Puneet Varma (Editor)

Wolf's Lair

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Controlled by  Wilcze Gniazdo
In use  3½ years
Owner  Politics of Poland
Condition  Destroyed (in ruins)
Open to the public  Yes
Event  20 July plot
Phone  +48 89 752 44 29
Wolf's Lair
Type  Blast-resistant camouflaged concrete bunkers
Built  1941 (1941) (completed on 21 June 1941)
Built by  Hochtief AG Organisation Todt
Address  Gierłoż, 11-400 Kętrzyn, Poland
Similar  Festungsfront Oder‑Warthe‑Bogen, Führer Headquarters, Książ, Amber Room, Czocha Castle

Wolfsschanze wolf s lair hitler s former headquarters poland 2013

Wolf's Lair (German: Wolfsschanze; Polish: Wilczy Szaniec) was Adolf Hitler's first Eastern Front military headquarters in World War II. The complex, which became one of several Führerhauptquartiere (Führer Headquarters) in various parts of eastern Europe, was built for the start of Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of the Soviet Union – in 1941. It was constructed by Organisation Todt.


The top secret, high security site was in the Masurian woods about 8 km (5.0 mi) east of the small East Prussian town of Rastenburg (now Kętrzyn, Poland). Three security zones surrounded the central complex where the Führer's bunker was located. These were guarded by personnel from the SS Reichssicherheitsdienst and the Wehrmacht's armoured Führerbegleitbrigade. Despite the security, the most notable assassination attempt against Hitler was made at the Wolf's Lair on 20 July 1944.

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. 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.


Wolfsschanze is derived from "Wolf", a self-adopted nickname of Hitler. 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.

Although the standard translation in English is "Wolf's Lair," a Schanze in German denotes a sconce, redoubt or temporary fieldwork.


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 21 June 1941, consisted of three concentric security zones. About two thousand people lived and worked at the Wolf's Lair at its peak, among them twenty women; some of whom were required to eat Hitler's food to test for poison. The installations were served by a nearby airfield and railway 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.


    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."

    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. According to Armaments Minister Albert Speer, "some 36,000,000 marks were spent for bunkers in Rastenburg [Wolf's Lair]." Hitler’s bunker had become the largest, "a positive fortress" containing "a maze of passages, rooms and halls." Junge wrote that, in the period between the 20 July 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."

    No air attack ever came. Whether the Western Allies knew of the Wolfsschanze's location and importance has never been revealed. For its part, the Soviet Union was unaware of both the location and scale of the complex until it was uncovered by their forces in their advance towards Germany in early 1945.

    Hitler's daily routine

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

    After lunch, Hitler dealt 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 then retired to his private quarters where he gave monologues to his entourage, including the two female secretaries who had accompanied him to the Wolf's Lair. Occasionally Hitler and his entourage listened to gramophone records of Beethoven symphonies, selections from Wagner or other operas, or German lieder.

    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 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.

    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 assassination attempt was 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).

    However, by the time they reached the guard house at the perimeter of Sperrkreis 2, the alarm had been raised. According to the official RSHA 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.

    Demise and capture

    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 buildings were only partially destroyed due to 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 that Auschwitz was liberated further south. It took until 1955 to clear over 54,000 land mines that surrounded the installation.

    Historical site

    Although the area was cleared of abandoned ordnance such as land mines following the war, the entire site was left to decay by Poland's Communist government. However, since the Fall of Communism in the early 1990s, the Wolf's Lair has been developed as a tourist attraction. Visitors can make day trips from Warsaw or Gdańsk. Hotel and eateries have grown up near the site. Periodically plans have been proposed to restore the area, including the installation of historical exhibits.


    Wolf's Lair Wikipedia