Volume 14 #1
|Pilze Für Jäger|
|by Lou Schoonbrood, TIGHAR #1198|
Author’s Note: During a stay in Berlin in October 1996 I met with some former fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe, and happened to mention the “Pilze für Jäger” [mushrooms for fighters] which TIGHAR’s research suggested may have been built in the second half of World War II. One of the old pilots happened to have heard of the project, and rememberd the name of the engineer who designed it, purely because it was a name shared by his son-in-law. With this to go on, I was able to track down the son of the engineer (the father was long dead), and talk with him about his father’s memories and tales of the war. The story below is a reconstruction of events from the final year of World War II, based on a little diary shown to me by the son. Not once was the word "Pilze" or any other specific phrase written in the yellowing pages, but combined with Jürgen Weltens’ memories of his father’s tales of the last year of the war, I was able to put the puzzle together.
The convoy made it just to the end of the Potsdamerchaussee, near Wannsee railway station. There they came under a Russian air attack. Several trucks and cars went up in flames. The rest made it just over the Glienicker Brucke across the Havel (later famous because it became the bridge where East and West exchanged their spies during the Cold War). On the Berliner Strasse, just after the bridge in the bend of the road, another attack took place. It was at this point that the only proof of existence of the “Pilze für Jäger” program went up in flames: technical drawings of the “mushrooms” and a model made of wood, paper and plaster.
The model was made by Hermann Weltens of the Organization Todt, the primary building arm of the Third Reich. Unfit for military duty because of asthma and eye problems, he served the Reich as an architect. He and his staff had as their main occupation the preservation of bridges in the south of France. He was sent to Lyon in June 1943 to run that project after having worked on the U-Boot bunkers at La Rochelle. His special skills were in the construction of reinforced concrete pillars and roofs.
In late May 1944 Weltens was ordered to Berlin to report to Xaver Dorsch, head of Organization Todt. This was quite unusual, although many knew of the skills Weltens had. He left Paris on June 1st or 2nd, but had a hard time getting to Berlin, due to Allied bombing of railroads that first week in June 1944. On the afternoon of June 5 he finally arrived in Berlin. He contacted Dorsch’s staff and arranged a meeting for the next morning. When he arrived at his appointment the next morning all was confusion at headquarters. He didn’t know what had happened that night and early morning – on his way he had heard some people talking about an invasion going on in France, but simply didn’t pay much attention to it. There were always rumors going on.
When Weltens finally managed to get to Dorsch, the only thing Dorsch said was: “Sorry, but I haven’t got much time now, as you can imagine. This is what I want you to do.” Dorsch described the concept of the Pilze für Jäger – mushrooms for fighters. What struck him most was a simple statement by Dorsch: “You can ask the Organization for anything: from concrete to steel, from skilled workers to trucks and shovels. On paper you’ll get it; in reality you won’t. There are other priorities.” Then he got the technical specs, and that was it. The whole conversation lasted not more than 10 minutes.
As Weltens left the room, Dorsch spoke once more: “Take your time. We don’t want to mess this one up, do we?” Weltens didn’t know what to make of it. He would not have to contact Dorsch, Dorsch would contact him if the time had come. Weltens was a bit baffled. Had he come this far for a conversation of less than 10 minutes only to get an order to design a shelter for fighters that, given the way it was put to him, would never be built?
Weltens and four men who formed his staff moved to Dahlem, a fashionable quarter in the west of Berlin. They moved into an old gymnasium. It was there he started to work on the technical specs given to him by Dorsch. But more than once his help was required by other branches of the O.T. in Germany, so in the last months of 1944 he spent quite a lot of time on the road. It was obvious that with all this other work coming to him, his main technical work on the “Pilze Projekt” had to be delayed. But anyway, by November ’44 some of the technical planning was ready, and Weltens wanted to run the plans by Dorsch. But every time he tried to see Dorsch, he was told that Herr Dorsch was in a meeting, was on inspection on the Western Front, in conference with Minister Speer, etc. etc. Dorsch simply ignored him.
Then in mid-December Dorsch called, saying that by February 1st all of the work on the “Pilze Projekt” had to stop, because of a new very important task he had for Weltens and his staff in Kiel, the Kriegsmarine base in the North of Germany. The Kriegsmarine needed new bunkers for their latest types of U Boot (types XXI and XXIII ). The first ones of those series were already launched.
Of course Weltens protested. Impossible! He was just beginning to construct the first model of a Mushroom! Dorsch finally gave him another 3 weeks to end his personal involvement with the project. By late January 1945 the first model was completed. Dorsch made Weltens a promise to come and look at it in the first week of February. But on February 3rd the Eighth Air Force hit Berlin with one of their biggest raids. In Dahlem, Weltens had to evacuate his office; it was severely damaged by a phosphorus bomb. He managed to save more than 50% of the plans. But the rest was lost, as was the first model. So he and his staff had to find shelter elsewhere. They found it in the Zehlendorf Quarter, not far from Dahlem. Here in the former Luft Gau Kommando (where General Milch had his office) he built a second model. It was completed by the end of March (he did not go to Kiel on February 1; it’s not known why). He contacted Dorsch again. This time he was ordered to bring the model and all plans to the Academy of Arts near the Pariser Platz and Brandenburger Tor. There they were put in a corner beside Speers’ models of Germania (the new German capitol) and others.
On April 19 Weltens received his last orders: evacuate all plans. Nothing was said of the models, but to his surprise some were stuck into a truck by SS. The Mushroom model was among them. He received a permit to pass through the barricades and leave Berlin, but to no avail – artillery put an end to the matter.
After the war Weltens was incarcerated in a POW camp in Russia for 12 years. He was released in the spring of 1957. He managed to establish a new architectural firm in West Berlin, but perhaps due to the bad health conditions in the Russian camp, he became seriously ill. In 1965 at the age of 67 he died. The last two years of his life he lived in a small town in Bavaria with his wife. She died in 1979.
Although drawings and a model of the “Mushroom” project were probably designed and built, we’re still not sure of the intention of Dorsch or others in high-level positions at the Organization Todt. As far as we know it could easily be the case that Dorsch, by creating a special design group for this project, was able to mislead his opponents. He wanted them to believe that the whole plan was taken seriously by the top of the O.T. as well as the ministry. However, knowing the constellation of this ministry under Speer, Dorsch never would have undertaken such a deception without the full support of Speer himself. Remember that at this stage of the war, he was close with Göring, and it was Göring who started the whole discussion on this plan in April ’44. By playing the part of deceiver, Speer could well have been in an excellent position to parry all questions from Göring on this matter: a whole special designer’s task force had been put on the job! Both men had one obsession: winning time. (See my article “The Kassel Underground” in TIGHAR Tracks Volume 11, number 4). They didn’t want to be involved in fantastic plans. Both were technocrats and practical men.
Hermann Weltens returned to Germany after 12 years as a Russian POW. We have no way of knowing what this terrible experience did to his mind. Was he able to remember everything in detail? Was he able to reconstruct all the events and put them in the proper time, day and month? And above all, how much of what he told his wife and son was distorted in the mind of the son between his father’s death in 1965 and the telling of the tale in 1997?
My feelings on this matter: In the son I met a sincere person of 62 who had made a successful career as a businessman. These are not generally the kind of people who come along telling wild stories. He and his wife were very amiable. The story hung together well. I checked out some personal data on Hermann Weltens and everything I could find matched. (The register of birth in Frankfurt an der Oder was damaged in April ’45 during the last Soviet offensive and all documentation was lost.) My meetings with the son, Jürgen Weltens, took place in May, June and July 1997.
I feel that the story is substantially true. The younger Weltens would be highly unlikely to either make up, or research carefully, the facts, and would have no motivation to do so in any case. There is no watertight evidence, even in the diary, which never mentions “Pilze für Jäger” by name. However, by correlating this tale with the documentation which does exist, we can find enough corroboration to enable us to say that the project existed, and a model may even have been constructed; but that there is a substantial chance that nothing else was ever done, and probably nothing else was ever intended at the highest levels of the OT.