Outside Smolensk, in October 1941, the Germans began building an FHQ in preparation for the attack on Moscow. The site was located in a wooded area where the Red Army previously had a headquarter. Construction was delayed and was completed only in the summer of 1942. But then the German offensive had been directed against the Caucasus and Stalingrad instead of Moscow. The headquarters were handed over to the army group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte). The complex was called Bärenhöhle and consisted of more than 40 bunkers and barracks. A special siding had even been built for Hitler’s personal train America. Hitler, however, visited Bärenhöhle only once. On March 13, 1943, during a flight between his military field headquarters Wehrwolf and Wolfsschanze, he made a stopover for deliberations and lunch in Bärenhöhle.

The time of the visit was just over a month after the defeat in Stalingrad and Hitler’s popularity had taken a thorn. The officers who for a long time had been conspiring against Hitler saw an opportunity to put their plans into action. The base of the conspirators was in Berlin, but they had people on all fronts, and on the eastern front was Major General Henning von Tresckow. Before Hitler’s visit, three proposals were discussed to eliminate Hitler. The first was to attack Hitler and his escort on the road between the airfield and headquarters. But this attempt was abandoned quite soon because Hitler was escorted by a heavily armed SS force. The gunfight that would have broken out would have had an uncertain outcome. The second proposal was to kill Hitler during the planned lunch. At a given signal, a number of conspirators would rise up, pull their service weapons and cold-bloodedly shot Hitler. But this plan was abandoned because the commander of the army group Center, field marshal Günther von Kluge, found the method of murdering a superior in this way unworthy of an officer. However, Kluge had no objections to the third proposal.

On the same day Hitler was to fly on to Wolfschanze and shortly before departure von Tresckow asked Colonel Heinz Brandt to bring a package to Tresckow’s colleague General Helmuth Stieff. Brandt did not suspect anything and took the package on board with him without hesitation. The package contained two bombs that were placed in two bottles of cognac. They were set to detonate 30 minutes after departure when the plane would be somewhere over Minsk. When the plane took off, a message was sent to the Berlin conspirators that the attack had been carried out. However, the cold in the plane’s cargo compartment where the package was placed meant that the bombs were not triggered and Hitler landed unharmed in Wolfschanze. When Tresckow learned of this, a new message was sent to Berlin and the coup was called off. However, Tresckow had to get back the package of the bottles before they were discovered. Therefore, Tresckow sent his adjutant Fabian von Schlabrendorff as soon as possible to Wolfschanze to recover the package. Luckily, Stieff had not opened the package, but just put it away in a corner. Schlabrendorff was therefore able, with a lie, to recover the package and get rid of the bombs.

Tresckow was also heavily involved in the July 20, 1944 attack. When it became clear that the attack also failed, Tresckow understood what to expect and committed suicide the next day.

Current status: Demolished (2019).

Location: 54° 46' 57.60" N 31° 53' 52.20" E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

The easiest way to get to the place is to take a taxi and ask the driver to wait. Bärenhöhle is also located along the way to Katyn and may well be worth a stop on the way.

It is difficult to get any grip on Bärenhöhle, there is a bunker and some debris in the forest next to an existing railway line. This bunker is called by locals for ”Hitler’s bunker”. As it is a shelter bunker it’s unlikely that Hitler never went inside during his visit. It is also possible to distinguish a embankment with a cross-track that probably belonged to the Bärenhöhle. But finding any information about the headquarter’s layout is difficult. In Novi Bateki, about four kilometers west of Bärenhöhle, there is another bunker that possibly also belonged to Bärenhöhle. 

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