|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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Copyright © 2004 Mike Yoder.
Written by Mike Yoder. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Mike Yoder at:
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Published online: 6/12/2004.
* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent
those of MHO.