The Ultimate Führerbunker
As is well known, Hitler ended his days trapped in his lair, the Führerbunker. The underground complex under the Reichs Chancellery in Berlin was rather heavily fortified and lavishly appointed, with ample facilities for Hitler to carry on the war, and with comfortable quarters for him and his principal henchmen. But the Berlin bunker was by no means the only elaborate underground or fortified facility from which Hitler ran his war. In fact, in the course of the war some dozens of special headquarters were built for Hitler’s use. These were scattered all across Europe, from the outskirts of Smolensk to the Loire Valley, reflecting the focus of Hitler’s strategic interests at various times.
Most of these Führerbunkeren were elaborate underground or otherwise fortified facilities, that provided space for the Hitler gang to live and work in relative comfort and safety. All had complex communications suites, extensive defenses, particularly anti-aircraft installations, and were surrounded by barracks for troops and security personnel.
What seems to have been intended as the ultimate Führerbunker, was a site known as “Riese – Giant”, in a mountainous region of Lower Silesia near the eastern branch of the Neisse River. Intended as a general headquarters for the direction of the war on the Eastern Front, Riese was authorized in September of 1943, when the war had already turned against Germany, though perhaps not so decisively as to be irretrievable.
Riese was actually not a single massive installation, but rather something like an entrenched camp, with interlinked facilities scattered over several square kilometers, all covering the critical central nodes. The total internal space of the facility was to run over 190,000 square meters – over two million square feet, more than 45 acres. Most of the space was intended to serve as barracks, defenses, storage, and so forth. Hitler himself was to have only a modest 5,240 square meters for his own use and that of his principal associates, plus about 5,000 more for his headquarters. The site was huge, because the garrison was intended to be huge. The facilities were planned to shelter some 27,000 personnel.
|The Riese “Garrison”|
|Hitler and his inner circle|| c.|| 100|
|Führer headquarters ||c. || 8,300 |
|Army Headquarters ||c. || 7,500|
|Luftwaffe Headquarters ||c. || 2,400|
|SS Headquarters ||c. || 1,800|
|Reich Government Officials ||c. || 300|
|Anti-Aircraft Troops ||c. || 6,600|
It was an expensive project. The plans alone ran over a million Reichsmarks, and the initial estimated cost was something over 150 million. How much was actually spent is unknown. Hitler’s principal builder, Albert Speer, claimed that by the time construction had reached about 50-percent, in the autumn of 1944, the project was already well over-budget. He claimed to deplore the waste, arguing that more concrete – over 36,000 cubic meters – had been used in the project than had been used to build air raid shelters. Nor is the human cost known. By late 1944, when over 3.4 million man-days of work had been invested in bringing the project to about 50-percent completion, nearly 25,000 slave laborers and some thousands of others from the Todt Organization were engaged in the project. The death rate was staggering; perhaps 40-percent of the slave laborers perished.
Scheduled for completion in August of 1945, work on Riese was abandoned late in the winter of 1945, as the Red Army approached.
Note: For more about the Riese installation and Hitler’s other fortified headquarters, see Franz W. Seidler and Dieter Ziegert, Hitler's Secret Headquarters: The Fuhrer's Wartime Bases from the Invasion of France to the Berlin Bunker , translated by Geoffrey Brooks (London/Mechanicsburg, Pa: Greenhill Books/Stackpole Books, 2004)
H.M.S. Captail Goes Down, and With Her a Bit of History
The brain child of Cowper Phipps Coles, a Captain in the Royal Navy, H.M.S. Captain was one of a number of radically innovative warships built during the early days of the ironclad revolution. Funded only after bruising parliamentary and press debates, and against the better judgement of the Admiralty, Captain sported two turrets of a novel design, each mounting two 12-inch muzzle loading rifled cannon. Intended to displace 6,950 tons and make nearly 16 knots, Captain had a number of flaws. One was that upon completion, she actually displaced 7,767 tons. This gave her a freeboard (height of her deck above water) of only 6½ feet, 18 inches less than intended. Moreover, due to poor construction, her metacentric height was about ten inches higher than as intended, making her roll a good deal. Finally, to top it all off, she was furnished with a full ship rig, and sails; her masts were the tallest and at 50,000 square feet her sail area the largest in the history of the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy’s ship design specialists concluded that the ship would prove unstable and dangerous in any weather, and would probably not recover if she rolled more than 20 degrees.
Captain was commissioned in April of 1870. Surprisingly, she did well on initial trials, sailing as far as Gibraltar on several voyages. Then disaster struck. Late on September 6, 1870, Captain was cruising under sail with eleven other warships off Cape Finisterre, the westernmost part of France. Shortly after midnight on the 7th, a strong wind struck her and she began heeling over. Although the Captain ordered the sail cut away, before this could be done her roll increased and then very suddenly she capsized. Of some 500 officers and men aboard Captain, there were only 18 survivors, men who’d been lucky enough to be thrown clear when the ship rolled over. Among the dead were Coles himself, as well as Captain Hugh Talbot Burgoyne, the ship’s skipper, who had earned a V.C. in the Crimean War.
In addition to the terrible loss of life, the sinking of H.M.S. Captain also represented a significant loss for students of ancient and ecclesiastical history, due to Lieutenant John Trevithick, the ship’s second lieutenant, who was among the dead
In 1858, Trevithick had accompanied an expedition led by Lord Napier to explore and map portions of the Arabian Sea and adjacent waters. Being a man of antiquarian interests, Trevithick had spent part of his time buying up old manuscripts in local bazaars. He had an unknown number of these with him aboard Captain when she went down. Precisely what was lost can never be known, but a bit of barbarous vandalism on Trevithick’s part may provide a hint.
It seems that shortly before Captain’s final voyage, Trevithick cut a parchment page from one manuscript and gave it as a gift to a fellow officer from another ship. It’s an attractive page, in two columns. One column is of text, in Coptic script carefully written in black ink with little red crosses for punctuation. The other column is an illuminated picture showing five women and a man placing a body in a tomb. This alone survived of Trevithick’s collection, and now rests in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.
The page is from an ancient Ethiopian Life of Pontius Pilate.