Hitler’s Last Stand in the Alps

Illustration from Time magazine, 1945
Illustration from Time magazine, 1945

Throughout the second half of 1944 and the first months of 1945, the Western Allies were convinced that Nazi Germany, after the fall of Berlin, planned to hold out in the Austrian and Bavarian Alps and continue the war effort from a formidable Alpenfestung in the mountains.

Time magazine, in its February 12, 1945 edition, predicted that top Nazi officials, accompanied by Hitler Youth fanatics and dedicated SS officers, would retreat, “behind a loyal rearguard cover of Volksgrenadiere and Volksstürmer, to the Alpine massif which reaches from southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy.”

There immense stores of food and munitions are being laid down in prepared fortifications. If the retreat is a success, such an army might hold out for years.

Associated Press correspondent Wes Gallagher reported in December 1944 that the scheme was originally SS chief Heinrich Himmler’s who had “started laying the plans for underground warfare in the last two months of 1943.”

The plans are threefold, embracing (1) Open warfare directed from Hitler’s mountain headquarters; (2) Sabotage and guerrilla activity conducted by partisan bands organized by districts, and (3) Propaganda warfare to be carried on by some 200,000 Nazi followers in Europe and elsewhere.

Gallagher claimed that it was “the plan of Nazi leaders to flee to that region when the German military collapse comes.”

Gun positions on the Kneifelspitze in the Berchtesgaden Alps, 1944
Gun positions on the Kneifelspitze in the Berchtesgaden Alps, 1944

Himmler did likely propose such a national redoubt to Hitler but the latter never accepted it — until it was too late. Less than a week before he committed suicide in a bunker under Berlin, the German dictator ordered the evacuation of remaining government personnel from the capital to the redoubt.

Some preparations were made — tunnels were prepared for underground factories based on the Mittelwerk facility near Nordhausen in central Germany — but most of the scheme was propaganda fueled by Joseph Goebbels who fooled even Dwight Eisenhower. It convinced the general to pursue a broad front strategy rather than advance on a narrow front toward the German capital in an attempt to to stave off a German resurgence in the south.

General Omar Bradley later said of the Alpenfestung myth, “[It] grew into so exaggerated a scheme that I am astonished we could have believed it as innocently as we did. But while it persisted, this legend of the redoubt was too ominous a threat to be ignored.”

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