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Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst

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Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
by Irwin J. Kappes

The signs of imminent implosion of the Third Reich were already apparent in Fall of 1944. An unsuccessful attempt had been made on Hitler's life by a cabal of high-level officers on July 20. He escaped only slightly injured. But intimates noted signs of deterioration—an increase in the paranoia already natural to him, tremors, and a totally exhausted demeanor. Elsewhere, German armies in France and Belgium were on the run and mounting only sporadic counter-attacks. The vital Romanian oil fields at Ploesti had fallen to the Russians, the Finns who had been allied with the Germans not only gave up but turned against them, and the Russians were poised at the border of East Prussia—the easternmost province of Germany. The high command knew the Nazi cause was lost.

Ziegenberg Castle It was against this unpromising backdrop that Hitler stepped off his special train in Giessen on a blustery December 11, 1944 for the short drive to Ziegenberg. To the casual observer, the only thing distinguishing this farm village from dozens like it in the Wetterau region of central Germany was its 1740s-era castle.

Guardhouse bunker Unknown to the villagers and to Allied Military Intelligence as well, behind the castle there was a compound made up of seven buildings giving the appearance of an innocent grouping of wooden country cottages with second-story dormers. Many even had wooden porches decorated with flower baskets. Actually, they were bunkers and had 3-foot thick walls and ceilings of reinforced concrete. Nevertheless, they were commodiously furnished in the bourgeois German style of the time—turned oak floor lamps with fringed shades, the obligatory deer antlers, wall hangings depicting hunting scenes or Teutonic battle scenes, knotty-pine wall paneling and upholstered furniture designed more for appearance than for comfort. The name Hitler gave to this compound was Adlerhorst (Eagle's eyrie).

Adlerhorst was built in 1939-1940, and because of its central location it was intended to be Hitler's primary military headquarters. Construction workers had been brought in from other regions and the entire compound was built in record time—and without the knowledge of local residents. The entire area was ringed with well-camouflaged anti-aircraft batteries and these were constructed first to deflect suspicion about the importance of the site. Some of the more perceptive workers may have suspected that this was more than just another military base but there is no evidence that its exact nature or purpose ever became known outside of authorized circles.

The Fuehrer's house was referred to as Haus 1. It was in no way more luxuriously appointed than the other six. As is well known, Hitler was not given to ostentation beyond what was minimally befitting a head-of-state. Haus 2 was the so-called "casino". This was simply German military terminology for "officers' club". In this instance, it was also much more. In addition to a lounge and café, the casino contained a situation room and an elaborate communications center. When he was in residence, Hitler spent most of his waking hours here and they usually extended until four in the morning. Not daring to retire earlier, his adjutants stood by behind stifled yawns as Hitler energetically pored over maps and battle reports. One indication of the importance of the casino to Hitler is the fact that it was connected to his house by a short covered walkway.

PressehausHaus 3 was the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht-house. At one time or another, all of Hitler's top generals resided here, including von Rundstedt, Jodl, Kesselring, Goering and Keitel. Haus 4 was known as the "generals' house" and was occupied by the second echelon of the general staff, notables such as von Manteuffel, Schoerner, Guderian, etc. Haus 5 was the so-called Presse Haus. Needless to say, the "press" was simply an arm of Goebbels' propaganda ministry and it reported only what Hitler's press attaches authorized. Haus 6 was the Reichsleiters' residence, housing top-level political leaders such as Martin Bormann, Alfred Rosenberg and Robert Ley when they came by to consult with Hitler or receive their orders.

Haus 7, the Wachhaus, was by far the largest building on the site. It housed the Fuehrer's offices and his personal security, secretarial and housekeeping staffs. It was like the other buildings in the compound only in that it presented the appearance of a wooden cottage. However, it was long and narrow, with porches at either end and was set on a bunker base which was at ground level. At the bottom of a rise on which the other six buildings were located, the Wachhaus was ingeniously connected to the castle by a half-mile long bunker which was built into the side of the hill with one wall exposed. This gave the outward appearance of a stone retaining wall. All seven buildings were in a heavily wooded area but were nevertheless extensively camouflaged. In the late war period of 1943-1945 most were even decorated with fake evergreen trees so as to blend in with the pine-forested hilltop. From the air they absolutely defied detection.

Kraftfahrzeughalle Located in the village proper was the largest building of all, the Kraftfahrzeughalle or motor pool garage. Even though its purpose was purely military, it was designed in the traditional Fachwerk (half-timbered) style so prized in Germany so that it would not stand out in a village of homes similarly constructed. It housed not only a large fleet of armored limousines, fire engines, busses and ambulances but the families of the personnel assigned to them.

Off and on, Adlerhorst was a vital command center. In the first months of the war when Hitler's attention was focused on the eastern front, he rarely visited the site, preferring the mountain air and spectacular scenery of his Berghof near Berchtesgaden. In fact, for a time the castle and Haus 7 were utilized as rehabilitation centers for wounded officers. But as Germany came under pressure on both fronts in 1944, Adlerhorst again assumed the strategic importance originally planned for it.

Hitler confided to his intimates that he felt relieved and confident to be back at Adlerhorst. He didn't have to explain the reason. In Berlin he had been receiving a constant stream of bad news from the eastern front, and the situation on the western front was little better. But Hitler was a believer in omens. While the Adlerhorst was still under construction, this was where he had planned some of his stunning military victories that had culminated in the occupation of Paris and the Allies' humiliation at Dunkirk. Here, he would amaze the world once again and shatter Allied plans for a conquest of the German homeland.

As Hitler was settling in at Haus 1 on December 11th, the generals and Panzer Corps commanders who were to lead the Ardennes counter-offensive began to assemble at von Rundstedt's temporary headquarters near Limburg. Mindful that a recent attempt had been made on the Fuehrer's life by trusted leaders, their sidearms and briefcases were thoughtfully "stored" for them by the Gestapo and they were led to a bus. It took a circuitous route for nearly an hour so as to thoroughly confuse the passengers as to their destination. Only a few of the officers knew Adlerhorst's exact location and the Gestapo was determined to keep it that way. Finally, the bus turned off the road now known as Route B-275 , went up a slight rise, through a narrow stone-lined tunnel and stopped in front of the foreboding but undistinguished castle. If there were any officers present who had been a part of the recent plot to assassinate Hitler, they may have suspected that they were about to be shot. But they had simply arrived at the castle of Ziegenberg. The castle served as overflow housing because facilities at the compound were limited and another group of commanders was due in the following day. The senior leaders present were Generals Jodl, Keitel, Blumentritt, von Rundstedt, von Manteuffel and S.S. Colonel Sepp Dietrich.

The party made its way down the casino bunker's steep stairway and into the cramped situation room. Ten minutes later, the Fuehrer entered and immediately launched into an extemporaneous preamble. It was the same as had been heard so often before: The ideals of National Socialism and how they reflected the true goals of Frederick the Great; German dedication to the preservation of civilized values as opposed to the "corrupt and bloated Jewish-dominated capitalist countries", and so on ad infinitum. To these professional soldiers it was just another 1932 beer-hall speech. After what seemed like more than an hour but was probably much less, Hitler finally came to the point. In four days, at 5:00 A.M. on December 15, he would launch Operation Herbst Nebel (Autumn Fog) in the Ardennes. Three German armies—over a quarter of a million men—would attack and it would be merciless and decisive. As his voice rose, he said, "The German soldier will now show the world what he is made of", looking pointedly, some thought, at a few of the generals as if to imply that they might be less valorous than their own men.

Hitler was ecstatic over the initial results of Autumn Fog. The Allies were caught completely by surprise, not believing that the Nazis were any longer capable of launching such a massive attack. Always more optimistic than his best generals, Hitler even predicted a final victory. Accompanied by two or three of his favorite adjutants, he took long walks in Adlerhorst's pine forest, regaling them with postwar plans and aspirations.

Meanwhile, von Rundstedt had done his reconnaissance homework and knew that Autumn Fog had little chance of success. He dared tell Hitler that the drive invited encirclement and sure disaster. Hitler not only scoffed at this defeatism but ordered a new offensive involving three divisions aimed at outflanking the Americans.

Hitler was at this point not only out of touch with reality, but giving new meaning to the expression "shoot the messenger". He would humiliate any generals who proffered an honest but pessimistic military assessment and would threaten to have them shot as well. Shortly after Christmas, Goering arrived at Adlerhorst and took up residence at the castle. After an extremely downbeat briefing in the casino that convinced Hitler that he was being served by incompetents, Goering privately suggested that a truce be sought and that this could be arranged through Swedish contacts. It was the end. Hitler immediately flew into a rage and threatened to have Goering put before a firing squad if he made one step in that direction. For Hitler it meant a search for a new deputy Fuehrer. But that would have to wait. Hitler felt deeply depressed by this betrayal but the main business at hand was the deteriorating front in the Ardennes.

Hitler was not one to be sidetracked for long by a feckless comrade-in-arms who had lost his courage. His faith in ultimate victory was still so overwhelming that it overcame all reason. This was the Hitler who had just told one of his adjutants that the key to victory was steadfastness and determination. "We have the upper hand because we are defending our homes and cities. The enemy soldier from across the Atlantic is fighting over terrain that will have no significance to his life when the war ends. The important element of motivation is with us. The key is to outlast him."

Hitler was now about to play his trump card. As had been the case so often in the past, Hitler again displayed his ignorance of American life and customs. He believed that the Amis celebrated the New Year much more than they did Christmas. He would launch a counter-offensive code-named "North Wind" on New Year's Day just south of the Ardennes and catch the Americans by surprise. At midnight, nine Panzer divisions mounted an all-out attack on Bastogne. To divert Allied response to this assault, eight German divisions attacked U.S. Seventh Army positions near Lembach in the Alsace, 120 miles to the southeast. This surprise masterstroke would break the back of the American advance. And when followed up by the swift Panzer counter-punch that had been so successful in the past, the Americans and their British cousins would be forced to endure a second Dunkirk. The pivotal battle was underway and Hitler was exultant.

Just before midnight on December 31st, he strode from his private bunker to the Pressehaus to deliver his annual New Years' message to the German people. Two inches of fluffy snow had fallen overnight, giving the fir trees and bunker/homes the festive appearance of a ski resort. The words beamed out over Germany: "In this grave hour, millions of Germans from all walks of life are doing their duty to their Fatherland. And above all, German factories and workers have risen to new heights of productivity. What our enemies have sought to destroy, our industrious workers have rebuilt with superhuman courage and sacrifice. And this will continue—until the day comes when we will see the beginning of the end for our enemies. This, my German comrades, will go down in history as the wonder of the twentieth century! A people that has suffered so greatly—at home as well as on the front—simply cannot and will not fail. This crucible of trial will produce a people stronger and more dedicated than ever in its history."

At Haus 1, Hitler observed the New Year by entertaining his immediate circle of intimates—Martin Bormann, secretaries Traudl Junge and Christa Schroeder, his press chief Otto Diedrich and a few of his most trusted adjutants. His Austrian chef had prepared a buffet of snacks and several bottles of Mosel-Sekt were in an iced cooler. But Hitler was not in a mood to party. To him this was just another opportunity to bolster his own optimism by launching into a lecture on the predestiny of a noble German hegemony in Europe and the despised Untermenschen who were attempting to derail it.

Sometime after 4 A.M., and much to the relief of his guests, Hitler announced that he would retire to the casino's situation room to monitor the Ardennes offensive. Initially the news was not good. But Hitler did not know that the Enigma code machine in which he had placed such confidence had long since been compromised by the British. Able to read all of his directives to the front within minutes of receipt by his generals, his forces were constantly being outflanked and overrun. Incredibly, the Fuehrer remained optimistic, talking of his new jets and other secret weapons. Defeat was "simply not in my destiny". But the word from the front presented a quite different story.

On January 6th, 1945 a blockbuster bomb was dropped on Ziegenberg, damaging the church and several houses, killing four residents. This could only have been a random event—perhaps jettisoned by a bomber returning to home base in England. If Allied forces had even half-suspected that Hitler was in residence only a half-mile away the entire area would undoubtedly have been carpet-bombed. By mid-January the Battle of the Bulge was over and the Germans were in full retreat. Lacking new ideas and now finally realizing that the western front was irretrievably lost, Hitler left Adlerhorst for the last time on January 16th but instead of returning to Berlin, he journeyed to East Prussia to set an example for its defenders and for the Prussian populace. It was a risky move as the Soviets had broken through at Baranov on the upper Vistula just south of Warsaw, had taken half of the East Prussian province and had reached the vital port of Danzig (today's Gdansk, Poland). Even so, it was not until mid-February that the Fuehrer finally moved his headquarters back to Berlin. Holding actions were being fought sporadically, but a serious defense was no longer possible.

At Adlerhorst, a dispirited General Field Marshal Kesselring had recently relieved General von Manteuffel as commandant on the western front and was directing the faltering campaign from the castle there. The Allies never revealed their exact source, but in the second week of March, 1945 they finally learned one of the best-kept secrets of World War II—or at least a part of the secret. Their information had it that the Ziegenberg castle was Hitler's secret command post. The compound behind it—the real nerve center of Adlerhorst —remained unknown to the Allies until after the war.

Gasthof Adlerhorst It didn't take the Americans long to act on their information. For all they knew, Hitler might still be there. So on March 19 the area came under a 45-minute attack by a squadron of P-51 Mustangs. The castle and many homes were firebombed with the loss of ten civilian lives. All military personnel present had been forewarned and took shelter in the castle's bunker. Just two days before the raid, General Kesselring ordered all classified documents and sensitive equipment removed and he decamped to the OKW house in Adlerhorst proper. He remained there until March 28, fighting a war he had long known he could not win. There was no time for orderly withdrawal. The Americans were now only 12 miles away. All civilian employees and families of military personnel were hastily ordered to evacuate, using all available motor pool equipment. Without even attempting to salvage useable furnishings, German troops were instructed to dynamite the compound. When American troops arrived on the 30th they found a burned-out jumbled mass of concrete bunkers bearing no resemblance to the original "wooden country house" appearance of Adlerhorst . But there were a few exceptions.

The Wachhaus, which had played an important role in the base's operations, mysteriously escaped damage and exists today. The Pressehaus also escaped demolition. It can be speculated that since these two buildings housed only civilian employees who were not necessarily Nazi Party members, it may have been considered pointless to dynamite buildings having potential future utility. There is also the possibility that they were simply overlooked by troops eager to complete their assignment and retreat. Whatever the case, the two buildings are in a remarkable state of preservation.

The large motor pool building located in the village proper also went unscathed. For two years it was occupied by a U.S. Army Combat Engineer Batallion. It was converted into a military hospital in 1977 and served other purposes until it was finally returned to the German government. The half-timbered main hall which contained the living quarters of the motor pool staff was subsequently torn down but the garage itself still stands. It stands abandoned, a silent derelict of the Third Reich.

For nearly twenty years the castle lay in ruins. In the mid-‘60s there was a restoration attempt which ended in bankruptcy. A developer with substantial resources was finally attracted to it in 1987. The burned-out structure was rebuilt on its original foundation, the sturdy stone walls were clad in stucco, and it was converted into luxury apartments in 1981.

Gasthof Adlerhorst Today's thrifty Germans have used the sturdy concrete bunker foundations of several of the buildings for home construction. In fact, the foundation of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht Haus has found use as the basement for the Gasthaus Adlerhorst—a local watering spot and hotel. Most of today's residents of Ziegenberg are a generation or two removed from World War II and choose not to ruminate about Hitler's Adlerhorst. For them it is now a place to enjoy the good German Weissbier and juicy bratwurst with friends on a leisurely Saturday night.

Photos

Reinforced concrete guardhouse bunker.  Note stone facing and fake windows designed to give the appearance of a village barn.
Ziegenberg Castle Ziegenberg Castle (circa 1740).  Nearly demolished by Allied bombing.  Now converted into condominiums.  The tower survived intact.
Pressehaus Remarkably intact after 60 years is the "Pressehaus", a building nearly identical to the demolished "Fuehrer House".
Kraftfahrzeughalle "Kraftfahrzeughalle" (Motor Pool Garage).  Built to house 15 vehicles.  Under the original dormered roof were the living quarters for drivers and maintenance personnel.
Gasthof Adlerhorst Guardhouse Alternate.
Gasthof Adlerhorst "Gasthof Adlerhorst".  A hotel and tavern.  Built on the foundation of the OKW house.

* * *

Copyright © 2003 Irwin J. Kappes

Written by Irwin Kappes. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Irwin Kappes at:
ijkapp@yahoo.com.

About the author:
Mr. Kappes served in U.S. Navy on destroyers in the Atlantic and Pacific during WWII. He holds an MBA from Boston University and retired after a 32 year advertising career with the Du Pont Company. He was also a retired Vice President with United States Hosiery. He is married and his hobbies include painting, writing, and travel. His hometown is New Castle, PA. and presently living in Tinton Falls, NJ.

Published online: 03/15/2003.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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