German Air-Raid Shelters - an introduction to the Luftschutzbunker of World War II

 

[Source: Andy Emmerson]

Except when we are talking about coal bunkers—or indeed oil bunkers—we British always assume bunkers to be underground structures. Why this is I am not quite sure, but the Germans did not feel any obligation to build all their Luftschutzbunker (aerial protection bunkers) below ground. In fact they have two words for the notion, Tiefbunker (underground bunker) and Hochbunker (surface bunker).

Many of the bunkers constructed for air raid protection from the mid-1930s onwards were constructed above ground, particularly those constructed under the Führer-Sofortprogramm (Hitler's Immediate Programme) of 10th October 1940. These were sub-classified into Luftschutzhäuser (air raid protection buildings) and Luftschutztürme (air raid protection towers). Both patterns were very substantial structures of similar construction, the chief distinction being that the 'towers' were circular in ground plan. Examples of both types are shown here.

This bunker next to a car park in the middle of Aachen is an example of a Luftschutzhaus or 'air raid protection building'. The architecture is quite striking and computer experts will note that it is an entirely windows-free zone.
Photo taken 1979 by Andy Emmerson

Underground shelters give a possibly false sense of security. For protection they rely on earth cover and any structures overhead, although if this collapses, caves in or blocks means of escape, the shelter provided is of no real value. The German way of thinking was that above-ground construction was a lot simpler and faster, and if carried out on a sufficiently massive scale, would provide equally good protection. The number of surface bunkers that survived intact (or largely intact) bears out this notion.

Anyone familiar with the fairly paltry scale of organised civilian air raid protection provided during the last war in Britain will only marvel at what the Germans achieved. Whereas London’s underground air raid shelters aimed to protect just 1 per cent of people at risk, in Germany a far more elaborate construction programme set out to provide shelter for 5 per cent of the population in 70 cities, using elaborate above-ground structures of massive proportions. Measured against London’s provision, they were both luxurious internally and elegant externally

This is one of the numerous designs of Luftschutzturm or air raid protection tower. It appears to be a public building currently but our guide could not provide exact detail. It stands on the Frankfurterstrasse (ul. Legnicka).
Photo taken in 1990 by Andy Emmerson

After the war these structures proved to be very difficult to demolish and for many new uses were found. Some were turned into residence blocks for students, while in Hamburg a huge bunker became the city's first television studio centre.

As example of air raid shelters built in large towns and cities we will take the towns of Aachen, on the western flank of Germany, and Breslau, capital of the region of Silesia. After the last war, Breslau and the surrounding region were ceded to the Poles as part of the carve-up that occurred when Poland was shifted westwards. Today Breslau is called Wróclaw (pronounced something like Vrots-laav) and is home to virtually the whole population of Lwow (Lemberg) after its citizens were displaced from there by the Allies.

Aachen

Aachen

Aachen

Aachen

Breslau

Breslau

Breslau

Breslau

Breslau

Breslau

Breslau

 


FURTHER RESOURCES ON THE WWW

BOOKS TO READ

  • Michael Foedrowitz: Bunkerwelten: Luftschutzanlagen in Norddeutschland (Air Raid Protection Installations in North Germany). Ch. Links Verlag, 1998. This very detailed book covers the planning and construction of bunkers, daily life inside them plus their subsequent fates, predominantly in northern Germany and Berlin.
  • Michael Foedrowitz: Luftschutztürme und ihre Bauarten 1934 bis heute (Air Raid Protection Towers and their Constructional Forms 1934 to Present). Podzun-Pallas, 1998. This shorter book concentrates on the technical details of towers, again in northern Germany only.
  • Helmut Weihsmann: Bauen unterm Hakenkreuz: Architektur des Untergangs (Building under the Swastika: Archiecture of Defeat). Promedia, 1998.


Source: Andy Emmerson]

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