Towards the end of World War Two German engineers and scientists researched increasingly advanced (and occasionally outlandish) projects in a vain attempt to halt the inexorable advance of allied forces. During this period prototypes were produced of combat and cargo carrying helicopters, advanced, delta wing, high altitude, high performance jet fighters and bombers and ground-to-air missiles. Some projects still in their early stages as the war ended sounded more like science fiction and included directed energy weapons intended to destroy or disable enemy bombers.
However, as the situation in the Third Reich became more desperate, some of this research moved into esoteric and even occult areas. In particular the SS were involved in projects which are still shrouded in mystery. One of these projects was overseen by Hans Kammler, an SS General and engineer who became for a time one of the most powerful men in Hitler’s Germany and one of the most wanted men in Europe. The precise nature of the work he was involved in towards the end of the war has provoked intense speculation with suggestions ranging from the development of nuclear weapons to the design and manufacture of a flying saucer. Whatever it was that he was working on, Kammler disappeared in May 1945 and there were at least three contradictory and conflicting accounts of his death and his body was never found.
But it’s not just that disappearance that the title of this article refers to. One of the most intriguing things about Hans Kammler is the way in which his name also disappeared from the historical record. Kammler is almost unique among senior Nazis, and particularly those close to Himmler, because you will find him almost completely absent from the plethora of books and papers written about Nazi Germany which appeared after the war and he was barely mentioned during the Nuremberg Trails. Even now, many people who are familiar with the history of Nazi Germany remain unaware of Kammler. So here we have three mysteries for the price of one (don’t worry, there’s no additional charge): Just who was Obergruppenführer General Dr Ing. Hans Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler, why has he vanished from most historical accounts of World War Two and what precisely was he doing in the mountains of Lower Silesia in 1944/45?
Hans Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler was born on 26th August 1901 in the industrial city of Stettin in the Prussian province of Pommern on the Baltic coast (following World War Two most of Pommern was ceded to Poland and Stettin became Szczecin). Kammler was an ardent Nationalist but was too young to serve during World War One, though immediately after the war he volunteered for service first with a Huzzar regiment and then with the Rossbach Freikorps.
In 1919 Kammler began studies which would lead to the award of a Diploma in Civil Engineering in 1923. In 1924 he joined the Prussian Civil Service and became involved in a number of building projects in Eastern Germany and Berlin. Kammler quickly showed ability as a project manager dealing with complex civil engineering project and in 1928 he was appointed Regierungsbaumeister (Government Master Builder). Kammler seemed set for a successful career in the Civil service, but then in 1931 he was appointed as a consultant to the Ingenieurtechnischen Abteilung (Engineering and Technical Department) of the Nazi Party in the Greater Berlin region.
By 1931, the NSDAP (Nazi Party) was on the way to its domination of the German political scene which would lead to Hitler becoming Chancellor in 1933. For an ambitious young man, an association with the growing power of the Nazi Party could provide a significant career boost. On March 1st 1932, Kammler joined the Nazi Party (Membership number: 1,011,855). Later that month he was formally awarded the title of Doctor of Engineering (Dr Ing.) by the Hannover Technical Academy. During 1932 and the early part of 1933 he became increasingly involved with the Nazi Party as an organiser and administrator of building projects and in early 1933 he became a member of the Board of Directors for the Nazi controlled Heimat Gemeinnützige Bau- und Siedlungs AG (Homeland building and housing cooperative).
Hans Kammler in 1932. ID photograph from his NSDAP party card.
On 20th May 1933 Kammler joined the SS with the rank of Untersturmführer, the lowest rank for a commissioned officer in that organisation and roughly equivalent to Lieutenant. Joining the SS as a junior officer may seem like a strange move for an ambitious civil engineer and project manager, but it actually made perfect sense in the topsy-turvey world of Nazi Germany. Himmler’s SS was growing ever more powerful and although it was a primarily a paramilitary organisation, it was also involved in civil engineering and environmental projects in which Kammler’s experience proved very useful. Kammler served in such SS sponsored groups as the Reich Garden and Settlement Association, the Agricultural Settlements Group and the Reich Environmental Planning Office.
Kammler’s enthusiasm and energy were as much appreciated by the SS as they had been in the civil service and by June 1939 he had been promoted several times to the rank of Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) as well as being appointed as a lecturer in ideological studies in the Berlin SS Police School. Following the outbreak of World War Two, Kammler transferred to active service with the Waffen SS in April 1940 where he became Commander of Amt III (Construction) and he was promoted once again, this time to Standartenführer (Colonel).
Himmler visits Auschwitz, 17th July 1942. Kammler is second from the right.
In June 1941 Kammler was appointed as Commander of Amtsgruppe C (Construction), he was promoted yet again, this time to Oberführer (Brigadier General) and his career in the SS took him in a much darker direction as he assumed responsibility for the construction and enlargement of concentration camps including the design and construction of gas chambers and crematoria. His success in these projects led to his appointment to oversee a number of critical construction projects including the building of underground construction facilities for V2 rockets at Nordhausen in Thuringia (one of the largest underground factories ever built) and the construction of an underground factory for the production of Me 262 jet aircraft near Mauthausen. In 1944 Kammler also inherited from Albert Speer the responsibility for one of the most mysterious Nazi projects of World War Two, Projekt Riese (Giant) which involved the construction of a number of massive underground complexes in the mountains of Lower Silesia.
Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, Generaloberst Walter Model and Heinrich Himmler inspect an SS construction project in 1943. Brigadeführer Kammler is standing behind, looking over Himmler’s shoulder.
Kammler’s rapid rise in the SS became meteoric and by March 1945 he was promoted to Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS (he was the only person promoted to this rank in that year). He had also been awarded a number of medals culminating in the Knights Cross of the War Merit Cross with Swords (Ritterkreuz des Kriegsverdienstkreuzes mit Schwertern, the highest Nazi award for non-combat soldiers) in 1945. By the end of the war Kammler was responsible for a number of critical projects, many of which involved the use of forced and slave labour. It was estimated at one point that Kammler was directly responsible for more than four million people within the Third Reich. His extensive use of prisoners of war and slave labourers on construction projects and his readiness to have those who were no longer needed or who were unable to work executed, meant that he was identified by the allies as one of the most wanted German war criminals (it is claimed that at one time he was third on this list, behind only Himmler and Hitler).
A relaxed Gruppenführer Kammler, probably in 1944
What precisely happened to Kammler at the end of World War Two is still not clear. On April 4th 1945 British troops occupied an underground bunker at Espelkamp, 10km north of Lubeck in Germany. There they discovered a number of staff cars, some of which appeared to have been used by Kammler and his staff. According to some accounts, they also found Kammler’s decomposing body in a water tank in the bunker. However, this seems to be an error as there is good evidence that Kammler had an extended meeting with Albert Speer on 13th April and orders originating from Kammler continued to be issued until the end of April.
In another account, Kammler was said to have been killed in a bunker in Prague in May 1945 when it was over-run by Czech partisans, possibly when he was shot by his own adjutant on Kammler’s orders to stop him falling into the hands of partisans, possibly during combat, accounts differ. In yet another version, Kammler left Prague in a convoy heading south on 9th May (World War Two in Europe officially ended on 8th May with the unconditional surrender of all German armed forces), but killed himself by taking cyanide (or by shooting himself) en-route to Pisek in southern Czecoslovakia where the rest of the group surrendered to American troops.
German convoy leaving Prague, 9th May 1945. Was Kammler in one of these vehicles?
In 1948 Kammler’s widow, Jutta Kammler (né Horn) petitioned a court in Berlin to have her husband declared dead as of 9th May 1945. She included a sworn statement provided by Kammler’s driver, SS-Oberscharführer Kurt Preuk, who claimed that he had driven the car in which Kammler had left Prague and that he had been present on 9th May 1945 when Kammler ordered the car to pull off the road in a forested area to the south of Prague before shooting himself. Preuk said that he and other members of the entourage then buried Kammler’s body in a shallow grave before continuing on their way. On 7th September 1948, the District Court of Berlin-Charlottenburg ruled that Kammler’s death on 9th May 1945 was officially established.
What happened to Hans Kammler?
The most popular theory about Hans Kammler is that he did not die at the end of World War Two, but that he was spirited away by the allies as part of Operation Paperclip. Operation Paperclip was a real operation in which prominent Nazi scientists and engineers were selected by US and British intelligence services for their potential contribution to post-war projects. Probably the most well-known people involved in Paperclip were Dr Wernher Von Braun and Dr Walter Robert Dornberger, both involved in the Nazi V2 development programme. After the end of the war, both were taken to America to continue their work on rocketry. Dornberger eventually became Vice President of the Bell Aircraft Corporation and Von Braun ended his career as Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning at NASA. Von Braun was also a Sturmbannführer (Major) in the SS which proved no impediment to his subsequent career in the US. Towards the end of World War Two, Hitler ordered that a number of top German scientists should be executed to avoid their falling into the hands of the allies. In April 1945 Von Braun and Dornberger were nervously awaiting their fate in the Garmisch area of Germany when they were unexpectedly rescued by… Hans Kammler.
Many people like to imagine that Kammler was captured by the allies and given a new identity under Operation Paperclip. They also suggest that this is the reason Kammler’s name disappeared from most-wanted lists so quickly and why he doesn’t appear in post-war paperwork, but this doesn’t really make any practical sense. The people targeted under Paperclip were scientists and engineers with theoretical and practical knowledge of new technologies. Kammler was simply a brutally efficient project manager with knowledge and experience of civil engineering and it’s very difficult to see why this would have been of sufficient value in the post-war world to overlook his involvement in large numbers of deaths and executions. Even his involvement in the mysterious Projekt Riese and Projekt Kronos (both of which I’ll be talking about later) would only have been as an administrator, not as a scientist.
However, it has also been suggested that Kammler had access to documents relating to secret SS research and that he may have traded these to the allies for his freedom. Again, I’m not convinced. Once the allies had the documents, Kammler would have been of no further value to them. The idea that Kammler had at least some dealings with the allies has been the subject of numerous claims, counter claims and “astounding revelations”. But so far, no-one has produced anything that convinces me that Kammler was part of Operation Paperclip or any similar operation which led to him working for or even negotiating directly with the allies.
On the surface, the sworn testimony provided by SS Oberscharführer Kurt Preuk in 1948 certainly seems confirm that Kammler committed suicide on May 9th 1945. Preuk was a driver in Kammler’s entourage and knew him well. When he produced his sworn statement in 1948 Preuk claimed that he had been present on 9th May 1945 when Kammler shot himself during a break in the journey from Prague. However, in another sworn statement by Preuk made in 1959 as part of a death benefits case, he claimed that Kammler’s death had occurred “on or around 10th May 1945” and that he was not sure of the cause of death. The situation was made even less clear when in 1965 Heinz Zeuner, a former SS SS Obersturmführer and another driver in the Kammler entourage, claimed to have been present when Kammler died and stated that his death occurred on 7th May 1945 and that Kammler killed himself by taking cyanide.
In 2012, German researchers using government records uncovered further fascinating information about Kammler, his alleged death and the drivers in his entourage. It appears that in the Kammler group there was a third driver and one of Kammler’s longest serving aides, thirty-five year-old Oberscharführer Friedrich Baum. However, Baum had been badly wounded while driving one of Kammler’s staff cars when the partisan uprising in Prague erupted on 6th May 1945. Interviewed after the war, Heinz Zeuner claimed that he was present when the car was attacked (though Kammler was not) and described how Baum was shot in the left knee while driving, meaning that he was unable to use the accelerator. Zeuner was able to reach over with his own left leg and operate the accelerator while Baum steered the car to safety. Zeuner went to explain that Baum was taken to hospital in Prague but was later killed by partisans when the hospital was over-run a few days later.
However, records show that on 23rd May 1945 a thirty-five year old Army Oberfeldwebel (Sergeant) Friedrich Baum from the Berlin Motor Pool was admitted to a makeshift hospital in the lakeside town of Gmunden in Lower Austria. Hospital records show that Baum had been wounded in the knee in Prague on 4th May, but that his leg had become infected during the long journey to Austria. His leg was amputated in hospital but he died there on May 29th and was buried in grave No. 112 at the nearby military cemetery. There are a number of problems with this story. First, Oberfeldwebel Friedrich Baum of the Berlin Motor Pool does not exist according to German Army records. Given the reported date and location of Baum’s wound, it seems very likely that this was actually Oberscharführer Friedrich Baum of the SS. It was certainly very common for SS troops at the end of the war to adopt army identification in order to avoid arrest, imprisonment and retribution. However, the wound to Baum’s leg is also a problem. Accounts from Prague are very clear that Baum was wounded in the left knee. But hospital records from Gmunden state that Oberfeldwebel Baum’s right knee was injured and that his right leg was subsequently amputated.
Things got even more confused in 1967 when the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) reviewed the military cemetery in Gmunden as part of a national review and consolidation of war graves. The plan was to erect uniform markers on graves and to consolidate the many small cemeteries into larger plots. When grave No. 112 was opened to exhume Baum’s body, it was found to be empty! When the cemetery was re-dedicated in 1987 the marker over grave 112 read “I.M. FELDW. FRIEDRICH BAUM, 06.21.1906 – 29.5.1945”. The “I. M.” Stands for “In Memorium” and is generally used on a grave which is intended as a memorial but in which the body is not actually present.
The mystery surrounding the identity and death of Friedrich Baum has generated speculation that Kammler had adopted the papers and identity of his dead driver, that hospital records of his wound and death were falsified and that he escaped from Gmunden by adopting yet another false identity. There have also been reports of sightings of Kammler in Argentina after the war and suggestions that he actually surrendered to American forces much later than the date of his supposed death, though none of these have ever been confirmed.
What was Projekt Riese?
Projekt Riese is one of the most mysterious projects undertaken by the Nazis during World War Two mainly because, although we know a fair amount about what was done, we have no idea why it was done. The project began in September 1943 under the control of Albert Speer, Minster for Armaments and Production. However, in April 1944 Hitler expressed his disappointment at the slow progress of the project and control was handed to the SS and Hans Kammler, undoubtedly due to his previous success in constructing giant underground factories.
The project involved at least seven vast, linked underground complexes in the Sowie (Owl) Mountains in what was then Lower Silesia in Germany but which became Polish territory after World War Two. We have now no idea of the full scale of Projekt Riese because many tunnels are blocked by rubble or inaccessible due to flooding and many of the original records were destroyed during the war. A surviving 1944 message from Hitler to Albert Speer certainly seems to imply that the complex was much larger than the areas that have been discovered so far. However we do know that the project involved many thousands of metres of tunnels and a number of large open areas of over 6,000m3. Some of the construction work reads like something out of a science fiction novel. For example, at Schloss Fürstenstein in the city of Waldenburg (now Książ Castle in the city of Wałbrzych) we know that at least two levels of underground chambers and tunnels were constructed. The first level was 15m underground and accessed from a hidden lift shaft in the castle. The second level was 53m underground and accessed by another lift shaft hidden 15m under the castle courtyard. There are thought to be other, deeper levels, but access is blocked by rubble and flooding and these have not been fully explored. Seventy-five percent of all the underground areas here are reinforced by concrete and work was so extensive that a concentration camp was set up adjacent to the castle in 1944 just to provide slave workers for this construction.
Schloss Fürstenstein in 1920
And this was just one of seven underground sites, most located within an area of around twenty square Kilometres. One of the largest, at Wolfsberg (now Włodarz) had over three kilometres of tunnels that we know of, and probably many more as this complex is now largely flooded. Let’s try to put all this construction work in context. By April 1944, when Kammler took over responsibility for Projekt Riese, it was clear to most people that Germany could not win the war. The Russians were advancing inexorably in the east, the allies had invaded North Africa and Sicily and were advancing through Italy, Italy had surrendered to the Allies and British and American bombers were destroying German cities and industrial capacity. Most pressing, an allied invasion of France was expected imminently. Germany had a desperate need for concrete and steel reinforcement to build defences on the French coast and elsewhere and to create air-raid shelters in Germany. And yet, a large proportion of this precious steel and concrete was diverted to build these underground complexes – some estimates suggest that as much of 40% of the total German production of concrete and reinforcing steel in 1944 was used at Projekt Riese.
One of the Tunnels at Projekt Riese which is currently accessible to visitors
Why? What was the purpose of Projekt Riese that made it more important than building defences to prevent the expected allied invasion of France? The answer is that we simply don’t know. Some German records survive which relate to the construction of this project, but none that identify its intended purpose. It has been suggested that this was planned to be a huge command complex from where Hitler and the German military could safely direct the war. Or that these were to be underground armament factories safe from allied bombing. It may have been both. Or neither. We will never know for certain and Projekt Riese was over-run by Russian forces in 1945 before it was completed and before it could become operational.
Inevitably there has been a huge amount of speculation as to the intended purpose of Projekt Riese. This has included the suggestions that it was to be the location for the research and development of German “wonder weapons”, including chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, developments of the V2 programme or a production facility for very advanced aircraft. It has also been suggested that the complex was to be used in part to store art and treasures looted by the Nazis from museums, private collections, banks and archives in Europe. There are persistent rumours that the legendary Amber Room, stolen by the Germans from the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg during World War Two and never recovered, was hidden somewhere in the complex. There are also local stories that a train laden with Nazi gold disappeared somewhere in the Owl Mountains in May 1945 and that presumably this was also hidden within the complex. In August 2015 two treasure hunters, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, claimed to have located a train in a previously undiscovered tunnel within the Projekt Riese complex. However, Polish authorities were quick to close off the site and so far, no attempt has been made to excavate to discover if the train really exists and to find out what it contains.
The Amber Room at the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg in 1917. The interior was stripped and stolen by the Nazis during World War Two. It has never been found. Current estimates suggest that its value is somewhere in the region of $350 million and there are persistent rumours that it is hidden somewhere in the tunnels of Projekt Riese.
But if we have no formal evidence on the purpose of Projekt Riese, we do have some tantalising clues about a nearby complex which did become operational during World War Two. The Wenceslas Mine complex near the village of Ludwidsdorf in Lower Silesia, Germany (now Ludwikowice in Poland) was close to the various Projekt Riese complexes. The mine itself had been abandoned before 1939 but during the war Nobel Dynamit AG operated an ammunition manufacturing plant near the railhead originally installed to service the mine. However, during the war the underground tunnels of the mine were re-opened and extended to form part of Komplex Milkow, one of the Projekt Reise sites.
Just as for the rest of Projekt Riese, we don’t know the purpose of Komplex Milkow but in 1997 Igor Witkowski, a Polish researcher and historian, claimed to have found evidence that this was the final location for a mysterious Nazi research project known variously as Der Glocke (The Bell) and Projekt Kronos. Witkowski initially used documents from the interrogation of former SS Obergruppenführer Jakob Sporrenberg after the war to find out more about these experiments which involved a fourteen foot high device shaped like a Bell which used very large amounts of electrical power and glowed violet-blue when operated for short periods. Sporrenberg wasn’t a scientist and he seemed unclear about the ultimate purpose of the Bell, but it was claimed that technicians became unwell (or possibly even died) in the vicinity of the device when it was activated. The scientific leader for the project was said to be Professor Walther Gerlach, who was also involved in the Nazi nuclear programme, which has led to speculation that the Bell was some form of nuclear device. From surviving documents we do know that this project was classified as “Kriegsentscheidend” (Decisive for the outcome of the war) in 1942, the highest classification for secrecy and funding priority in Nazi Germany. From July 1944, administration of this project became one of the key responsibilities for Hans Kammler.
The Bell project was originally sited in Berlin before being moved to Breslau in 1943 and then to Schloss Fürstenstein in November 1944. In December 1944, the Bell was moved to Komplex Milkow within the enlarged Wenceslas Mine workings. As the war came to an end and the Russians closed in on the mine, the Bell and some of the scientists involved in the project were allegedly flown to Argentina (where, remember, there have also been alleged post-war sightings of Hans Kammler) on a six-engined Junkers 390 heavy transport aircraft. This seemed to be confirmed when a 1945 Argentine Economic Ministry report was declassified 1993 and referred to a piece of equipment which might have been the Bell being unloaded in Argentina from a multi-engined German aircraft in May 1945.
The Junkers 390 was designed for long-range maritime patrol but it was also used as a heavy-lift transport aircraft. With a range of almost 10,000km, it would certainly have been capable of reaching Argentina from Germany.
The information uncovered by Witkowski was interesting, but he made a number of deductions based on his research which seemed to stretch credibility. First, he claimed that some of the structures remaining at the Wenceslas Mine site in the late 1990s provided evidence that research there had been working towards the development of a circular aircraft using some form of anti-gravity drive – in effect, a Nazi flying saucer. Then he went on to suggest that the Bell was an attempt to manufacture some sort of time-travel machine (mainly deduced from the name Projekt Kronos – Kronos (or Cronus) is a Greek God and father to Zeus. In Roman mythology he became Saturn and the God of time). The flying saucer idea was taken up by British author and aviation journalist Nick Cook in his book The Hunt for Zero Point in 2002. He visited the Wenceslas Mine with Witkowski and concluded somewhat bizarrely that an odd circular concrete structure referred to as the “Henge” and the “Flytrap” was part of some sort of test rig for a circular flying craft.
“The Henge” at the Wenceslas Mine complex in 2005. This area is now the car park for a museum at the site.
The Wenceslas Mine site still exists, though it is officially closed and prohibited due to the presence of unstable underground workings. There are many stories of people (both locals and foreigners) who have gone there to explore and have been warned off or threatened by various individuals. Some people report being arrested by police, followed and even receiving written threats following a visit to the site. There are also local rumours that, after the end of the war, strangers sometimes referred to as guardians bought property in the area and that these people are actually agents whose purpose is to keep watch over the secrets of this complex.
Despite this, I visited the Wenceslas Mine in 2011 as part of a motorcycle tour of Eastern Europe. It wasn’t easy to find, and when I finally did, most potential entrances were blocked by barriers noting that entrance was forbidden. However, I was able to find a narrow track through the forest on which I rode my bike to the centre of the railhead area of the complex. It was certainly a fascinating place with traces of rotting camouflage netting still visible in the trees overhead and a rusting German shunting engine, seemingly abandoned since 1945, still sitting in a siding. The heavy steel doors to the secure areas for storing ammunition prior to its being loaded on to trains are still in place as are many concrete structures I was unable to identify. However, my main purpose was to visit the mysterious Henge mentioned in The Hunt for Zero Point. It was still there, though I’m afraid it wasn’t very mysterious. It is clearly the concrete base of a cooling tower, the kind of structure associated with a fairly large power station. The strange concrete conduits also discussed by Nick Cook are still there too, and they are equally clearly intended for routing heavy electrical cables from the power station.
Wenceslas mine complex, railhead area, 2011
So, sorry, no evidence of Nazi UFOs. But far more interestingly, clear evidence of the existence of a power station. Why would the Germans build a power station in an area that was, during the war, in the middle of nowhere? The answer: Because they needed lots of power (Duh!). Which at least provides some indirect, circumstantial evidence for the presence of something which needed lots of electric power as the Bell experiment was said to have done (the “Henge” is claimed to be directly above the underground chamber where the Bell was located). Incidentally, while I was there no-one tried to threaten me or tell me to leave. In fact, no-one paid any attention to me at all. Unless you include homicidal Polish drivers who tried to force me off the road more than once. But I found them all over Poland so I don’t think that they count. I also note following research for this article that there now appears to be a museum on the site (with the “Henge” in its car park) so it doesn’t appear that the mysterious guardians are doing their job too well nowadays!
The heavily forested area surrounding the mine complex was filled with abandoned and semi-derelict concrete structures when I visited in 2011.
There is just enough hard evidence to suggest that something very interesting was going on at the Wenceslas Mine complex during World War Two. We don’t know precisely what this was, but it does seem to have been a research project which was given a very high priority. Was this typical of other parts of Projekt Reise? Was this whole construction project actually intended as a secure base for high level, secret Nazi research? Did Hans Kammler’s involvement and knowledge of this research give him something he could use to bargain with the allies at the end of the war?
In the confusion of the period at the end of World War Two it’s probably unsurprising that we have conflicting accounts of what may have happened to Hans Kammler. However, what is very surprising is that the allies seemed to readily accept the fact of his death despite the differing accounts of where, when and how it happened. Remember, this was a very senior Nazi and one of the most wanted men in Europe. Does it really seem credible that allied intelligence services would simply cross him off their list without some form of hard evidence, or at least a credible, first-hand eyewitness statement about his death? And yet, that is what appeared to happen. There was no search for Kammler’s body and, as far as I am aware, no attempt to verify the facts and circumstances of his death (the evidence of Preuk, his driver, wasn’t known until 1948).
At the first Nuremberg Trial which ran from November 1945 to October 1946 there was virtually no mention of Kammler in 35,000 pages of evidence and testimony. A search for “Kammler” in the digitised Nuremberg Trial project at the Harvard Law School Library brings up just 26 hits, and most of these are passing references to Kammler’s involvement in various construction projects. This makes Kammler virtually unique amongst senior Nazis and SS officers. Mention of Kammler was also absent from the subsequent Nuremberg trials of lesser war criminals which continued to 1948. In fact, the first war crime trial I can find at which Kammler’s role is specifically mentioned didn’t take place until 1958 and then he was only mentioned because the defendants (Wolfgang Wetzling and Ernst Kloenne) offered as a defence that Kammler had directly ordered them to shoot a number of Polish slave workers.
What the hell is going on here? At first glance it appears that there is a large, Kammler-shaped hole in most accounts of World War Two and the subsequent war crime trials which leads to suspicions of some sort of deliberate conspiracy. Kammler was very senior, part of the immediate circle round Himmler, involved in critical and top-secret projects and directly implicated in the deaths of large numbers of prisoners of war and slave labourers. Why haven’t we heard of him? It’s tempting to conclude that the allies somehow induced Kammler to work for them, and that this is what lies behind the apparent suppression of his name after the war but for the reasons noted above, I’m not convinced. I think that Kammler’s disappearance from the history of World War Two has more to do with what he did (and more notably, what he didn’t do) than with any deliberate attempt to suppress his name. Kammler was not an important combat soldier whose name was likely to crop-up in military histories, he did not achieve infamy by commanding a concentration camp or a death squad, he was not a scientist with valuable knowledge and he was not sufficiently politicised or influential to take part in high-level decision making within the Third Reich. Kammler was the ultimate faceless bureaucrat (albeit one who was responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of thousands of innocent people) who, in the immediate aftermath of the war, simply wasn’t significant enough to register on the radar of most people or organisations. It’s only now, with the benefit of hindsight and access to a plethora of official records, that we can see how significant Kammler really was. Back then, I just don’t think that he seemed terribly important.
I’m certainly not convinced by the stories of Kammler’s death or suicide. The accounts vary too much and are too vague to be satisfactory. The information about Friedrich Baume unearthed recently by German researchers is very interesting. It’s based on solid research and backed by the use of original source material. The idea of Kammler disguising himself as an army sergeant also has echoes of Himmler’s attempts to escape justice. During the time when the wounded Baume was supposedly travelling from Prague to Gmunden, Himmler was on the run, using forged papers to identify himself as Sergeant Heinrich Hitzinger of the German Army.
A large part of Kammler’s career as a project manager involved long-term planning. He was clearly an intelligent, resourceful, determined and ruthless man and there can be little doubt that he saw the approaching end of the Third Reich well before it happened. I think it likely that he planned carefully his own escape at the war’s end and used the resources available to him to set this up. I suspect that, using a new identity, he most probably took up a new life in 1945, perhaps in another country, perhaps even on another continent.
And what about Der Reise, Der Glocke and the Wenceslas Mine? I don’t think the underground complexes in Silesia were intended as factories – they were simply too far from sources of steel and other raw materials whose transport would have been subject to interruption by allied bombing. Nor do I think this was to be a new Führer Headquarters for some last stand of the Nazi regime. Frankly, I’m not certain what it was intended to be (though I am certain that it wasn’t intended for the development and production of Nazi flying saucers. So, can we just forget about those? Please!).
Bill Oberst Jr. as Hans Kammler in director Andreas Sulzer’s documentary “The Search For Hitler’s Bomb” from German television network ZDF.
However, though Kammler and Projekt Riese were virtually unknown at the end of the war, both are now much better known and have even entered popular culture. The Wolfenstein series of computer games, with castles and hidden underground bunkers filled with Nazi scientists undertaking sinister research are clearly strongly influenced by Schloss Fürstenstein and Projekt Riese. The 2012 movie Iron Sky features advanced Nazi technology and references Hans Kammler. Later in 2016 a short science fiction movie called The Kammler Code and featuring a Nazi designed time machine will be released and in 2015 German director Andreas Sulzer released the documentary “The Search for Hitler’s Bomb” which cites Kammler as the leading figure in the development of a Nazi nuclear weapon. In addition, countless books and articles have been written which feature Kammler, Projekt Riese or both. We can only hope that the growing awareness of these topics may mean that some researcher will one day stumble across evidence that will tell us precisely what happened to Hans Kammler and what was really going on in Lower Silesia in 1944/45.
Writing about Nazism can be a minefield, so there are a couple of things I had better make clear. First, I have visited Germany many times and I like both the country and the German people I have been lucky enough to meet. They are universally polite, welcoming, friendly, thoughtful and most display a well-developed sense of humour. In fact, the only negative thing I can raise about German people is their tendency to serve portions of food and drink that are large enough to stun an ox. However, the madness of Nazism which blighted Germany for twelve years is something different. Some writers, especially on the Internet, seem to regard the Nazis as an admirable if misunderstood group of technocrats who championed scientific and engineering progress. In my view, this is utterly wrong. Nazi ideology was not just morally repugnant and evil but also intellectually bankrupt and its application was characterised by chaos and inefficiency (just for the record, Hitler did not make the trains run on time). Nazi scientists were hamstrung by the need to follow only “Aryan” theories and to pledge allegiance to the Nazi Party. Those who refused to do either were forced to leave the country or found themselves out of work, imprisoned or worse. So, while I like Germans and Germany, I do not like or admire Nazis or Nazism at all.
In recent years a vast amount has been written about Hans Kammler, Der Reise and Der Glocke in books and on-line. Some of it is inane and some of it is outright demented so I have tried to provide here sources that will give you more information without straining your credulity too far.
Hans Kammler – Manager des Todes (Manager of Death), 2010 by Reiner Merkel. Biography of Kammler in German. As far as I am aware, no English edition is available.
Section from the Axis History Forum on Hans Kammler. If you scroll down, you’ll find the information from German researchers on Friedrich Baum – it’s in German, so Google Translate is your friend!
Nuremberg Trials project, Digital Document Collection, Harvard Law School Library. Try doing a search for “Kammler“.
And for something a little lighter, The Kammler Code, a soon-to-be-released short sci-fi movie based on Hans Kammler and Projekt Kronos (even if they do mis-spell it as “Chronos”).
Third Reich in Ruins. Website which includes information and photographs on those parts of Projekt Riese which can be visited today.
Polish website (In English) which provides a guide to parts of Der Riese which are currently open to visitors.
The Hunt for Zero Point, 2002, by Nick Cook. Book which looks at whether Nazi research was used by the US in the design of aircraft. Includes discussion of Kammler, Projekt Riese and the Wenceslas Mine.
Trip Report on a visit to “The Henge” at Ludwikowice in 2005. Downloadable .pdf (in English and including photographs) covering the visit of German researcher Gerold Schelm to the Wenceslas Mine complex to investigate the claims made by Nick Cook in The Hunt for Zero Point.
Muzeum Moltke, FaceBook page (mainly in Polish) for the recently opened museum on the site of the Wenceslas Mine complex.
Nazi Bell Uncovered. Well researched and supported 2010 article on The Bell project.
A Brief Introduction to the Amber Room on Smithsonian.com