Gatow Airfield 1945 Post-War.
Most in Hitler’s inner circle expected the Führer to flee Berlin before the Soviets managed to encircle the ruined city. As the Red Army closed in on Berlin, Hitler’s personal pilot Hans Baur, promoted by Hitler on 30 January 1945 to SS-Gruppenführer, frantically tried to preserve the F.d.F aircraft for the expected escape south to Berchtesgaden. Standing by in Pöcking, near Passau in Lower Bavaria, was a brand new aircraft for Hitler’s exclusive use that would be the perfect getaway vehicle from the ruins of the Thousand Year Reich.
On 26 November 1943 Hitler had attended a demonstration of new Luftwaffe aircraft types at Insterburg in East Prussia. One aircraft in particular had caught his eye. The giant Junkers Ju 290 was a long-range transport, maritime patrol aircraft and heavy bomber first introduced into Luftwaffe service in August 1942 to replace the slower and smaller Condor. With a crew of nine, the Ju 290 was 28.64m long with a wingspan of 42m. Capable of a maximum speed of 440km/h it had a range of 6,150km and a maximum service ceiling of 6,000m. Hitler asked Göring for one to be assigned to the F.d.F. for his personal use. The Ju 290 had proved to be an excellent maritime patrol aircraft and transport, seeing service at Stalingrad and in Tunisia.
The aircraft destined for Hitler’s squadron was a former maritime reconnaissance aircraft that had been extensively refitted. A Ju 290A-7, it was given the code KRzLW. Hitler’s passenger cabin was protected by 12mm of armour plating and 50mm thick bulletproof glass. As on his main Condor, a special parachute seat and escape hatch was fitted.
The plane was ready for Hitler’s use from February 1945, just as the situation around Berlin was turning very bad. Baur was able to visit Pöcking and test-flew the new plane once. If Hitler, Eva Braun and the inner circle were going to escape death or capture in Berlin, the Ju 290 was going to be their salvation. It had the range to carry them to a neutral country like Spain and Baur prepared for what he thought would be an inevitable final rescue mission. Even if Hitler did not leave Germany at this point, most felt certain that he would nonetheless flee Berlin for Berchtesgaden and continue to direct the war from his mountaintop hideout in Bavaria. But Hitler had no intention of leaving the capital and instead continued to use both the partially wrecked Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker to direct the resistance to Stalin’s encroaching Soviet juggernaut. Baur was left frustrated and increasingly concerned for the safety of the remaining aircraft that made up the F.d.F.
The Führerbunker had its genesis in air raid shelters built under and adjoined to buildings on Wilhelmstrasse and Vossstrasse in 1935. When the New Reich Chancellery complex was completed in January 1939 it included more air raid shelters. One was the Vorbunker, or Upper Bunker.
Architect Leonhard Gall submitted plans in 1935 for a large reception hall-cum-ballroom to be added to the Old Reich Chancellery. Completed in 1936, the Vorbunker had a roof that was 1.6m thick, the bunker’s thick walls partially supporting the weight of the large reception hall overhead.
There were two entrances into the Vorbunker; one from the Foreign Ministry garden and the other from the New Reich Chancellery. Both led to a reinforced steel gas-proof door leading to a set of small rooms. On the left was the Water Supplies/Boiler Room, to the right the Airfilters Room. Moving forward there was a middle Dining Area with a Kitchen to the left, which was where Hitler’s cook/dietician Frau Constanze Manziarly prepared the Führer’s meals. There was also a well-stocked Wine Store. To the right of the Dining Area was the Personnel/Guard Quarters. Moving forward again, there was a Conference Room in the middle and on the left two rooms that originally housed Hitler’s physician Dr Theodor Morell and, following his departure in April 1945, Dr Goebbels’ wife Magda and her six young children. To the right of the Conference Room was a room used for guest quarters, two storerooms and then a stairway set at right angles connecting to the Führerbunker that was 2.5m lower than the Vorbunker and west-southwest of it. Steel doors could close off the Vorbunker and Führerbunker from one another and the SS closely guarded all entrances and exits.
Hitler’s Führerbunker, or Lower Bunker, was built in 1942–43, 8.5m beneath the Old Reich Chancellery Garden 120m north of the New Chancellery at a cost of 1.4 million Reichsmarks. It was deep enough to withstand the largest bombs that were being dropped by the British and Americans over the city.
Designed by the architectural firm Hochtief under Albert Speer’s supervision, the Führerbunker was one of about twenty bunkers and air raid shelters used by Hitler’s inner circle, bodyguards and military commanders in the region of the Reich Chancellery. Many cellars in the surrounding buildings were also utilised as auxiliary bunkers during the Battle of Berlin.
The Führerbunker suffered from noise caused by the steady running of aeration ventilators twenty-four hours a day and also had a problem with cool moisture on the walls, as Berlin has a high ground water level.
Entry into the Führerbunker was via the Vorbunker, passing down the dogleg staircase, which led to a guarded door giving access to a long Hall/Lounge, where RSD and SS-Begleitkommando sentries checked identity papers before permitting entry to the Führerbunker proper. This was through double steel gas-proof doors set into the bunker’s 2.2m thick protective wall. The Führerbunker was divided along a central corridor that gave access to an emergency exit staircase at the far end that led up to the surface in the Reich Chancellery Garden. This corridor was divided into two long rooms. The first of these on entering the Führerbunker was the Corridor/Lounge. A door on the left led to the Toilets and Electricity Switch Room. From the Toilets a connecting door led to the Bathroom/Dressing Room with Eva Braun’s Bedroom on the right of the Bathroom. A door connected the Bathroom with Hitler’s Sitting Room. To the right of this room was Hitler’s Study, dominated by a large painting of King Frederick the Great that Hitler would spend much time staring at as the Soviets fought their way into Berlin’s suburbs, hoping that he could emulate Frederick and turn back the Bolshevik horde with some final grand military gesture. A door connected Hitler’s Sitting Room with Hitler’s Bedroom. A door on the right of Hitler’s Study led back into the central corridor, this section called the Conference Room. The last three rooms on the left of the Führerbunker were not connected to Hitler’s suite and consisted of the Map Room where Hitler held most of his military situation conferences during the last weeks of the war, the Cloakroom and a Ventilation Room.
The left side of the Führerbunker consisted, moving from the staircase connecting it with the Vorbunker to the emergency exit to the Reich Chancellery Gardens, of a series of rooms. First was the Generator/Ventilation Plant Room. This was connected to the Telephone Switchboard Room where SS-Oberscharführer Rochus Misch of the SS-Begleitkommando worked, Martin Bormann’s Office and the Guard Room. Hitler’s loyal valet SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinz Linge lived here. Next were two rooms: Goebbels’ Office and the Doctor’s Room. The last two rooms on the right of the central Conference Room were Goebbels’ Bedroom and the Doctor’s Quarters. Parts of the two bunkers were carpeted and one section of this material was recently discovered in a British regimental archive. It reveals that the carpet had a pattern of yellow flowers and blue leaves on a fawn background. The rooms were furnished with expensive pieces taken from the Reich Chancellery above and there were several framed oil paintings on the walls. But the interior, in keeping with Hitler’s other field headquarters, could not be described as anything other than Spartan and functional.
By mid-April the end was fast approaching on all fronts for Hitler’s Germany. On 11 April US forces had crossed the River Elbe placing them only 100km west of Berlin. British and Canadian forces had crossed the Rhine and were pushing into the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany. On 18 April Army Group B, the last major German formation west of Berlin, was surrounded and surrendered with the loss of 325,000 men. In Italy, the Allies’ Spring Offensive had seen their forces cross the River Po and push German forces into the foothills of the Alps. But the greatest threat came from the east where Stalin was poised to unleash hell.
On 16 April the Red Army commenced the operation to capture Berlin, assaulting the Seelow Heights, the last significant German defence line east of the city. The fighting was fierce, the Soviets suffering heavy casualties, but by the 19th they had broken through and there was now no longer a proper defence position left to protect the city.
On 20 April, Hitler’s 56th birthday, Soviet artillery came in range of the Berlin suburbs and opened fire. By the next evening T-34 tanks had arrived on the outskirts. As the Red Army began to close a ring around Berlin and started to fight through the city suburbs in several directions aiming for the nearby Reichstag building, efforts were taken to increase the protection afforded to the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker. On 22 April 1945 Kampfgruppe Mohnke (Battle Group Mohnke) was formed out of all available elite guard units from across Berlin and sent to defend the government quarter, Sector Z (Citadel), from the Soviets. Its commander, 34-year-old SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke had been one of the founding members of the SSStabswache (Staff Guard) in Berlin in 1934. A highly decorated Waffen-SS field commander, by 1945 Mohnke commanded the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division (LSSAH). He had been wounded in Hungary and whilst recovering in Berlin was appointed by Hitler to command the defence of Sector Z.
Kampfgruppe Mohnke consisted of several units. SS-Wachbataillon I, the section of the LSSAH that was retained in Berlin on ceremonial guard and security duties when the rest of the LSSAH was sent to the Western Front, numbered about 800 men. On 15 April, one regiment of two battalions had been formed out of the remaining Wachbataillon troops, reinforced by other SS and Wehrmacht stragglers. It was placed under the command of SS-Standartenführer Anhalt until he was killed-inaction on 24 April. SS-Sturmbannführer Herbert Kaschula then assumed command. SS-Hauptsturmführer Mrugalla commanded its I Battalion while SS-Hauptsturmführer Fritz Schäfer led the II Battalion.
Another unit, SS-Panzer-Grenadier-Ausbildungs-und Ersatz Bataillon I under 32-year-old SS-Sturmbannführer Arthur Klingermeyer, was brought in from Spreenhagen. In January 1945 this unit consisted of twelve companies. On 15 April two battalions under Klingermeyer had been transferred to Berlin. Both battalions were later merged together and given some reservist reinforcements. There was the LSSAH Flak Kompanie and the 800-man SS-Begleitkommando under SS-Sturmbannführer Franz Schädle and the usual RSD close-protection detachment.
Finally, there were 600 men from the Begleit-Bataillon Reichsführer-SS. This special unit had been formed in May 1941 as Himmler’s personal escort and most had remained in Berlin after Himmler left the capital. They were part of the larger 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division Reichsführer-SS then currently fighting in Austria.
Further troops within the Citadel sector included the remains of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division der SS Charlemagne, consisting of approximately sixty French SS under the command of SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg, who would fall back on the sector and take command of the remnants of the 11th SS Volunteer Panzer Grenadier Division Nordland on 27 April. There were also stragglers and small units from various Wehrmacht, SS, Volkssturm (Home Guard), Hitler Youth and Kriegsmarine units that were also pushed or fell back into Defence Sector Z.
By 22 April the Germans defending Berlin were outnumbered virtually 10-1. German units had been severely degraded and worn down by almost continuous fighting since the start of the Soviet spring offensive. Some 100,000 Volkssturm, mostly consisting of older men above military age, plus some Hitler Youth and foreign SS volunteers, were backing up the regular troops in the hopeless defence. With virtually no tanks, limited artillery and no viable Luftwaffe over the capital, the defence of Berlin would not last for long.
Hitler grasped at anything that he thought might turn the tide. When he observed the vulnerability of one of the Soviet flanks he gave orders for SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner’s Army Detachment to counterattack, refusing to accept that Steiner’s forces were severely depleted and simply not up to the task. When Hitler discovered at the afternoon situation conference on 22 April that Steiner had failed to attack he suffered a complete mental collapse, and once he stopped screaming declared to his shocked audience that the war was lost. Later that day Hitler consulted SS-Obersturmbannführer Prof. Dr Werner Haase on the best method to kill oneself. Haase suggested that he bite down on a cyanide capsule whilst simultaneously shooting himself in the head.
Hitler’s pilot, SS-Gruppenführer Baur, spent most of his days organising last-minute flights out of the doomed city for certain VIPs aboard the handful of serviceable transport aircraft.
This movement of key personnel was codenamed Operation ‘Seraglio’. Konteadmiral Hans von Puttkammer, Hitler’s naval aide, was ordered to destroy all of Hitler’s personal papers at the Berghof. Hitler’s personal Condor, CEzIB, carried the Puttkamer party south from Berlin’s Gatow Airport to Neubiberg near Munich. Among the passengers was Hitler’s personal doctor, Theodor Morell, who carried an army footlocker containing all of Hitler’s medical records.
On 21 April Grossadmiral Karl Dönitz’s personal Condor, GCzSJ, was pressed into service on a secret mission. The aircraft had just returned from a hazardous sortie to evacuate Spanish diplomats and some important German passengers from Berlin to Munich. Hitler had decided to send more non-essential staff out of Berlin to Berchtesgaden. GCzSJ touched down at Tempelhof, which was by then under fire, and met three black cars. Leading the group was NSKK-Gruppenführer Albert Bormann, brother of Hitler’s much-feared secretary Martin Bormann. Accompanying him were his family, servants and twenty-five former occupants of the Berlin Führerbunker.
The plane was soon airborne and the pilot ducked into thick cloud cover to avoid Soviet fighters and flak. Near Dresden the Condor again came under Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Shell fragments struck the cockpit, shattering some of the instrument displays. One engine was knocked out but they made it intact to Neubiberg Airfield near Munich.
Albert Speer’s Condor, TAzMR, had been destroyed in a bombing raid and on 21 April his personal pilot, Major Erich Adam, had flown Heinkel He 111 transport TQzMU to Neubiberg. As the flak-damaged Condor GCzSJ carrying Albert Bormann and party came in to land at Neubiberg’s blacked out airfield the pilot, Hauptmann Husslein, suddenly saw Major Adam’s Heinkel 111 sitting on the runway directly ahead. The Condor’s brakes were engaged so hard that all four landing gear tires blew out, but a terrible ground collision was narrowly avoided.