Just outside a small town called Ketrzyn (german Rastenburg) in northeastern Poland (then East Prussia) was Hitler’s largest FHQ. Already in 1940 the Germans had reconnaissance and found a suitable place out in the inhospitable Gierloz forest. The place consisted of a lot of marshland which served as a natural defense but it brought huge mosquito problems for the German staff. Hitler arrived at Wolfschanze on June 23, 1941, the day after Germany launched its attack on the Soviet Union. He came to stay on and off for about 800 days for both shorter and longer periods. Wolfschanze was thus the FHQ that Hitler spent the most time in during the war.

Wolfschanze was divided into three different security zones (Sperrkreis) where passports were required to enter each zone. Hitler’s bunker was in the innermost security zone. Wolfschanze underwent several expansions over the years and was still under expansion when Hitler left it for the last time in November 1944. Wolfschanze became a small town consisting of exhibition halls, cinema, hairdressing salon, guest hotel, private villas, railway station and a small airfield. At most, Wolfschanze consisted of about 80 bunkers and barracks with about 2000 people on duty. General Alfred Jodl called Wolfschanze a mix between monasteries and concentration camps. On top the bunkers, trees and other shrubs were planted to camouflage the site as much as possible from above. Even the small roads that linked the bunkers and barracks were camouflaged from above. Hitler was concerned that the Soviet intelligence would find out where Wolfsschanze was located and therefore ordered that his own and other important bunkers be strengthened and that security be increased. Hitler’s personal bunker consisted of an eight-meter-thick concrete roof and six-meter-thick concrete walls to withstand any bombing.

The OKH military leadership (Oberkommando des Heeres) had established its headquarters just under twenty kilometres northeast of Wolfsschanze in a forest called the Mauerwald. Even SS chief Himmler had established a headquarters just over a mile east of Wolfsschanze. Several other political leaders also set up their headquarters nearby in order to be available at all times for deliberations. The reason why the military leadership and other political leaders did not place their headquarters in Hitler’s FHQ was for security reasons. If Wolfschanze (or other FHQ) were bombed and destroyed, the Germans would not risk that the military leadership and other political leaders would suffer the same fate. In January 1945, the Germans left Wolfsschanze for good and the bunkers and barracks were blown up. Some bunkers such as Hitler’s could not explode because of their enormous construction. In those cases, the Germans had to content themselves with destroying the interior in order to leave as little value as possible to the Red Army.

It was also in Wolfschanze that Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg placed his bomb in a bag during a military conference on July 20, 1944. The bomb exploded, directly killing three officers, a stenographer later died of his injuries. Hitler miraculously survived and there has been speculation as to what it was that allowed him to survive. Some argue that the conference at the last moment was moved from a powerful concrete bunker to a smaller barrack that was destroyed by the blast wave whose effect on the people then was less devastating than if it exploded in a heavy concrete bunker. Others claim that the bag with the bomb was moved to the other side of the leg on the sturdy oak table, which gave a protective effect for Hitler who stood on the other side of the table leg. Further theories are the fact that Stauffenberg only managed to mount one of the two bombs he had in his bag, which contributed to the explosion. It could also be pure luck that made Hitler survive. Whatever it may be, Hitler survived and became even more convinced of the myth that he was sent by providence to save Germany. His grip on Germany became stronger and was maintained with even more draconian methods after the attack.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with museum (1998).

Location: 54°04'49.43" N 21°29'41.15" E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

Wolfschanze is more like a popular tourist attraction than it is a museum. But Hitler sells and if you can ignore the commercialism that exists on the site, Wolfschanze is well worth a visit, after all, it is the place where Hitler spent most of the war and the place where the attempt of his life was carried out. Most bunkers and barracks remain, including Hitler’s, certainly the interior is destroyed but otherwise they remain. Actually it is forbidden to enter the ruins but this is hardly anyone who cares, the temptation to explore the ruins closer is too great. But beware, rebar, cracks and large holes between floors are everywhere and are not always easy to spot, especially where it is dark or limited by sunlight. But to visit Wolfschanze without entering the ruins is like going to football without entering the arena. For some reason Wolfschanze is usually translated to Varglyan in Swedish, although the correct translation is actually Vargskansen.

Follow up in books: Seidler, Franz W. & Zeigert, Dieter: Hitler’s secret headquarters (2004).