Project Riese: The Secret Nazi Tunnels in Poland

Mar 17, 2018 0 comments

Eighty kilometers to the south of Wroclaw, underneath Poland’s oldest mountain range, the Owl Mountains, lies a massive underground complex and tunnel system built by the Nazis. The exact purpose of these tunnels is not known, nor is its true size because the complex was never completed. More than nine kilometers were excavated, but only a small section was reinforced by steel and concrete before the Nazis were driven out of the region by the arriving Red Army. Some say the tunnels were meant to serve as the Führer’s headquarter, while others believe it was supposed to be used as an underground weapons factory.


Photo credit: Przykuta/Wikimedia

Construction of the tunnels began in 1943 in response to increased Allied bombing over Nazi Germany. German sources suggest that they were supposed to be turned into a huge underground shelter covering more than 35 square kilometers, with one of Adolf Hitler’s Führer Headquarters at its center. Furthermore, it was planned to be used as a refuge for the leading members of the military as well as a safe place for certain industrial facilities.

The Owl Mountains were chosen because of its hard rock that would provide the underground complex extra protection against Allied air raids. But it also made the progress of digging tunnels was slow. Thousands of forced labor from camps across the Soviet Union and Poland helped build the tunnel. They worked in appalling conditions, exhausted and starving. Mortality was very high because of disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, dangerous underground works, and the treatment of prisoners by German guards. Some 5,000 slave labors died in this project.

As of today, seven systems of shelters and tunnels that make up Project Riese are known to exist in the Owl Mountains. They are all of a similar design, corresponding to the layout of other subterranean Führer Headquarters. Three of these sites are run by private owners and can be visited by tourists. Only when one enters the tunnels, the true scope of this unrealistic construction project becomes obvious. Indeed, “Riese” means “giant”.


The car in this photograph should give you an idea of how massive some of the tunnels are. Photo credit: Przykuta/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Aneta Pawska/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Poland


Photo credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Poland


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