moved into the bunker on the 8 November 1944 – he only spent 12 days in the bunker before he left the Wolf’s Liar for the last time.
You are not supposed to go inside the bunker – but let’s face it the temptation is there so you might have a quick look inside.
The only bunker you can actually legally walk into is the huge bunker which used to be the home of Göring. The bunker measures 21 by 27 meters so it is still a huge bunker. The bunker originally had some wood panels but these were destroyed in the explosion and haven’t been restored.
A special feature towards the end of your tour of the area is a recreation of the barrack where the attack of Hitler took place in 1944. The reconstructed barrack is built inside one of the few buildings of security zone I which wasn’t blown up when the German’s retreated.
The last exhibition at the place is about the Warsaw uprising – it really hasn’t got much to do with the Wolf’s Liar but the uprising was an important part of the Polish history of World War II so I guess it is natural to have this exhibition at the site.