Site Records


Site Name: Mittelwerk V2 underground assembly plant and the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp

Nordhausen
East Germany

Sub Brit site visit 4th May 2001

[Source: Nick Catford with historical text adapted from V2Rocket.com]

Most small pictures within the text can be enlarged by clicking on the picture

The main German V2 rocket production and assembly facility was at Peenemünde on the north east coast where, since July 1943 the main workforce consisted of concentration camp inmates, a ratio of up to 15 detainees to 1 lowly paid German worker. In order to maintain this workforce the SS set up a small concentration camp within the Peenemünde site.

Following a devastating air attack by the Royal Air Force on Peenemünde on 17th August 1943, it soon became clear to the German High Command that missile assembly would need to be moved to protected underground sites.

One of the sites chosen was the former Wifo gypsum mine in the Kohnstein Hill on the southern border of the Harz mountains close to Nordhausen.

The mine had opened in 1917 and having been abandoned it was commandeered by the Wehrmacht in 1936 for the storage of fuel and poison gas; by mid 1943, the complex was the largest fuel and oil depot in Germany

The site was to be known as Mittelwerk (Middle Works). A private company was established on 24th September 1943 under the control of SS Brigadier General Hans Kammler who had been responsible for building a number of extermination camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A sub-camp of Buchenwald was established within the Wifo mine in August 1943 in order to provide the workforce for the construction of the new underground facility, this later developed into the Dora (or Mittelbau) concentration camp which was eventually sited in more traditional barrack accommodation close to the south entrance; but this wasn't completed until October 1944. Construction at the Mittelwerk site started in October 1943 with the driving of two parallel 'S' shaped tunnels right through Kohnstein Hill from north to south

The regime within the tunnels was very harsh with the prisoners working under inhuman conditions to enlarge the mine galleries. Many prisoners were killed by frequent rock falls when the overloaded trucks came off the narrow gauge rail tracks and they were regularly kicked and beaten as they reloaded the wagons.

The prisoners were forced to eat and sleep in the tunnels, crammed into stinking, lice infested bunks stacked four-high in the cross tunnels. There was no running water or sanitary facilities, disease was rife and death was often a relief. Many of the inmates were working on top of 30 foot scaffolding using picks to enlarge the tunnels. As they became too weak to continue they would fall to their death from the scaffolding only to be replaced by another prisoner. Trucks bearing piles of corpses left every other day for the crematorium ovens at Buchenwald.

As the facility neared completion all the manufacturing plant was brought from Peenemünde and reassembled by hand by the prisoners at Mittelwerk.

In October 1943 about 7000 prisoners were housed at Dora to work in the tunnels by January 1944 this has risen to 12,000 and by February 1945 the number had risen again to 19,000. Precise figures are vague but it is believed that between 40,000 - 64,000 worked on the construction of the facility at Nordhausen of which 26,500 died, many of them during the evacuation during the American advance when there was a mass slaughter of inmates by the SS.

Plan of the Mittelwerk Tunnels reproduced V2Rocket.com web site

The Mittelwerk facility consisted of the two main parallel tunnels, A and B, each approximately 6,200 ft. in length The tunnels ran in a shallow 'S' shaped curve and were connected by a series of 46 cross galleries, each about 500 feet long spaced at regular intervals. The two parallel tunnels were between 21 to 23 ft high and 29 to 36 ft wide. The cross tunnels were smaller in cross section with a total area for the complex of over 1 million square feet. A smaller service tunnel ran through much of the middle of the site between A & B tunnels.

The southern section of Tunnel A and the first three cross galleries were used for V1 production. The middle section of the complex (gallery 21 - 42) was used for V2 assembly while the northern end (gallery 20 - 1) was used for Junkers aircraft engine production. Each of the main tunnels had two standard gauge railway lines running through it.

In general, Tunnel A was used to transport parts and materials for the V2 into the factory and for storage while the galleries were used for assembling, testing, and stocking subassemblies for the rockets. Tunnel B served as the main assembly line and was the main route out of the factory for completed V2 rockets. The two railway tracks in Tunnel B formed part of the assembly process. V2's to be assembled would be placed on pairs of 4-wheel rail bogies connected by a beam and moved from north to south.
At each stage of the line, additional parts were added to the assemblies, until the completed rockets arrived at gallery 41 at the south end. This cross tunnel, which had been excavated well below the regular floor level of the main tunnels, was over 50 ft. high and contained a huge spanning crane, enabling the rockets to be erected vertically. One whole side of gallery 41 contained a series of multilevel vertical inspection scaffolds for the rockets.

Labour on the Mittelwerk assembly lines included both detainees, German workers and supervisors, in the ratio of about two prisoners to one worker. The Engineers who ran the various workshops and production crews were Germans and Wehrmacht soldiers who were wounded or sick would also be sent to Mittelwerk for duty as parts or process inspectors.

Photo:Gallery 46 in 2001
Photo by Nick Catford

The V2 production lines were running at their intended levels by June 1944; there were roughly 2,500 German workers and 5,000 prisoners employed in the tunnels with 4,575 V2 rockets completed between August, 1944 and March 1945.

For further information and pictures of the Mittelwerk facility at Nordhausen click here

[Source: Nick Catford with historical text adapted from V2Rocket.com]

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