Tuesday 4 August 2015

The Bunkers of Zossen (1936 - 2004)

For anyone interested in 20th century military history the Zossen / Wunsdorf area holds a particular fascination. Zossen itself was home to the German General Staff throughout World War II. Later, following the post war division of Germany, it was home to the primary air force arm of the Warsaw Pact in Europe - the Soviet 16th Air Arm.

Entrance to Zossen Bunker Complex

Our investigation of the site started at the Maybach I bunker complex which was built between 1936 and 1939 in anticipation of of the coming conflict. The 12 bunkers consist of four levels above ground and two below. These bunkers, camouflaged to look like domestic houses, were home to the German General Staff throughout WWII. It was here that Barbarossa was planned and the complex was the heart of German military planning right up until 20th April 1945 when Koniev's tanks arrived en-route for Berlin.

Maybach 1 - Bunker A3

The buildings were destroyed by the Russians post war in accordance with the agreement made at the Potsdam conference. However, the shattered structures remain and it is still possible to traverse part of the underground link tunnel which circumvents the site. Each of the twelve buildings had a designated purpose.

Maybach I - Bunker A5

For example the second on the left from the entrance (A2) was the centre for liaison with foreign armies in the West. The quartermaster is the building known as A4 and it is here that General Eduard Wagner shot himself after being implicated in the July 1944 bomb plot to kill Hitler. Every building tells a story - for example, A6 was the Chief of the General Staff building - occupied by General Franz Halder amongst others. Field Marshal Walter von Brauchitsch worked in building A5 until his resignation from the post of Commander in Chief in late 1941.

Maybach 1 - Bunker A4

The main path from Maybach I leads to the Maybach II complex which was adapted for use by the Russians post war. There is a small bunker to the right known as 'panzir'. This is worth a quick look with the aid of a torch. Ahead is the substantial two level Russian bunker known as UK20. This is where the Soviet 16th Air Force was head quartered and it is possible to explore the whole complex. The ops room is intact though the wall maps have long since gone.

16th Air Force Ops Room - UK20 Bunker
Entrance to Zeppelin bunker (Exchange X500)

The jewel in the crown is what is known as the Zeppelin bunker. It was originally Exchange X500, the primary hub comms centre for the Wehrmacht. The remains of the nearby barracks where many of the operators were billeted can be seen in the nearby woods. Until 2004 this was a Russian facility. A major part of the four level complex was given NBC protection with the addition of double entry steel doors and stepped shower installations.

NBC Door - Zeppelin Bunker
Inside, it's as if the Russians have only just left and in the lower levels many of the offices are littered with discarded documents. Part of the complex is outside of the NBC zone and remains as it was during German occupation in WW2. There are two traversable tunnels leading out of the secure zone - the North Tunnel is 220m and the Western Tunnel is 260m. Both lead to secure buildings disguised as cottages.

German Pneumatic Messaging System - Exchange X500

Nearby to the bunker complex we explored the tank training grounds and the two excellent museums housed in old military buildings. One is dedicated to Germany's 1930s / 40s panzer armies and the other covers the post war Russian cold war period. Outside there are numerous air raid shelters and military structures. The eighty five man, eight level cone shelters are something which I've not seen before.

Air Raid Shelter - Zossen

On the tank grounds there is a military cemetery which dates back to the First World War. It stands on the site of the Zehrensdorf Prisoner of War camp which housed captives from the French and British colonies. Many of the graves and memorials are Hindu or Islamic. This site and the nearby German military cemetery were destroyed during the cold war years. Both have been restored, the CWGC site with all of the original graves properly marked and the German cemetery commemorated with a simple memorial plus one or two named graves.

For the full photo set covering Zossen and Wunsdorf click here.