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

On April 11, 1945, the spearhead of the advancing American troops of the 3rd Armored Division entered Nordhausen where they were to link up with the 104th Infantry Division before continuing its drive to the east.

The liberating troops had been told to "expect something a little unusual" in the Nordhausen area but they weren't prepared for the horrific sight as they entered Dora camp where they found 1,300 to 2,500 corpses along with a few survivors. They soon discovered the entrances to the Mittelwerk tunnels where they found rows of V2 parts and subassemblies stretched out through the tunnels. Work had stopped at Mittelwerk on April 10, 1945, but the assembly line was left with its electric power and ventilation systems still running, as if the former occupants had gone out for lunch, and would return after a while.

100 V2's were eventually shipped back to New Mexico for further study much to the annoyance of the British government who had been promised half of the captured V2's by prior agreement. By offering immunity, the Americans were able to entice some 1,000 German V2 personnel and their families to come to America to work on the US rocket programme, this included the head of operations Werner von Braun who was later to head the US ICBM & Saturn V programmes, eventually becoming Director of NASA.. The personnel were evacuated from the area 24 hours before the Russians arrived to occupy the Nordhausen region which had been scheduled for 21st June 1945. The first reassembled V2 was successfully launched on June 28, 1946.

One of the rail entrance tunnels to the Mittelwerk complex

Photo:The same scene in 2001 - the entrance having been blown up by the Soviets in 1948
Photo by Dan McKenzie

After its liberation the site remained derelict and unused although on the first anniversary of the liberation (1.4.1946) a commemorative celebration took place at a monument erected by the Soviets at the crematorium. Having plundered any remaining plant and V2 component parts the Russians attempted to blow up the interior of the tunnels but finding this impossible they sealed the complex by blowing up the four entrances in 1948. In 1954 the crematorium was designated a 'site of honour' at a ceremony attended by thousands of people.

It was not until 1966 that the memorial officially, now designated the 'Gedenkstätte Mittelbau-Dora' was established; by this time the crematorium and fire station were the only buildings still standing on the site.

The memorial was expanded in the 1970's with the construction of an administration building on the foundations of the former Political Department barrack with a typical East German exhibition overemphasising the antifascist resistance struggle of the political inmates while more or less ignoring the hardships suffered by the other inmate groups. The exhibition was not accessible to anyone from the west.

Surface plan of Dora Camp
Taken from The Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorial Foundation web site

After reunification in 1989 the essential elements of the East German memorial were preserved although the permanent exhibition in the crematorium was replaced in 1995 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the Dora Concentration Camp by a new permanent exhibition in a reconstructed accommodation barrack. This event was accompanied by the opening of a section of the tunnel system up to the first crosscut gallery (No. 46) to visitors after a new entrance tunnel had been dug to former rail Tunnel A from a point near the original southern entrance to Tunnel B.

A safe raised walkway was constructed along Tunnel A to Gallery 45 with many of the minor rocket parts still clearly visible littering the floor below including propellant tanks, nose cones, and gyroscopes which are all still recognisable. A V2 engine assembly can also be seen in Tunnel A.

The blocked entrance to Tunnel A, destroyed by the Soviets in 1948. A V2 rocket engine assembly can be seen on the bottom right.
Photo by Nick Catford

At present, there is a small Mittelwerk display in the southern part of Tunnel A that served first as the prisoner barracks and then for the manufacture of the V1. Much of the remainder of the tunnel complex is still intact but is now partially flooded and dangerous to enter due to ongoing surface gypsum extraction.

The complex became a National Historic Site in May of 1991 and has since been protected from further damage. There are plans to extend the existing Mittelbau Dora memorial site and to build a new documentation center near the former concentration camp.

The outdoor facilities are open to visitors daily until sunset. The exhibition centre and tunnels are open from October 1 to March 31 between 10 am - 4 pm and from April 1 to September 30 between 10 am - 6 pm; the exhibitions are closed on Mondays.

Guided tours of the tunnels take place each Tuesday - Friday at 11 am and 2 pm and on Saturday and Sunday at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm and last approximately 90 minutes. Photography is not normally allowed in the tunnels.

For further pictures of the Mittelwerk facility at Nordhausen click here

Other web sites: V2Rocket.com - A very full and detailed history of the Mittelwerk facility and the Dora concentration camp with archive and current pictures.
Third Reich in Ruins - 'then' and 'now' pictures of the Mittelwerk facility
Spearhead web site - war photographer Jim Bates' horrific scenes of Dora concentration camp after liberation by the Americans.
Bunker Tours web site - More pictures of Sub Brit's visit in 2001

My thanks to Tracy Dungan from V2Rocket.com for permission to use material from her web site.

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

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Last updated: 04 01 2011
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