HITLER DIRECTS WAR FROM UNDERGROUND

Berlin, Germany · January 16, 1945

On this date in 1945 Adolf Hitler moved his entourage into the Fuehrer­bunker under the Old Reich Chan­cel­lery in Berlin, where he lived and directed the last months of the war in Europe. The “Leader’s bunker”—a maze of living quar­ters, con­fer­ence rooms, offices, and utili­ties spreading two stories deep some 25 feet beneath the chan­cel­lery gardens—had been spe­cially built the pre­vious fall prior to Hitler vacating for good his massive Wolf’s Lair head­quar­ters complex in Rasten­burg, East Prussia, now in Poland. An aide recalled hearing Hitler say in mid-Novem­ber 1944 that the war was lost, but Hitler soldiered on any­way, moving his forward head­quarters to the “Eagle’s Eyrie” (Alder­horst) near Bad Nau­heim in Hessen, from where he directed the Ardennes Offen­sive (Battle of the Bulge). Ar­dennes was intended to turn the tide of war by splitting the Allied armies in the west when the German Wehr­macht (armed forces) retook the strategically vital Bel­gian port of Ant­werp. After it became clear that his high-stakes Ardennes gamble had failed, the Fuehrerbunker in Berlin beckoned.

Eva Braun, his long-standing girl­friend, joined him there “in this cri­tical hour,” as Minis­ter of Pro­pa­ganda Joseph Goeb­bels con­fided to his diary. The Fuehrer­bunker survived a 900‑bomber raid on Berlin on Febru­ary 3 that destroyed the govern­ment district and partly reduced the Old Reich Chan­cellery to rubble. Several days later Goeb­bels found pas­sage into the under­ground bunker “totally blocked with moun­tains of rubble.”

On March 19 Hitler issued his so-called Nero Order, his “scorched earth” direc­tive to de­stroy Ger­man infra­structure lest it fall into enemy hands. (Both the Ger­mans and the Soviets had used “scorched earth” in their see-saw battle for con­trol of the Eastern Front.) By this date in the war, how­ever, little of mate­rial value remained in Ger­many after that coun­try had been pum­meled from all directions by land-based artil­lery and in­ces­sant aerial bom­bard­ments.

Now Hitler’s closest lieu­ten­ants were drawing away. Reichs­fuehrer-SS Hein­rich Himm­ler and Foreign Minis­ter Joachim von Ribben­trop were in secret con­tact with West­ern powers via Swe­den, shaking Hitler to the core when he dis­covered their per­fidy. When Eva Braun bit into the cya­nide cap­sule and Hitler blew his brains out on April 30, 1945, even Hermann Goering, Hitler’s desig­nated suc­cess­or since June 1941, stood accused of trea­son and, on Hitler’s order, was under house arrest in the Reichs­marschall’s own castle near Salzburg, Austria.



The Fuehrerbunker: Hitler’s and Braun’s Initial Gravesite

Schmatic diagram of Vorbunker and Fuehrerbunker

Above: Schematic diagram of the Fuehrer¬bunker (left in image) and the Vor¬bunker. The 16 room Vor¬bunker (“forward bunker,” or ante¬bunker) was located beneath the large hall that was added to the rear of the Old Reich Chan¬cel¬lery in 1939. (The hall connected the Old Reich Chan¬cel¬lery on Wilhelm¬strasse with the New Reich Chan¬cel¬lery on Voss¬strasse.) The Vor¬bunker was meant to be a tem¬po¬rary air raid shelter for Hitler, his guards, and ser¬vants. It was offi¬cially called the “Reich Chan¬cel¬lery Air Raid Shelter” until 1943, when con¬struc¬tion began that expanded the bunker com¬plex with the addition of the 20 room Fuehrer¬bunker over 30 ft beneath the garden of the Old Reich Chancellery and to the Vor¬bunker’s south¬west. The two bunkers were connected by a set of stairs.

Rear entrance to Hitler’s FuehrerbunkerHitler’s sitting room in Fuehrerbunker and place of suicide

Left: Taken in July 1947, this photo shows the massive first emer­gency exit of the main bunker (erster Notaus­gang des Haupt­bunkers), or the rear entrance to the Fuehrer­bunker (no. 21 in the schematic diagram above). Hitler and Braun were cremated in a shell hole in front of the emer­gency exit. The cone-shaped structure in the center of the photo (no. 37) served as an obser­va­tion tower and bomb shelter for the guards. An unfinished tower (no. 38), a ventilation tower, is partially hidden behind the tree.

Right: A young Soviet soldier stands reputedly amid the scattered remains of Hitler’s personal study (no. 26), the place of his and his wife’s suicides on April 30, 1945. A Dutch still life that once hung over the sofa is missing. On Decem­ber 5, 1947, Soviet engi­neers tried dyna­miting Hitler’s bunker com­plex but had limited success. Both venti­la­tion towers and the entrance struc­ture seen in the picture on the left were destroyed in the blasts. Twelve years later the East German govern­ment applied more dyna­mite to the bunker ruins, then covered everything over with earth. In the second half of the 1980s East German work crews finished demol­ishing the site and built resi­den­tial housing and other buildings in the space where the two Reich chan­cel­leries, garden, and bunker complex had been. A children’s play­ground occupies the spot where Hitler’s and Braun’s bodies were burnt.

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler. Video Consists of Contemporary Soviet Footage of the Battle of Berlin