Table of Contents
- 1 The construction of the W2 complex
- 2 Bunkers in the protection zone
- 3 The Railway tunnel
- 4 The Emergency Power station
- 5 Entering Wolfsschlucht 2 (and meeting Thierry)
- 6 The ASW2 Association
- 7 Bunker 005 – Communications Centre
- 8 Bunker 001 – The Führer bunker
- 9 Bunker 002 – The OKW bunker
- 10 The Chalet
- 11 The Swimming Pool
- 12 The Hotel
- 13 Visit
On June the 6th, the much anticipated Allied landing in the west had finally started. Though expected, the Wehrmacht defending the coastline from it’s Atlantic Wall fortifications hadn’t been able to fight off the offensive and brave Allied troops managed to secure the beaches of Normandy and were now pushing further into France.
Opinions of what was coming differed and because the German High Command was convinced this landing was just a diversion attack for a landing north near Pas-de-Calais, Field Marshals Von Rundstedt and Rommel were very limited in moving troops and reinforcements in to stop the Allied advance. Both knew they needed Hitlers consent and individually tried to convince him to lift the restrictions and send in reinforcements from the North of France. Too much precious time was already wasted when on June 15th Rommel, in disagreement with Von Rundstedt, sent Hitler a detailed report on the situation and the risks they were taking with their current strategy. It is presumed that this very report led to the meeting with Hitler, Rommel, Von Rundstedt and his General Staff in the main room of Bunker No. 1 at the Wolfsschlucht 2 (W2) Führerhauptquartier on Saturday June 17th 1944. It would be the only occasion for which Hitler ever visited this complex.
The construction of the W2 complex
Situated along the railway line Laon-Paris in the thick wooded area surrounding Margival, this steep sided valley proved ideal for camouflaging a large facility. Even more ideal was the fact that the railway tracks cut through a hill with a 647 metres long tunnel at a depth of 30 metres. A perfect bomb proof shelter and hideout for an entire train. Or rather, a Führersonderzug.
The Führer headquarters (FHQ) codenamed “W2” or “Wolfschlucht 2” (meaning “Wolf Gorge”) was built between 1942 and 1944 under the supervision of Organisation Todt (OT). A tight web of protective bunkers and facilities were built spreading across the villages of Laffaux, Margival, Neuville sur Margival, Terny-Sorny, Vauxaillon, Vregny and Vuillery. The construction took around 22.000 workers and roughly 250.000 m³ of concrete to finish the job in a little over 18 months.
The headquarters most important bunkers, like the ones meant to house the Führer and the Army High Command were built as close to the railway tunnel as possible. The safety of the headquarters was ensured by an impressive protection zone counting 860 reinforced concrete bunkers spread out across a 6 km radius around the Wolfsschlucht. Including all facilities the total periphery of the area measured up to around 90 km²!
Bunkers in the protection zone
As mentioned above, FHQ Wolfsschlucht 2 was surrounded by an impressive web of bunkers protecting it from unwanted visitors. Many can still be found today standing in the farmlands or hidden in the foilage along the roads and hills in the countryside. You could spend a day or two alone just walking around the Wolfsschlucht 2 area spotting ww2 concrete. We dwelled in the area north of W2 for most of the afternoon (thinking the FHQ itself was closed) and following a path down the hillside leading to the railway tunnel entrance north (see map above).
Following the Rue Principale, a countryroad through the farmlands leading to Neuville-sur-Margival, you can spot a couple of Schartenturms sticking out of the farmlands to the west. We were very pleased to finally have the chance to view a schartenturm partly covered with it’s original concrete camouflage.
If you want to walk up to them, be carefull. You are entering someone’s farmland, so don’t damage the vegetation and stay on the tractor paths.
It seems that somewhere between 2007 and our visit in april 2013, someone took off the sealing valves of the MG portholes, as they are still present on the pictures of bunkerfotos.nl
The Railway tunnel
When the D537 transfers into the Rue Principale, you will have reached a fork in the road. Follow the small trail north (Dessus le Marais de Haute) going down the hillside into the forest. You will see some caves in the limestone to your right when descending until the path swings to the left with a hairpin. Look for an open spot in the trees to your left and you will find the north side of the railway tunnel entrance.
This tunnel is far from the same version dating from 1944. When Organisation Todt started the Wolfsschlucht 2 construction, the tunnel interior was reinforced and 4 heavy blast doors on suspended rails were installed at 80 and 120 metres from each end. Ventilation shafts and water supply points were also installed.
In 1972 the tunnel was again reinforced with concrete in accordance with stronger regulations, including the tunnel entrances, swallowing the blast doors. Also the railway was reduced to a single track.
The Emergency Power station
On the other side of the road you will find the Emergency Power station. Look closely because it is kind of hidden in the hillside, but the rusted wired fence gives it away. Follow the trail a little more downhill and you will find the gate of the fence open (well it was open when we were there).
Entering Wolfsschlucht 2 (and meeting Thierry)
Before we planned to visit this site we heard the Wolfsschlucht 2 was closed to the public and could only be visited by an arranged tour. Regulations seemed to be very strict and a visit would even involve permission from the local mayor! Through facebook we found the ASW2 organisation and tried to contact them about the possibilities for a guided tour, but this was without succes. The problem seemed to be the language barrier, as the organisation is French speaking. We decided to take our chances and visit anyway to see what we would find.
Wandering around the countryside surrounding the Wolfsschlucht 2 all day photographing bunkers had made us tired and we decided to call it a day and try our luck entering Wolfsschlucht the next day. But not before we took a peak at the entrance gate near Margival. And what do you know? The gate was open!
This was a chance we couldn’t pass up, it might be closed tomorrow, so we decided to enter. We were wildly clicking away with our hungry camera’s, ignoring all the warning and “acces forbidden” signs and just as I see Patrick exiting the “Loano” bunker a car comes driving towards us and pulls over. We are caught redhanded.
The driver opens the window and asks us what we are doing here in French. I manage to tell him we are visitors who would like to take some pictures in half English, half French. His expression changes at once and he asks me if I would like to see the “Führerbunker”.. in English. Well, would we!! As it turns out, the friendly man is Thierry Depret (also the chairman of ASW2), and was just about to go home and close the gate. His wife is making supper, but if we hurry, he can give us a quick tour! We literally run to the car and follow him.
The bunkers of Wolfsschlucht 2 have both numbers and names to identify them by. The numbers were given by the Germans during WW2 and the names were assigned later when the site became a NATO base during the cold war.
After the Loano bunker the road splits in two. The righthand way goes up the hill. It is this road that leads to the heart of the Wolfsschlucht 2 complex. My guess is the left way leads you to the railway tunnel entrance at the bottom of the gorge and the bunkers on the Neuville side, but we never got a chance to check that out.
The ASW2 Association
Eventually we stopped at the T-section where the road leading from the Margival entrance meets the one leading from the Laffaux end. This is also where the most important buildings of the complex are situated. Thierry takes us to bunker 019 (or “Berezina” in cold war terms) and shows us the ASW2 associationclubhouse. They have a lot of interesting items and information about the complex on display and even a well made maquette of the Wolfsschlucht 2 headquarters.
Thierry had no problems with us taking photographs while he answered our questions and he even gave us a beer and the ASW2 tourguide magazine for free! Now if you want to make friends with Dutch guys, give them something for free. And if you want to make friends for life, give us free beer. Cheers Thierry!
Bunker 005 – Communications Centre
Being 108 metres long, it is presumed to be the largest FHQ communications bunker built in ww2. The bunker is comprised out of two separate sections across it’s full length; an office building accessible from the main road and a large heavy anti-aircraft bunker at the backside, providing shelter for the personel in case of an air raid. In order to continue their work, the two sections were equipped with duplicate transmission installations and extra facilities, like four electric power stations, a gas filtration system, running water, central heating and a sewage system to make the bunker fully operational and self-sufficient during an attack. The bunker had more than 600 telephone lines, including a direct line with Berlin.
The concrete road passing bunker 005 leads towards the railway track. The crossing is closed with a large fence, but you can look to the right and see the tunnel entrance. There is a small guard post, but this might not originally be one dating from ww2.
Turn to your right and follow the path uphill, parallel to the railway track. It will lead you to bunker 001.
Bunker 001 – The Führer bunker
Finally we reach bunker 001, the so called “Führer bunker” where the meeting between Hitler, Rommel and Von Rundstedt took place on June 17th 1944.
The bunker is situated very close to the railway tunnel entrance (Margival), although to reach the tracks you have to follow the path downhill. It is obvious that the OT architects tried to give the concrete building more grandeur to welcome the Führer and his aides-de-camp by installing a large main entrance with two columns and three double doors. The building is comprised of a large main work room, a kitchen, a private appartement with bathroom and several offices and bathrooms for staff and secretaries. In the main work room there was a large fireplace with a bas relief depicting Napoleon on horseback. A picture of the fireplace can be seen at the top of this post.
Attached to the bunker behind the main room there was an air raid shelter which also holds several rooms and toilets. It is remarkable that there is no additional protection, like most of the W2 command bunkers have, indicating that the constructors anticipated on accomodating a short stay only. Which is exactly what turned out to be necessary.
The railway tunnel located downhill was reconstructed to hide the Führersonderzug from view and the threat of an air raid. A switching station made sure that one of both tracks leading through the tunnel could be used for military traffic at all times. However, because Hitler came to the Wolfsschlucht 2 by armoured car in 1944, the tunnel was never used for this purpose.
Bunker 002 – The OKW bunker
This enormeous bunker was ment for the general staff of the German Armed Forces, but Keitl and Jodl never set foot in the building. Wolfsschlucht 2 became an important transmission centre for the German Western front. Field Marshal Walter Model, replacing the command of Von Kluge (who had replaced Von Rundstedt) and Rommel, set up his new headquarters at the Wolfsschlucht 2 on 18 August 1944, together with his head of staff General Hans Speidel. From here he planned his strategy to prevent the Allies from crossing the Seine. He spent 9 days at W2 regrouping troops and setting up a new defenceline.
The Wolfsschlucht 2 defences were incorporated in the new “Kitzinger” defenceline, though Model did not receive permission to also incorporate the elite troops stationed at the Wolfsschlucht 2.
Following a trail leading past bunker 001 to the right we arrive at an open space right above it. According to Thierry, this is where the famous “chalet” must have stood, where everyone at the meeting of 17 June had a meal. It is supposed to be one of the first buildings of Wolfsschlucht 2, but this is based on pictures dating from 1942 showing the chalet without the surrounding bunkers. It is assumed that the engineers reconstructing the tunnel used it as their living quarters. The chalet was taken down somewhere during the 1980’s.
The Swimming Pool
This pool is known as the “Eva Braun” swimming pool, but it is very unlikely that she ever put one toe into the water here, or any military HQ for that matter. The pool served as a leisure area for the stationed officers and also as a water reserve.
This is the moment where my French really let me down. Thierry was rushing us through the tour speaking more french than english, as his wife called him for the fourth time asking him when he would be home for diner. If I undersood his words correctly, this building was a hotel for foreign politicians and attaches. I don’t think it ever accomodated any known politician of that time, but correct me if I’m wrong. Thierry pointed out to us that the building has no protections er air raid shelters whatsoever.
We decided to call it a day. Thierry did envite us to come by again the next day, but unfortunately we had a very busy schedule to stick to. We will defenitely come back here in the near future.
If you would like to visit Wolfsschlucht 2 headquarters, contact the ASW2 Association (Facebook). Their website http://asw2.perso.sfr.fr/ seems to be down since november 2016. Their Facebook page suggests they still give English spoken tours regularly.