Volume 11 Number 4
December 31, 1995

sepulchre logosepulchre logoThe Kassel Underground

Part 1: Part 2:
The Politics of Concealment Fliegerhorst Rothwesten
Squabbles and Subterfuge Fliegerhorst Rothwesten and WWII
  Gerhard Fieseler Werke GmbH, Kassel
Part 1: The Politics of Concealment

 

The “Jagerstab” [fighter command] was established on March 1, 1944. Planned as a temporary solution, it brought together representatives of the airplane industry, and specialists from the departments of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium [Reich Air Ministry] and the Ministerium fur Rustung und Kriegsproduktion [Ministry for Arms and War Production]. Albert Speer was one of the members. The construction of bomb proof underground production facilities for vital industries had top priority. Hitler was very enthusiastic about the idea, ordering “a massive movement of the German industry to underground locations.”

In spite of the fact that the whole idea (at that point in the war) was unrealistic, underground production facilities were planned totaling three million square meters. The project was to be completed by the beginning of 1946. In the Third Reich and the occupied countries the search for suitable locations started; mine shafts, caves, stone quarries, and auto and subway tunnels became objects of interest. In spite of the endless lists of suitable places, only a few could provide industry with the conditions they were looking for. So while the lists became shorter and shorter, the notion was born to construct specially equipped bunkers.

To fulfill the requirements of industry, the bunkers had to be located near rivers, canals and railways, as well as near gravel pits for the production of concrete. Hitler again asked for support for the underground movement. He also formulated a list of demands; one was that the bunkers had to be built on an immense scale: 60,000 to 80,000 square meters for each bunker! On the drawing board they had six to eight floors and were partially underground. Six bunkers were to be completed in seven months. Hitler and Göring were very satisfied by this prospect.

Baudirektor Xavier Dorsch (a brilliant engineer of the Ministerium fur Rustung und Kriegsproduktion), who was head of the Organisation Todt, became head of the project. He answered only to Hitler on this matter. Work started on four of the six bunkers: three near Landsberg, one near Muhlsdorf. At first, Speer was pleased with the whole Organisation, but as time went by, Goering became more and more involved, to Speer’s dismay. Dorsch was asked to do a feasibility study for new “bomb-proof” shelters for the main Luftwaffe fighter bases. Speer was furious. Where to get all the construction material for yet another great project? As a result of the allied bombing, the massive use of concrete and steel for the Atlantic Wall and the planned industry facilities in the new bunkers, hardly any raw materials were left. Speer intervened with Dorsch and urged him to delay as long as possible the realization of Goering’s Luftwaffe dreams. Dorsch, who was caught between Hitler and Speer, chose to launch one project after another to gain time. As he had the raw material production figures in his hands, he knew that Speer was right. On the other hand, the focus of Speer’s Ministry was production, production, production. Large numbers of new fighters had to be built. The latest developments of the German aircraft industries: the jet fighters and bombers (Me-262, He-162 and Arado 234) were Speer’s top priority, so Dorsch’s choice was clear. He was clever enough not to make any of Göring’s plans a point of discussion with Hitler. They simply didn’t exist!

 

Squabbles and Subterfuge

 

At that time Hitler wasn’t on speaking terms with the Luftwaffe at all, because Goering had not succeeded in preventing the Allies’ massive bomber offensive against Germany. By mid 1944, after D-Day, the atmosphere between Hitler, the Luftwaffe and Goering was poisoned. And above all this, or rather in the middle, stood Albert Speer, who sought and found a companion in Dr. Joseph Goebbels. They discovered common ground in their opinion of the priorities now that the Reich was in great danger. Of less importance, but worth mentioning, is also the fact that Dorsch didn’t like Speer and vice versa, although they had great respect for each other’s skills.

This background of conflicting priorities and personalities may permit us to put the underground construction plans in proper perspective. On April 19, 1944, at a conference in Berchtesgarden, Goering gave Dorsch (among others) the order to start the construction of the so-called “Mushroom” bunkers on Luftwaffe bases [Pilze fur Jaegers]. The question remains what not only Dorsch, but also Speer and his Ministry did with this order. Did they follow it up? Perhaps they simply put it aside. We don’t know. With Speer dead in 1981 and Dorsch in 1986 we can’t ask them.

What do we know? So far I have found not one piece of paper in the Todt archives that construction was underway at war’s end. Perhaps construction was never even begun; there were too many problems that had to be solved. Not only was there the problem of raw materials, but also the lack of skilled workers. Although thousands of convicts and slave workers from concentration camps were put to work on various projects and in the industry, it still was not enough. The number of casualties was enormous. As an example: in the camp of Kaufring only 8,819 out of 17,000 were able to work on the bunker constructions near Landsberg. Of those 8,819 more than 50% died in the first 4 months. Technicians were brought from the camps to work in specialised branches in the industry, among them a number of highly trained Jews. Speer’s Ministry selected them, causing great friction with Himmler and the SS; but German industry needed those skills. Needless to say their treatment wasn’t any better than that of any other slave worker. The lack of good craftmanship was so great that in 1942, when the Third Reich (Germany and Austria) was already declared free of Jews, special permission from Hitler was obtained to gather more than 40,000 skilled Jewish workers under the command of the Organisation Todt. The high death toll, inhuman working conditions, and disease (as well as the difficulties in transportation, the growing shortage of concrete, steel, copper etc.) were reflected not only in the quality of the realised projects, but also in the quantity. Of the planned six bunkers, only one was completed, at Landsberg; it was used later by the West German Bundeswehr.

Given these known figures, the policy of Speer’s Ministry, the friction over the use of (raw) materials between the Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and the German war industry (they all had their own priorities), as well as the internal differences between the Party, the SS, the Ober Kommando der Wehrmacht, and personal vendettas in the top of the Nazi regime, there is every reason to believe that Speer followed a strategy towards Goering’s project (as well as others’) of pacifying him with blue-prints of magnificent plans which always had to be altered or up-dated. There was always something that “still had to be taken care of.” Speer was intent on buying time to put German industry safely underground. As Speer wrote concerning meetings with high ranking Nazi officials: “During most morning meetings they come up with, in their point of view, ‘brilliant ideas’ which have to be carried out straightaway. We take a note, say something to flatter their egos, and forget it. By lunchtime, they themselves have forgotten all about it, for they have another new ‘brilliant idea’ which has to be carried out a.s.a.p.”

Among all the people I have been in contact with (whether personally, by telephone, letter or fax), there is not one who believes that the “mushroom” project left the drawing board. In this group are people who, if any attempt had been made to break ground anywhere in the Reich, would have been among the first to know. At least one had a high classified clearance. It seems quite likely that nothing was done.

 

Part 2: Fliegerhorst Rothwesten

 

The other possible way to put planes in a safe bomb-free place was to alter already existing airbases: to fortify buildings and bunkers, or build new ones. Dr. William Gore (see TIGHAR Tracks Vol. 11 #2, “Chariots in a Pharoah’s Tomb”) suggested that Rothwesten, a former Luftwaffe base near Kassel, could be the place where some remnants of former Luftwaffe planes could lie behind welded doors in some of the sub-basements.

In 1935 Kassel had only a small airfield for pleasure aircraft. Some time later an area between the villages of Westhagen, Rothwesten and the country estate of Eichenberg was chosen as fitting overall strategy, but building an airfield at this site created great difficulties. Not only did thousands of trees have to be removed, but there was also a water problem. The airfield was situated on a plateau, so it was necessary to drill 140 meters for a well. In order to level the area on the east side, they had to excavate seven meters of ground over the whole length of the airfield. This dirt was then used to level the west and south sides. A runway was constructed which was 600 meters wide and 800 meters long. Later it was extended to 1000 meters. On the east side of the runway the technical buildings were set slightly into the hills. Among them was a wharf, a maintenance building and an engine testing building. Additionally there were three large hangars; later two more were added. Then there was a command post and a building for the aerial photographic service. In the middle stood the control tower.

Rothwesten drawingIn order to bring these buildings to the same level as the runway, the foundations were dug very deep-five to six meters. At night these excavations were lighted. The engineer in charge was asked many times by people from Rothwesten if the crews were digging tunnels in the hill, for that was what these excavations looked like. But what people saw was simply the leveling of the airfield. Seen from a distance, at night, lit with floodlights, with excavators digging their way through the hill, the project could well be interpreted as tunnel construction under way. It wasn’t.

As a result of the deep foundations, some buildings could be equipped with basements, and some even with a sub-basement. These were used to store all kinds of things. They were not used as bomb shelters, for the walls were not thick enough. However, there was a “Bierkeller,” a canteen for officers from the base, with murals on the walls. It is still in use at the base, which is now a Bundeswehr barracks.

Behind the Bierkeller was an arched gallery which was closed with concrete by the Americans after the war. There was also a junior officers’ casino. Beneath this cellar was a bowling alley. Next to the casino stood the officers’ houses, which were built on small hills. They were connected with one another by wooden foot bridges which led over the airbase roads. Other buildings (mostly barracks) stood in the middle of the woods. For the soldiers and Luftwaffe men, who were used to old, grey buildings, it was like a resort. In its day it was one of the most modern and best-equipped Luftwaffe bases: it had a swimming pool, hospital, gas station for private cars, barber shop, post office, etc.

When the Americans took over the base in 1945 they inspected every corner above and underground. Every door was carefully examined; there was still a chance that some booby-traps might be found. After inspection, they sealed (welded) all doors of cellars that were not going to be used. Generally those doors were found in the few sub-basements. When the Bundeswehr took over the base from the Americans in 1975 every building was inspected again from top to bottom. Cellars that were not used were closed or sealed off. Some of them have now been returned to use by the Bundeswehr. Neither the Americans nor the Bundeswehr found anything which could lead to a conclusion that old Luftwaffe planes were hidden in those basements.

All this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any airplane-related construction activity at Rothwesten during the war. We’ll talk about that later.

 

Fliegerhorst Rothwesten and WWII

 

The first buildings at Rothwesten were put into service on May 1, 1935. In December 1935 the first pupils arrived for the new flying school which had been established there, and by mid 1939 the Fliegerstab Rothwesten was completed and at war strength, hosting a reconnaissance group taking photographs over Poland, France, Belgium, and Holland.

During the war, Rothwesten was of less strategic importance. The new planes could not use it. The runway was too short, and it was not concrete. Nevertheless, parts of the maintenance crew stayed behind to serve the flying school which still had its facilities there. The most important task for the base was as a service center for night fighters. Aircraft that had to refuel during battle could land there, and minor repairs could be made. It was not a real night fighter base, and played a minor role during the war.

 

Gerhard Fieseler Werke GmbH, Kassel

 

RothwestenFrom 1944 until April 1945, the remaining larger buildings of Rothwesten were used by Fieseler aircraft industries as a small production line for planes. According to eyewitness reports, most were Me-109 fighters of the later types (probably G versions and perhaps a few Ks). Another unconfirmed source says that during the winter of 1943/1944, there was a very small production line for the Ju-87D. Spare parts for these machines were eventually stored in some of the basements, but by March/April 1945 production stopped as supplies ran out. Orders were issued to dismantle the production line. This work was about 90% complete when the war ended. The unfinished wings and fuselages had already been moved to an unknown place. There is a chance that some smaller components might have been left behind in the hangars or even in the sub-basements, but as mentioned above the Americans as well as the Germans cleared those basements. Certainly no completed planes were hidden. They simply wouldn’t have fit in the cellars.

One must conclude that there is little chance that the aircraft in the cellar story is true. As on nearly every airfield in Germany, the allies might have found some intact or damaged planes from the flying school on the runway, or perhaps even a few night fighters, but that was not unusual in May 1945.

It is worth noting that during my research for this part of Operation Sepulchre I discovered that an unknown quantity of files, papers,documents etc. at various German archives are still waiting for an inventory. With the unification of Germany, the former East German archives are added to that pile. So there is still a tremendous job to be done there, with no way of knowing what might be found.

 

Sources

  • Bundesverteidigungsministerium, Bonn (German Defense department)
  • Bundesarchiv (Militärarchiv), Freiburg
  • Hessisches Staatsarchiv, Marburg
  • Bundesarchiv, Zentrale Nachweisstelle, Aachen
  • Flughafen Calden, (Abt. Bauverwaltung), Calden
  • Deutsche Dienststelle zu benachrichtigung von Angehoerigen der ehmaligen Deutsche Wehrmacht, Berlin
  • Bundsarchiv, Abteilung III, Potsdam
  • Bundesarchiv, Leitstelle Zehlendorf, Berlin
  • Mr. Johann Meierhof, former employee of Fieseler Werke, Kassel-Bettenhausen
  • Mr. Emil Luetke, former pilot, Nachtjäger Geschwader IV (Junkers Ju-88 G1), Braunschweig
  • Mr. Georg Luewig, former architect with the Organisation Todt, Abteilung Bau; assistant to Ing. Werner Noel, head of the Bauverwaltung (construction department) of the Fliegerhorst Rothwesten in 1935. Liaison during the construction activities for the RLM (Reichsluftfahrtministerium), Minden
  • Mr. Walter Sobowski, former senior official with the Sicherheitspolizei und SD, Amt II, Technische Angelegenheiten, Berlin Mr. Alfons Koessinger, former pilot of Dornier Do-17, I Staffel, Fliegerhorst Rothwesten, Kassel

Bibliography

  • Reiner Froebe: Konzentrationslager in Hannover, KZ-Arbeit und Rüstungsindustrie in der Spaetphase des Zweiten Weitkrieges. Hildesheim 1985.
  • Alan Milward: Die deutsche Kriegswirtschaft 1939-1945. Stuttgart 1966.
  • Wily Boelcke: Deutschlands Ruestung im Zweiten Weltkrieg, Hitlers Konferenzen mit Albert Speer 1942-1945. Frankfurt am Main 1977.
  • Edith Raim: Roestungsbauten und Zwangsarbeit im letzten Kriegsjahr 1944/45. Landsberg 1992.

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