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Title: Wolfsschanze  
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Subject: Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, Battle of the Bulge, Claus von Stauffenberg, 20 July plot, Albert Kesselring, Wolfenstein, Erich Hartmann, Italian Social Republic, Nazi architecture, Walter Warlimont
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Wolf's Lair
Part of Führerhauptquartiere
Forest Gierłoż, Rastenburg, Poland

Entrance to the Führer Bunker at the Wolfsschanze.
Wolf's Lair
Location within Poland
Type Blast-resistant camouflaged concrete bunkers
Coordinates 54°04′46″N 21°29′37″E / 54.079344°N 21.493544°E / 54.079344; 21.493544Coordinates: 54°04′46″N 21°29′37″E / 54.079344°N 21.493544°E / 54.079344; 21.493544

Built 1941 (1941)
Built by Hochtief AG
Organisation Todt
2 m (6 ft 7 in) steel-reinforced concrete
In use Third Reich
Demolished 24-25 January 1945
Polish Government
Open to
the public
Occupants Adolf Hitler
Events 20 July Plot

Location within present-day borders of the Wolf's Lair.

Wolf's Lair (German: Wolfsschanze) was Adolf Hitler's first Eastern Front military headquarters in World War II.[1] The complex, which would become one of several Führerhauptquartiere (Führer Headquarters) located in various parts of occupied Europe, was built for the start of Operation Barbarossa - the invasion of the Soviet Union - in 1941. It was constructed by Organisation Todt.[1]

The top secret, high security site was in the Masurian woods about 5 miles (8.0 km) from the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg (now Kętrzyn in Poland). It was guarded by personnel from the SS Reichssicherheitsdienst and troops from the Wehrmacht's armoured Führer Begleit Brigade. Although three security zones surrounded the central complex where the Führer bunker was located, an attempt to kill Hitler was made at Wolf's Lair on 20 July 1944.[1]

Hitler first arrived at the headquarters on 23 June 1941. In total, he spent more than 800 days at the Wolfsschanze during a 3½-year period until his final departure on 20 November 1944.[1] In the summer of 1944, work began to enlarge and reinforce many of the Wolf's Lair original buildings, however the work was never completed because of the rapid advance of the Red Army during the Baltic Offensive in autumn 1944. On 25 January 1945, the complex was blown up and abandoned 48 hours before the arrival of Soviet forces.[1]


Wolfsschanze is derived from "Wolf", a self-adopted nickname of Hitler.[2] He began using the nickname in the early 1930s and it was often how he was addressed by those in his intimate circle. "Wolf" was used in several titles of Hitler's headquarters throughout occupied Europe, such as Wolfsschlucht I and II in Belgium and Werwolf in Ukraine.[3]

Although the standard name in English for Wolfsschanze is "Wolf's Lair", the German name does not actually mean this. Schanze is a term from military engineering and is best translated as "fortification" or "sconce".


The decision to build the Wolf's Lair was made in the autumn of 1940. Built in the middle of a forest, it was located far from major roads and urban areas. The 6.5 km2 (2.5 sq mi) complex, which was completed by June 21, 1941, consisted of three concentric security zones.[4] About two thousand people lived and worked at the Wolf's Lair at its peak, among them twenty women.[4] The installations were served by a nearby airfield and train lines. Buildings within the complex were camouflaged with bushes, grass and artificial trees planted on the flat roofs; netting was also erected between buildings and the surrounding forest so from the air, the installation looked like unbroken dense woodland.[4]

  • Sperrkreis 1 (Security Zone 1) was located at the heart of the Wolf's Lair. Ringed by steel fencing and guarded by the Reichssicherheitsdienst (RSD), it contained the Führer Bunker and ten other camouflaged bunkers built from 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) thick steel-reinforced concrete. These shelters protected members of Hitler's inner circle such as Martin Bormann, Hermann Göring, Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl. Hitler's accommodation was on the northern side of Führer Bunker so as to avoid direct sunlight. Both Hitler's and Keitel's bunkers had additional rooms where military conferences could be held.[1]
  • Sperrkreis 2 (Security Zone 2) surrounded the inner zone. This area housed the quarters of several Reich Ministers such as Fritz Todt, Albert Speer, and Joachim von Ribbentrop. It also housed the quarters of the personnel who worked in the Wolf's Lair and the military barracks for the RSD.
  • Sperrkreis 3 (Security Zone 3) was the heavily fortified outer security area which surrounded the two inner zones. It was defended by land mines and the Führer Begleit Brigade (FBB), a special armoured security unit from Wehrmacht which manned guard houses, watchtowers and checkpoints.

A facility for Army headquarters was also located near the Wolf's lair complex.[1]

Although the RSD had overall responsibility for Hitler's personal security, external protection of the complex was provided by the FBB, which had become a regiment by July 1944. The FBB was equipped with tanks, anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons. Any approaching aircraft could be detected up to 100 kilometres (62 mi) from the Wolf's Lair. Additional troops were also stationed about 75 kilometres (47 mi) away.[4]


Traudl Junge, one of Hitler's secretaries, recalled that in late 1943 or early 1944, Hitler spoke repeatedly of the possibility of a devastating bomber attack on the Wolfsschanze by the Western Allies. She quoted Hitler as saying, "They know exactly where we are, and sometime they’re going to destroy everything here with carefully aimed bombs. I expect them to attack any day." [5]

When Hitler’s entourage returned to the Wolfsschanze from an extended summer stay at the Berghof in July 1944, the previous small bunkers had been replaced by the Organisation Todt with "heavy, colossal structures" of reinforced concrete as defense against the feared air attack.[6] According to Armaments Minister Albert Speer, "some 36,000,000 marks were spent for bunkers in Rastenburg [Wolf's Lair]." [7] Hitler’s bunker had become the largest, "a positive fortress" containing "a maze of passages, rooms and halls." Junge said in the period between the July 20 assassination attempt and Hitler's final departure from the Wolfsschanze in November 1944: "we had air-raid warnings every day [...] but there was never more than a single aircraft circling over the forest, and no bombs were dropped. All the same, Hitler took the danger very seriously, and thought all these reconnaissance flights were in preparation for the big raid he was expecting."[8]

No air attack ever came. Whether the Western Allies knew of the Wolfsschanze's location and importance has never been revealed.

Hitler's daily routine

When Hitler was in residence, he would begin the day by taking a walk alone with his dog around 9 or 10 am, and at 10:30 am would look at the mail which had been delivered by air or courier train.[4] A noon situation briefing, which frequently ran as long as two hours, would be convened in Keitel's and Jodl's bunker. This was followed by lunch at 2 pm in the dining hall. Hitler would invariably sit in the same seat between Jodl and Otto Dietrich, while opposite him sat Keitel, Martin Bormann and General Karl Bodenschatz, Goering's adjutant.[1]

After lunch, Hitler would deal with non-military matters for the remainder of the afternoon. Coffee was served around 5 pm, followed by a second military briefing by Jodl at 6 pm. Dinner, which could also last as long as two hours, began at 7:30 pm, after which films were shown in the cinema. Hitler would then retire to his private quarters where he would give monologues to his entourage, including the two female secretaries who had accompanied him to the Wolf's Lair.[9] Occasionally Hitler and his entourage listened to gramophone records of Beethoven symphonies, selections from Wagner or other operas, or German lieder.[1]

Notable visitors

Assassination attempt

In July 1944, an attempt was made to kill Hitler at the Wolf's Lair. The assassination, which became known as the 20 July plot, was organized by a group of acting and retired Heer Army officers and some civilians who wanted to remove Hitler in order to establish a new governance in Germany. After several failed attempts to kill Hitler, the Wolf's Lair - despite its security - was chosen as a viable location. Staff officer Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg would carry a briefcase bomb into a daily conference meeting and place it just a few feet away from Hitler.

However due to the reconstruction of the Führer Bunker in the summer of 1944, the location was changed to a building known as the Lager barrack on the day of the strategy meeting. This alternate venue along with several other factors, such as Hitler unexpectedly calling the meeting earlier than anticipated, meant Stauffenberg's attempt would prove unsuccessful. At 12:43 pm, when the bomb exploded, the interior of the building was devastated but Hitler was only slightly injured. Four other people present died from their wounds a few days later.

Before the bomb detonated, Stauffenberg and his adjutant, Lieutenant Werner von Haeften had already begun to leave the Wolfsschanze in order to return to Berlin. Their escape involved passing through various security zones that controlled all access around the site. After a short delay at the RSD guard post just outside Sperrkreis 1, they were allowed to leave by vehicle. The two officers were then driven down the southern exit road towards the military airstrip near Rastenburg (at 54°2′36″N 21°25′57″E / 54.04333°N 21.43250°E / 54.04333; 21.43250). However by the time they reached the guard house at the perimeter of Sperrkreis 2, the alarm had been sounded. According to the official RHSA report, "at first the guard refused passage until Stauffenberg persuaded him to contact the adjutant to the compound commander who then finally authorized clearance". It was between here and the final checkpoint of Sperrkreis 3 that Haeften tossed another briefcase from the car containing an unused second bomb. On reaching the outer limit of the Wolfsschanze security zones, the two men were allowed to catch their plane back to army general headquarters in Berlin.

The attempted assassination of Hitler at the Wolf Lair was part of Operation Valkyrie. A covert plan to take control and suppress any revolt in the German Reich following Hitler's death. However once news arrived from the Wolf's Lair that the Führer was still alive, the plan failed as troops loyal to the Nazi regime quickly re-established control of key government buildings. Von Stauffenberg, his adjutant Werner von Haeften and several co-conspirators were arrested and shot the same evening.

On 20 August 1944, Hitler personally presented survivors of the bomb blast in the Wolf's Lair with a gold "20 July 1944 Wound Badge". Next-of-kin of those killed in the bomb blast were also given this award.


In October 1944 the Red Army reached the borders of East Prussia during the Baltic Offensive. Hitler departed from the Wolf's Lair for the final time on 20 November when the Soviet advance reached Angerburg (now Węgorzewo), only 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) away. Two days later the order was given to destroy the complex. However the actual demolition did not take place until the night of 24–25 January 1945, ten days after the start of the Red Army's Vistula–Oder Offensive. Despite the use of tons of explosives - one bunker required an estimated 8,000 kg (18,000 lb) of TNT - most of the complex buildings were only partially destroyed due their immense size and reinforced structures.

The Red Army captured the abandoned remains of the Wolfsschanze on 27 January without firing a shot: the same day Auschwitz was liberated. It took until 1955 to clear over 54,000 land mines which surrounded the installation.[4]

See also



  • Junge, Traudl, "Bis Zur Letzten Stunde: Hitlers Sekretärin erzählt ihr Leben", München: Claassen, 2002, pp. 131, 141, 162.
  • Junge, Traudl, "Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary", London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2003, pp. 116, 126, 145.
  • Junge, Traudl, "Voices from the Bunker", New York: G.P.Puttnam's sons, 1989.
  • (Heinrich Müller, SS-Gruppenführer, Amtschef, Reichssicherheitshauptamt-IV- Sonderkommission 20 July 1944. Berlin, den 26. Juli 1944).
  • Speer, Albert, "Inside the Third Reich", New York and Toronto: Macmillan, 1970, p. 217.
  • R.J. Adams (history and ruins of Wolfsschanze)

External links

  • Wolf's Lair website

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