Saturday, 9 March 2013

More from The Hamburg Bunker

The Heiligengeistfeld Flakturm (All images author's photos)
Following the last edition of the blog which covered the Hamburg Air Raid Shelter Museum, this week's edition is mainly a pictorial effort in order to share some more photographs taken during my recent visit to the Hanseatic port on the River Elbe.

The first picture shows one of the remaining Flakturm or Flak Towers, of which numerous examples survive across Germany, mainly by dint of the their sound concrete construction. This particular tower is a Flakturm IV, dating from 1942 and can be found on the Heiligengeistfeld, adjacent to St Pauli FC's Millerntor Stadion. The concrete walls are 3.5 metres thick and were designed to be able to withstand anything that the RAF and USAAF had in their arsenal at the time. The RAF's 22,000 lb Grand Slam bomb, introduced in 1944, could undoubtedly have penetrated the bunkers but these bombs were never used in area bombing and instead were used on precision military targets such as railway viaducts and U-Boats pens; indeed Hamburg was the target for some of these massive bombs, when right at the end of the war, on 9th April 1945, they were used to successfully destroy the U-Boat Pens at the Blohm & Voss Shipyard.

The Light gun platform on the Flakturm
Going back to the Flakturm, they were designed to carry four heavy anti aircraft guns - usually 88mm or 128mm pieces on each corner, with smaller guns, usually 37mm or 20mm - on the surrounding gallery. Inside, each tower was designed as an air raid shelter, with space for upto 10,000 civilians in reasonable comfort, also including a hospital. During the Operation Gomorrah raids on Hamburg in the summer of 1943, space in these towers would have been much sought after. The similar towers in Berlin became extremely overcrowded during the final days of Nazi rule over that city in April and May 1945, when some 30,000 civilians crowded into each shelter as the Red Army encroached upon the city. Needless to say, with those number crammed into the towers, conditions rapidly deteriorated and soon the towers soon became scenes of unimaginable squalor.

Today, the Hamburg Flakturm sees a much more peaceful usage, being used as a nightclub, music school and a music store, as well as benignly overlooking the Hamburger Dom funfair three times a year as well as numerous exhibitions and circuses and the fortnightly football crowds visiting St Pauli FC's Millerntor Stadion. There is also a second Flakturm in Hamburg, on the southern side of the River Elbe, in the Wilhelmsburg district which I have yet to visit but will hopefully do so on my next trip to the city. Due to their immensely strong construction, these towers have often proved difficult to demolish; indeed, one local informed me that if explosives were used to destroy the Heiligengeistfeld tower, half of neighbouring St Pauli would be taken out with it!

The Baumwall Shelter
Nazi Eagle over entrance
The other bunker that I photographed in Hamburg was an example of a Rundturm or Round Tower, of which there are several surviving examples, usually located adjacent to a convenient S-Bahn station. The example shown here is located at Baumwall, close to the Landungsbrucken Station as well as the Baumwall U-Bahn Station. These shelters were somewhat more aesthetically pleasing to the eye, being brick clad and having a conical shape roof. This roof, despite it's pleasing shape, actually had a practical use, being reinforced to allow incendiary bombs to bounce off harmlessly onto the ground. Inside, these shelters were of smaller capacity than the Flakturm, being normally able to accommodate 600, although during the 1943 raids, no doubt a much larger number managed to squeeze inside. These towers were completed very quickly during the early months of 1940, but despite the rapidity of their construction, they proved very sturdy and in Hamburg alone, some twelve of these Rundturn survive to this day, their modern day usage varying from a Portuguese restaurant in the Baumwall shelter, to that of a bar and also for industrial storage. One detail that has survived almost intact on all of these shelters, is the large Nazi Eagle over the entrance. Almost intact except for one detail; the Swastika has been chiselled off or cemented over in every instance.

So, to return to the Air Raid Shelter Museum in Hamm. In the previous edition of this blog, we described the Museum in some detail as well as some background information concerning the Operation Gomorrah raids of July and August 1943 but space precluded the inclusion of all of my photographs, so in answer to various requests to see some more, here goes.

An Air-Raid Siren on display in the museum
Luftschutz helmets
Some of our group examining the artefacts on display
Warped bottle and head of British 4lb incendiary bomb
The first shot shows an air raid siren on display - obviously, in wartime, these were located all across the city in various locations, usually on top of public buildings where the sound could be easily projected across the city. The second shot shows steel helmets used by the Luftschutz - the German equivalent of the ARP or Civil Defence Wardens. Like their British equivalents, these wardens were largely volunteers and could be male or female. The next shot shows some of the members of our group examining some of the various artefacts on display within one of the shelter tunnels, whilst finally in this series of four images, we see another of the bottles discovered outside warped into an odd shape by the incredible temperatures generated in the firestorm of 27th July 1943, whilst alongside it we see the remnants of one of the approximately 350,000 British 4lb incendiary bombs dropped on Hamburg and which were largely responsible for the conflagration.

'Public Air Raid Shelter This Way'

Child's Gas Mask

No Smoking!
The next series of three photographs show a sign that would have been prominent across all towns and cities across Germany and basically is a direction sign that say 'For Public Air Raid Shelter' with a large arrow pointing in the direction of safety. Next we see an example of a child's gas mask. In the Second World War, both sides feared a repetition of the horror of the First World War's use of poison gas and equipped their civilian populations and armed forces with gas masks. Indeed both Allied and Axis powers did have stockpiles of Mustard Gas as well as other gasses but mercifully, neither side ever used them. Finally, in this series, we see a 'No Smoking' sign still extant on one of the tunnel walls.

Luftschutz members at work

Cutlery twisted by the Firestorm

Diagram of a British 500lb High Explosive Bomb

Our final set of three photos show female Luftschutz wardens disposing of British incendiary bombs in an article taken from a contemporary publication. The second image is another view of some cutlery twisted into fantastic shapes by the intense heat of the Firestorm - these items were found buried in the ground surrounding the bunker, whilst the final shot is a diagram of a British 500 lb High Explosive bomb, from one of which the large piece of shrapnel on display inside the museum is taken.

On my next visit to Hamburg, I will visit the Museum again in order to purchase some more archive images so as to produce some 'then and now' comparisons from the neighbourhood to show just how the area was altered almost beyond recognition by the Firestorm.

In the meantime, thanks again to Gunnar Wulf for guiding our group around this excellent museum and for ensuring that the people of Hamburg remain aware of this terrible page in their past history.

Published Sources:

Inferno: The Destruction of Hamburg 1943 - Keith Lowe, Penguin Viking 2007

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