BUNKER IN KONEWKA
German Head Commanding Staff of the East in Spała
(Hauptquartier der Oberbefehlshaber Ost)
The residence in Spała was known both to German generals fighting during World War I and to German diplomats who were invited by President I. Mościcki. Therefore it was not accidental that, as early as September, the German commanding staff took it for granted that Spała was to fulfil special functions in the system of command and German occupation administration in the Polish territories.
The occupation military management in the GG will come to an end at midnight on the 25th of October, 1939. Military command in the territory of the GG will be exercised by the Commander in Chief of the ”East” (Oberbefehlshaber Ost) with the rank and authority of the commander of an Army Group.The Commander-in-Chief of the ”East” has the right to initiate and realize every necessary undertaking in the interest of the security of the Reich. Moreover, he will have at his disposal all means of communication and transportation. The command of the Oberost was taken over by General Blaskowitz.
Spała was ideally suited for the German concept of locating German occupation forces in the General Governorship. The buildings of the residence in Spała were scattered in several hectares of park surrounded by vast forests. The whole place had been enclosed, since pre-war times it was available for entry only to invited guests and persons in possession of passes. It was sufficient to locate guard posts and to evict some inhabitants as well as a part of the staff of the residence who had lived there permanently up to that time, so that the members of the German commanding staff could feel comfortable and safe in Spała.
The favourable layout of the communication system linked Spała (via Tomaszów), by road and railway connections, with other decision-making German centres, both in the General Governorship (German-occupied Poland) and in the Reich. Spała could be reached by railway directly; near Glinnik there was a field airport which was, shortly before the war, prepared for liaison airplanes arriving at the residence of the President of the Polish Republic. Since the times of the Tsar there had existed a water supply and canalization network and there were also two local power stations: one operated by a steam engine, the other by water near the pond on the Gać River (Spała had no electricity supply otherwise).
In the palace, hotels, barracks and other buildings belonging to the residence, there could be comfortably quartered the staff of the Oberost together with the accompanying troops
In the palace, hotels, barracks and other buildings belonging to the residence, there could be comfortably quartered the staff of the Oberost together with the accompanying troops. In the beginning of October 1939, there arrived 150 German officers and soldiers. In the palace there was located the Chief Commander of the Oberost with its chief of the staff and the quartermaster, and their aides-de-camp and officers of the highest rank. The remaining officers were accommodated in the hotels Savoy and Bristol (”Rogacz” and ”Dzik”), non-commissioned officers and the ranks, in the barracks used by Cossacks in earlier times and other buildings and villas in the territory of Spała.
The headquarters of the Head Commanding Staff of the East (Hauptquartier der Oberbefehlshaber Ost) was situated on the ground floor of the hotel Savoy, and the military command of occupied Spała in the villa ”Jelonek”. The ground floor of the hotel Bristol was allotted to the offices of the headquarters, and there was enough room also for the central offices of the telephone exchange and telegraph. In the south of Spała there were barracks, which housed a large radio station, operated by 20 soldiers from the communication platoon.
The number of staff members and troops accompanying them in Spała grew rapidly. In November 1939, there were already as many as 450 soldiers there. It was necessary to begin the building of new wooden barracks, which were to accommodate the successive troops arriving there.
The chief quartermaster of the Oberost, General Erwin Jaenicke, was also the manager of the civil administration of Spała; he controlled all of its civil institutions. He was in charge of the power stations, carpenter’s workshop, wheelwright’s workshop, forge, stables, mechanics workshops, three laundries and a mangle, printing office, mess rooms and hotel staff. Lower job positions were filled by Polish inhabitants of neighbouring villages and commuters from Tomaszów. All of them had to show their passes when they entered the grounds of Spała and they could only move on appointed routes to their places of work. Occasionally, when German officials or generals stayed in Spała, Polish workers were led to their work places by guardsmen and, sometimes, flying squads checked the validity of their passes while the employees were at work. The Poles had no access to the offices, telephone exchange, radio station, printing house, but in the electric power plant there were eleven Polish employees working on three shifts supervised by three Germans.
Within the confines of Spała, a guard company numbering 100 men and civil functionaries of the criminal police, as well as the members of the SS post consisting of 30 persons (and situated on the pre-war site of the State Police) kept vigil in order to ensure security and to prevent chaos in Spała. The guard posts around Spała were manned by guard companies transported from Tomaszów (during visits of important guests in Spała these divisions numbered as many as 600 soldiers).
Due to the offensive planned in the west and the regrouping of the best divisions and sending them to the French border, the military forces in the occupied Polish territory were diminished. Blaskowitz considered preserving peace among the population of the territories to be a very important matter. He was also concerned about the economic stability of occupied Poland which would be affected by the impending increase of economic exploitation of these territories, resulting from the necessity to satisfy the needs of the German army fighting in the west.
The command of Oberost was taken over by General Kurt von Gienanth on May 5, 1940. Hitler ordered to be carried out an analysis and first steps to pave the way for developing operational actions against the Soviet Union. Spała was meant to be the seat of the staff of the Army Group ‚B”, later to be called ”Centre” (Mitte). There were also plans to develop roads, railways and sites of concentration of military forces in the territory under German occupation.
In the autumn, In the nearby localities Konewka and Jeleń, the building of fortified commanding positions with reinforced concrete shelters was to take place. These objects had direct connection with Berlin via Spała and Tomaszów by an underground cable
On the 21st of July, 1940, quite unexpectedly, the command in the East was dissolved and the Oberost handed over the operational command of all the German forces concentrated in the German-occupied Polish territory and East Prussia to General Küchler. The command of military occupation forces in German-occupied Poland and the control of security matters , the organization of production for military purposes and administration functions were taken over by the staff of the newly established military structure the Military Command in the central GG (Militärbefehlshaber im Generalgouvernement). Spała was the seat of this command. The former commander of the Oberost, general von Gienanth now became commander of the Military Command in German-occupied Poland, which was directly subordinated to the Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces, General von Brauchitsch.
In Konewka and in Jeleń there continued intense building activities concentrated on erecting concrete objects for the Command Headquarters, which were to be the seat of one of the German staffs during the military operation against the Soviet Union. Although in June 1941 the command sites and shelters for the staffs trains were already situated there, ready for use, Spała never became a command centre for extensive German front formations. The welldeveloped infrastructure of Spała was not used for the purposes of the staff in the end of 1941, training camps for subsidiary forces of the Wehrmacht in German-occupied Poland were located in the place. It is there that people of different nationalities the inhabitants of the defeated Soviet territories who collaborated with the Germans were put. This formations recruited from Georgians, Armenians, Azers, the inhabitants of the northern Caucasus, Turkmen and the Wolgan Tartars. The staff was located in Spała, in the former palace of Russian tsars. These divisions were called Hilfswillige commonly called Hivis and performed subsidiary functions, serving in the Wehrmacht, SS and police In the year 1941, there was established in Spała a therapy and rehabilitation centre for German soldiers wounded on the eastern front. It was located in the two one-storey buildings built by Germans in the Spałas park. 1.09.1942.
On 1.09.1942, Hans Frank announced the inclusion of German-occupied Poland (GG) in the ”National War Territory” (Heimatkriegsgebiet). The Military Command in the GG (Militärbefehlshaber in Generalgouvernement) was transformed into the Command of Military District of the GG (Wehrkreisbefehlshaber im Generalgouvernement), which, once again, led to diminishing its military significance and its organizational levelling with commands of other military districts of the Reich. Spała remained the seat of the command of the new military district. The command was entrusted to general Siegfried Haenicke who took over the office on 1st of October 1942.
The Command of the Military District of the GG functioned in Spała until August in 1943 when the entire staff was transferred to Cracow. From 22.09.1944, the staff functioned under the name of Befehlshaber im Heeresgebiet Generalgouvernement the Command of Land Forces of the GG district. Its commander, General Haenicke, held his post until the end of January 1945.
As late as the second half of 1944, in Spała and its vicinity more German soldiers again appeared, and also workers and prisoners-of-war forced to work for the Germans. This was connected with the use of the air base in Glinnik for military purposes and with the construction of the line of fortifications along the Pilica River.
In January of 1945, the Germans started evacuating the hospitals and the few military divisions still staying there. With a view to the defence of the place, only the 136th Reserve Battalion was left, since the Russian attack was not expected there.
By the night of the 18th of January, 1945, the tactical units of the 69th Army, had forced a way across the Pilica River. After breaking the weak German defence and crossing the river, the Russian tanks immediately moved towards Tomaszów.
FORTIFICATIONS AROUND SPAŁA
German Headquarters of Area ”Centre” in Jeleń and Konewka
Gefechtsstand ”Anlage Mitte”
As a result of choosing Spała for the seat of the command of the ”Oberost” and of concentrating considerable military forces there, the place had its role and significance in the further war plans for the conquests by Hitler’s army. In August 1940, after giving up on the invasion of the British Isles, which was due to the failures of the German airforce to win in the Battle of Britain, Hitler concentrated his attention on preparing the operation against the Soviet Union. These plans included the building of fortified command centres, from which German commanders could safely direct the development of military operations against Stalin’s Russia. The Germans had planned three command centres correlated with the major directions of expected military actions. One of those chosen places meeting the requirements of the German staff officers was Spała and its closest neighbourhood, where they decided to locate the command of the Army Group Centre. The undertaking was given the cryptonym Anlage Mitte (the centre area). The two other centres of command were located in East Prussia Anlage Nord (later Hitler’s headquarters Wolfschanze and a number of smaller Mazurian command quarters) and in the Carpathian Region Anlage Süd in Strzyżów and Stępina.
The suitable places for building fortified sites of commands were found in the villages Konewka and Jeleń in the beginning of 1940, and, immediately after that, the first stage of preparation work for construction was begun. In Tomaszów and Białobrzegi the first camps for workers of the Organisation Todt (OT) were set up. There began construction works at the building of access roads and railroad side-tracks, strengthening the bridges and development of the energy supply network. The start of the construction of the headquarters themselves had been withheld, pending Hitler’s approval and personal decision (projects of several alternative locations of quarters were presented to him and then in all the selected places, works necessary for the immediate start of construction began).
In Konewka, at a distance of four kilometres from Spała, a large forest clearing was selected as a construction site, which had been there since the mass felling of forests as long ago as the time of the First World War (in 1916, a large sawmill was built in Konewka).
In Jeleń, located 6 kilometres to the south of Spała, the buildings intended for the quarters were to be situated near a tiny railroad station and the route to Spała called Tsar’s track (this way the tsars came from the Jeleń station to their residence at Spała).
The decision to build the headquarters ”Anlage Mitte” was made as late as September or even October 1940. It was planned that by June 1941, in Konewka and Jeleń two complexes of reinforced concrete shelters would have been set up. The major objects of these complexes were meant to be huge railroad shelters which could shelter whole sets of staff trains, several of which the Germans had been using since the beginning of the war as mobile centres of command for military staffs, and also for the highest dignitaries of the 3rd Reich with Hitler as its head. A firm of builders Chemische Werke ”Askania” specializing in building military objects, entered the construction sites, which had been prepared for use. There also arrived workers from the O.T. and divisions of the Labour Service RAD (Reicharbeitsdienst). The workers had been brought mainly from various regions of Germany and Austria; there were also quite a few Italians employed there. Altogether, there were about 3000-4000 people (including about 1000 to 1500 Italians) directly employed at the construction of objects. Due to the need to keep the purpose of the construction secret, local Germans, who constituted a fairly large colony in Tomaszów even before the war, were not employed there. Neither were prisoners of war used. However, in Tomaszów itself there came into existence several German firms working to meet the needs of Askania. They employed around 1000 workers and, apart from Germans, also a considerable number of Polish workers had jobs there. Polish workers were also employed at transporting building materials, but they were not allowed to directly enter the construction sites, which were surrounded by a tight-fitting wooden fence barring outsiders from entering the places and observing them. Within a year, two similar complexes of objects had been built at Konewka and Jeleń; they were somewhat different from each other in shape and length of railway shelters; the shelter at Konewka is 380 metres long and it is straight, while the shelter in Jeleń is somewhat shorter: it measures 355 metres and has the shape of a gently curving arch. The cross section of both shelters is in the shape of a pointed arch.; inside, on their entire length there stretches a semicircular aisle with rail tracks, from which there go ways down to a smaller, parallel corridor divided by steel, hermetic doors into compartments for railway service staff. The shelters are 9.5 metres high and their breadth at the base is 15 m; their characteristic shape ”Dome Bunker” (Cathedral Bunker) was supposed to cause ricocheting of air bombs falling down on such a construction.
Near the large shelters, smaller ones were built for the technical stock containing generator, boiler rooms, ventilators pushing warmed-up and filtered air through underground channels into the railway shelter. Other shelters had water supply systems and water tanks in them. The quarters were also furnished with water-supply installations, sewage and dehydrating systems with sediment equipment and sewage settlers as well as fuel tanks for generators. At Jeleń, outside the borders of the quarters area (in nearby Białobrzegi) there were bunkers of deep-water wells and transformers, while at Konewka there was the shelter of the well situated on the grounds of its quarters. In the forests around the shelters there had been put up several wooden barracks, which housed office rooms, mess rooms, baths and sanitary facilities as well as living places for security guards, military personnel and visitors to the quarters, because cramped, cold and humid rooms inside the railway shelter were to be used only in case of the threat of an air-raid. Also several buildings, which had been at Konewka since the tsarist times were now occupied and adapted to the needs of quartering; the wooden villa, built towards the end of the 19th century for Tsarevitch Nicholas, was occupied by the building management; later it was taken over by the quarters commanding staff, and the former dwelling-house for the service personnel and the huntsmen was changed into an officers mess and officers quarters (more quarters were found in the barracks set up nearby).
As the headquarters was located in the Polish territories occupied by Germany (General Governorsip) much attention was given to ensuring the security of the headquarters grounds. At Konewka, close to the crossroads and the railway track, a system of earthen fortifications with nests of machine guns was built, and in the direction of the airfield, two reinforced concrete pillboxes and one anti-aircraft shelter for the security troops of the headquarters. The area around the headquarters was closely guarded, so that even the people living in the neighbourhood and those who worked for the staff in Spała did not know the purpose of the objects under construction.
In the forest between Lubochnia and Skrzynki the construction of yet another object was begun: smaller military quarters provided with fairly small passive bunkers adjusted to the staffs purposes and there were also wooden barracks there. The quarters were to be used by the commanders of land forces OKH, but it is not unlikely that the later use of the place was connected with the functioning of the ammunition factory in Niewiadów and with the nearby airfield.
Despite the fact that the construction works were on a large scale and the cost of building gigantic shelters of the quarters ”Anlage Mitte” immense, the Germans did not use this centre of command either during preparations for, or during the war with the Soviet Union begun by Hitler on June 22, 1941. There were two reasons for that: first of all, the choice of Wolfschanze near Kętrzyn for Hitlers headquarters, and putting the German command of land forces (OKH) in the complex of shelters at nearby Mamerki (Mauerwald) made the burden of commanding military operations shift to the quarters in East Prussia. Moreover, the quick forward movement of the Wehrmacht into the depths of the Russian land in the first period of fighting necessitated the shifting of military staffs to the east, following the line divisions and the receding front which made using the objects of the Anlage Mitte redundant.
Reports by witnesses testify that there were several visits of special trains to Spała and Konewka. They attracted onlookers attention because of intensified security measures introduced in Tomaszów and Spała during the passage of such a train. Soldiers and railway security guards (Bahnschutz) were posted along the trains route so that the distance of dozens of metres separated them. One such visit, recorded in the log of the headquarters, took place on the 28th August 1941, when the train of Hitlers body guards arrived at Konewka, in order to look at the preparations for a visit of Hitler in Spała. Two days earlier Hitler met with the leader of fascist Italy, Benito Mussolini, in a similar complex (Strzyżów, Cieszyna-Stępina) near Rzeszów and on the return trip to the Wolfschanze he was to stop in Spała. However, because of the resentment he felt towards the commander of the Oberost, General Gienanth and because of the potential danger due to the activities of the resistance movement in this area, Hitler called off his visit and returned directly to Wolfschanze.
For a period of time the objects of Anlage Mitte were not used. In the beginning of 1942, there began deconstruction of a part of the equipment at Jeleń, and, according to witnesses, two trains (120 carriages) of equipment, implements and dismantled barracks were taken away.
The shelters in Jeleń were used once more by the Germans towards the end of the war in mid 1944. They located there a storehouse and a recycling workshop for recovering useful pieces of damaged engines which belonged to the Tomaszów branch of the firm Daimler-Benz Flugmotorenwerk. At that time Russian prisoners of war were employed there as well as people forced to work brought from Tomaszów and its vicinity. The complex at Jeleń was listed in the register of the disposition of German industrial objects under the cryptonym ”Goldamsel”.
The shelter at Konewka was held in readiness for use until mid 1944, even though since 1942 it had been manned by a skeleton crew only. Towards the end of the war, the railway bunker and the grounds near it were used as a bomb and ammunition dump in connection with the military use of the nearby airfield at Glinnik by Hitlers Luftwaffe. The complex at Konewka was given the cryptonym ”Hühn”.
In January 1945, the Germans left Konewka without a fight. The shelter was mined and the bombs that had been stored there were then used for that purpose. The buildings, however, were not blown up, neither was there enough time to take away the remaining equipment and on the 18th of January the few remaining members of the crew escaped from the approaching (from the direction of Królowa Wola) troops of the 61st Infantry Corps of Red Army.
Nowadays the Bunker in Konewka is open to visitors. There are exhibitions, which illustrate the history of these bunkers, plans and models as well as military items, guns, soldiers equipment from WW II, reports about the bats that winter in the bunkers and information about Spała Landscape Park. The site is used by the organisers of „Military Picnics” as well as for historical re-enactments and for displays of old military vehicles.
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- Bunker for command train
- Power station bunker
- Water treatment bunker
- Water tank
- Water pump bunker
- Fuel tank
- Underground technical passage
- Main nave with railway track
- Side corridor
- Air conduit
- Cable conduit
- Gas resistant door
- Side exit
- Fastening camouflage
- Camouflage netting
A temporary exhibition ‚Bunkers, shelters and trenches
During the interwar period the Polish war doctrine assumed defence on the eastern direction (the so-called „Plan W”). When the threat of the conflict with the Third Reich became real, only on 4 March 1939 the General Staff of the Polish Army set about working preliminarily on a defensive plan „West” (Plan „Z”). In July 1939, on the area of the Łódź province, among others, hasty building works started, which were completed only partially. Most defensive structures were built on the right bank of the rivers Warta and Widawka, in the region of action of the army ‚Łódź’ ; forty-seven ferroconcrete combat shelters (one- or two-loophole) and observation shelters were built or started to be built. The lines of shelters supplemented the network of trenches, artillery observers’ positions, wood-earth shelters, entanglements and tank traps. Those fortifications were used only to a minimal extend during the fights with Germans.
After seizing Polish territory, the Germans started to carry out their own programme of building a defensive system there. A phenomenon, and today a tourist attraction of a kind, are two complexes of mighty German railway shelters in Konewka and Jeleń, which were the basic elements of the German headquarters in the area ‚Centre’ (‚Gefechtsstand – Anlage Mitte’). The shelters destined to protect the staff trains and the shelters’ technical base were built in the first half of 1941 before the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In view of the fast progress of the German offensive in the East, they were not used to serve the purpose they were created for. Trains were stationed in them only occasionally. In 1944 the shelters were used for military production and as weapons depots. In January 1945 the shelters were taken without fight by the Russians. After the war, they served for many years as warehouses. In the abandoned and devastated shelters a Tourist Route „The shelter in Konewka” was created in 2005.
The fast offensive of the Red Army in the middle of 1944 and the Soviet Army entering the Vistula grounds forced the Germans to develop a short-time plan of building the system of fortifications between the Vistula and the Odra River. Works on its realisation started on a large scale in August 1944 and were continued until January 1945. They included three large strips of defence (‚a’, ‚b’ and ‚c’) and a number of supporting buildings, as well as the East Prussian system of defence. West of Łódź there were created fragments of the strips ‚b-1’ (the section from Włocławek via Kłodawa, Poddębice, Szadek, Zduńska Wola to the Warta) and ‚b-2’ (the section from Konin to Praszka, on the left bank of the Warta River). South-east of Łódź, at the same time there was created the so-called ‚Pilica River Line’. About eighty small combat and passive shelters were built there (the line of the defence ran along the Pilica from Sulejów via Tomaszów, as far as beyond Inowłódz). Mostly they were the ‚Ringstande’ shelters, some of them were equipped with turrets that had been taken from damaged tanks. The Pilica River Line stopped the Russians’ offensive for only twenty-four hours. Many of these shelters can be still seen nowadays.
In the time of the German occupation of Łódź, like in many other Polish cities, there was created a whole system of shelters and air raid slits for the civilians, as a part of the anti-aircraft defence programme. Its traces can be still found today. Tenements’ basements were converted into shelters by strengthening their doors and ceilings, by introducing emergency evacuation exits and by equipping the rooms with furniture essential for people sheltering there. Such shelters were marked with white letters ‚LSR’ (Luftschutzraum; an air raid shelter) painted on the houses’ walls. The air raid slits were built in the yards of properties and in parks.
Probably the largest bunker complex in Łódź from the time of World War II was the complex built near the Lublinek airport. It is almost certain that it was the medical base of the airport. The underground complex was five hundred and twenty-five square meters in area, with a capacity of sixteen hundred cubic metres.
The bunker complex in the area of Bałucki Market in Łódź is still an unresolved issue. During the occupation it was situated within the area of the Łódź Ghetto and presumably it was built for the functionaries working in the situated nearby ‚Getto’ posts of the Łódź Gestapo and the criminal police.
CONTEMPORARY TRACES OF WAR HISTORY
Spała was a place where important events in 19th and 20th century Polish history took place. It has witnessed the Russian partition and Tsarist domination, the bloody battles during WW I, regaining of independence in 1918, and prosperity in the times of the Second Polish Republic. It survived the outbreak of WW II and one of the battles in the tragic September 1939 campaign, as well as the dark days of Nazi occupation and the fighting in 1945.
Few traces of Spała’s war past have survived to contemporary times. Today one can see some of the preserved buildings which recall the times of the Tsar’s residence, occupied by the structures of the German commanding staff „Oberost”, hotels Rogacz – officers’ quarters, Dzik – telephone exchange and the secretary’s office, the villa Jelonek – headquarters, the building of the orangery and coach-house (today: Spała Residence, Spała Guest Rooms, café Arcadia ) – during the war garages and workshops. One of the two hospital buildings put up by the Germans still exists – after the war it became a rest house Żubr (on the site of the second hospital there is now a grand hotel – Hotel Mościcki). Also one of the two wooden barracks set up during the war has survived – later it became an office, today, extensively rebuilt, it houses a restaurant Zajazd Spalski (Spała Inn).
More remnants and relics from the times of the two world wars can be found in the vicinity of Spała. The largest ones are the complexes of shelters in nearby Konewka and somewhat remoter Jeleń.
The railway shelter at Konewka is now accessible to visitors – there is a Tourist Track „Bunkier w Konewce” (Shelter at Konewka) visited by great numbers of tourists. In Konewka itself, one of the barracks set up when the complex was under construction has survived , as well as a building with a canteen and officers’ quarters in it (built as early as during tsarist times). In the forest, remnants of earthen fortifications and defence positions can be still found. Between Konewka and Glinnik II there are two rather small fighting shelters for protecting the area of the quarters, and in the airfield, where the 25th Brigade of Air Cavalry is stationed at present, there still stands an air-shed from the times of President Mościcki that had been brought to the place by the Germans from the landing field near Spała. There are also several small underground air-raid shelters there. In Teofilów, which is not far away, and also in Tomaszów and Inowłódz dozens of fighting shelters can be seen, constituting part of the „PiIica River Line” built by the Germans in 1944.
In Inowłódz, it is worth visiting the war cemetery, which arose after World War I.