Time ago, during our research for one Berlin air raid, we found this picture. We have seen it before, but this time we noticed a small interesting detail that captured our attention.
Taken after the war by Fritz Eschen in May 1946, the picture shows the ruined and devastated U-Bahnhof Stadtpark (today Rathaus Schöneberg) in Berlin-Schöneberg. The photographer was looking south to Innsbrucker Platz and the ruined Carl-Zuckmayer-Brücke is seen above, as a huge explosive bomb has exposed the U-bahn tunnels. Then located in the American occupation sector, this area and the nearer Bayerischer Platz were heavily hit in the war during the big US air-raid on February 26th, 1945. The city air bombing records reported that a big explosive bomb penetrated into the underground and blown up the roof of the U-Bhf station as the photo shows.
What took our attention was the strange, but familiar, element seen in the middle next to the train, a cylinder-shaped kind of small bunker. But why such a strange element? Because this is one of just two wartime photos known showing a BWS or “one-man bunker” in Berlin, despite thousands of pictures taken right after the battle showing the streets of the city in May 1945 and a hundred film footages are known.
But what is a BWS or Brandwachenstände? The BWS was an idea from the early 1930-years, some kind futuristic, with a metal construction and created to protect the worker at the factory or company from air-raids: shrapnel, fire and explosions… It was also known as Splitterschutzzelle (SSZ), Einzelschutzraum or more commonly “Einmann-bunker”. France, Britain and Germany quickly saw the military use of the concept adopting it with new designs to protect guards in barracks. War would extend its use to train stations, cities, houses, even machinery in factories. Faced with the imminent threat of destruction from the air, the different governments had to promise that the civilian could protect himself on the street if he did not have time to get to the shelter.
Also, the Nazi Reichsluftschutzbund (RLB) created in 1934 the civilian Luftschutz fire-warden figure against the air-raids, to lead people to the shelters and took a first account of fires and explosions. He would also provide information about the location of ‘duds’ and artifacts that have not yet exploded. And the BWS was his shelter. Some were equipped with a telephone and electric light, to allow the fire warden to pass on his observations to the command post. It also covered the guard from strafing attacks from enemy aircraft.
[Today the Deutsches Technikmuseum in the city exhibits a concrete-made BWS from WW2, manufactured by Westermann & Co Betonwerk.]
In September 1940, just before the Führer Sofortprogram to build air-shelters, Siemens made a report about the protection offered by these tiny shelters during recent air-raids on Berlin and to establish the proper size and weight to design and built a BWS. It established the cost of one of them at approx 430-450 RM. They were widely used by the Wehrmacht in barracks, facilities and watch posts, the Deutsche Reichsbahn (DRB) in their railway system and train stations and civilian companies at their factories.
At first, manufacturing companies offered these shelters made of steel with ballistic protection (Metallzellen), but when the war started that was a raw material and so much needed for the war effort that had to switch to using stamped concrete (Betonzellen). Some types used bricks but were rare. The German concrete industry manufactured them in many variants with some minor differences comprising different shape or number of access hatches and viewing slits. Well-known manufacturers of SSZ were DYWIDAG (Dyckerhoff & Widmann) in Dresden, Leonhard Moll Betonwerke in München, Mannesmann, or Westermann & Co. Also by two Berlin-based companies: Dietelgesellschaft mbH at Charlottenburg and Joseph Lang in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. The exact number built during the war years is unknown but ten of thousands were installed across the German Reich soil and the occupied countries, the majority set up by Organisation Todt.
[At left: The “Stuttgarter Illustrierte” magazine from September 1940 shows the one-man bunker at work, in this case a steel-made design. Right: An advertisement from Dywidag Betonwerke, one of the biggest BWS manufacturers, based in Cossebaude, Dresden.]
[At left: Sky scanning looking for enemy bombers at the Süddeutsche Zellwolle AG factory in Kelheim in November 1939. Right: a 1930-scheme of the BWS ‘Splinterzell’ Luftschutz German concept.]
[Three workers of the “Edelweiß” laundry posing with a concrete BWS in Münster in 1944.]
[American GIs from the US First Army inspect a BWS of Dywidag design captured after the battle in Eschwiller in December 1944.]
The other picture which shows a BWS at Berlin was a post-war scene too, taken in June 1948. It captures one calm West Berliner street between ruins and rubble, but the demolishing work has exposed this Einmannbunker surrounded by gutted buildings, a remnant of the war left intact in what must have been a private court or a small workshop. German authorities allowed the people to acquire a SSZ and set it up on their own private property.
[Two different types of BWS seen at the DRK-Präsidium - the main office of the German Red Cross- in August 1944 at Babelsberg, Potsdam. Note that both shelters have camouflage pattern and are numbered. This site was hit by US bombs during the air-raid on 9 March 1944.]
Photo evidence shows that many fountains (Wasserpumpe), street lamps and the so characteristic Berliner Litfaßsäulen -much less resistant elements- survived the bombings and the fierce ground battle, so the missing BWS evidence in any other picture made to assume that they were not used in Berlin as a common air-protection in the street like in other places, just inside army barracks, courtyards, factories or as in our image at train stations.
[An example of a SSZ bunker used in the street of a city, seen at the Rathausplatz in Osnabrück.]
It seems that during the late stages of the war in 1944-45 they were more often used as improvised firing positions, small pillboxes to defend the German retreating forces in France and the Sigfried Line in the German border from the Allied offensive on the ground than on their original Luftschutz-shelter concept.
From this idea of small individual shelters the Third Reich developed some other structures during the war, larger in size than the BWS: the Splitterschutzbauten and the Brandwachentürme (both observation towers) with the same purpose to protect the fire warden from splinters and explosives, with a mixed construction method of concrete and bricks and some of them attached to larger bunkers.
[September 1944, street-fighting in Brest, France: a US M18 GMC Hellcat fires its 76mm gun point-blank at a German strong point. Notice at left a surviving BWS, most probably used as a pillbox by the defenders.]
[A Schweinfurt factory heavily bombed by US aircraft, as seen in 1945 after the war. Note the almost intact BWS at right surrounded by rubble.]
Back to Berlin, there are some other locations here during the war that we can confirm that had some kind of one-man shelter, structures derived from the BWS and SSZ.
This after-the-battle view of the ‘Bendlerblock’, home of the Allgemeines Heeresamt (General Army Office) der OKH and located in Bendlerstraße 13, clearly shows that at the inner courtyard of this building complex where located two concrete hexagon-shaped BWS, most probably watch posts, similar to the used by Wehrmacht guards at the Olympischen Dorf. It is unknown if these ‘pillboxes’ were installed here just months before the Soviet final assault as an extra defensive measure or had been there since before that.
[Here Marshal Georgi K Zhukov, the Soviet commander, inspects debris from the battle inside the court during his tour to the defeated Nazi-capital in July 1945. One of the two BWS is seen behind him and his visiting party.]
The other place is one of the most interesting places of the Battle of Berlin topic, Hitler’s Chancellery complex at Voßstraße. Photos show that in the back garden of the Reichskanzlei was a cone-shaped small structure, next to the wall that divided the garden from Haus Kempka (Hitler’s chauffeur), very similar to a SSZ but it is not entirely confirmed if this was a pillbox or a small ventilation tower for the underground new Führerbunker, built there in 1944 by the Hochtief AG.
[Close view of the BWS-type structure built between Haus Kempka and the Reichsklanzei’s back garden, seen here bullet-riddled after the war.]
Also, a few metres away from that pillbox two huge Beobachtungsturme towers were built, next to the rear emergency exit of the Führer’s bunker. In the pictures can be seen that they were not exactly BWS or SSZ, due to its big size (more than double of the already described) and different construction method, but was their role the same?: to protect the SS guards of the complex from the air-bombings? watch towers? One of these towers was still under construction -maybe the two- when the war ended and it is believed that they served as air ventilation for the subterranean complex too.
Author James P. O’Donnell states in his book “The Berlin Bunker” (p 262) that Sergeant Erich Mansfield, a guard of the FBK (Führerbegleitkommando), “was stationed in a camouflaged cement watchtower in the Chancellery garden”, and on the US report on July 30, 1945 from Mansfeld interrogation after being captured was noted that “[Mansfeld was] on duty at the guard station in the bunker’s concrete tower”. Whatever they were for without any doubt were developed from the one-man bunker concept.
The bunker and the structures were blown up and demolished in 1947 and 1959.
This aerial view taken in July 1945 by William Vandivert from LIFE magazine gives us an idea of the exact location of the SSZ pillbox next to Haus Kempka (the small one at centre) and the two huge ventilation towers/BWS at the Chancellery’s back garden.
[This image taken in March 1959 shows that the small SSZ (at middle) was still there after the main towers and the Führerbunker were blown up by the Russians.]
Nach Kriegs Ende
By war’s end in May 1945, there were thousands of SSZ and BWS left intact all over Germany and the Nazi-occupied Europe, now held by the victorious Allied forces. In Germany during the following years, the Soviets took care of the elimination of these small shelters and the larger bunkers on their assigned occupation area. In Berlin, now devastated and divided into four sectors, the work took more time to be accomplished than in other areas. In 1946, the British occupation forces in Berlin were tasked to destroy these “Einmannbunker” in the city and surrounding areas. A February 1948 order from the Disarmament Branch (DB), signed by Capt Finneron suggested that all 1- and 2-people bunkers to be relocated in the British sector and to be destroyed, a work carried out until 1950.
Today, there are several relics from Second World War of this type in the Berlin area, some of them can be visited. The most widely known are the two SSZs located next to the U-Bhf Gesundbrunnen to point the office of the highly recommended association and subterranean world tours “Berliner Unterwelten” (Brunnenstraße 108, Berlin-Humboldthain). These shelters came from Frohnau in 2003 and are of an unknown type, probably built by Engel & Leonhardt Betonwerk. Another one at the city is the one displayed at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Kreuzberg (of Westermann & Co Betonwerk design) at their Luftfahrt stage next to an RAF Lancaster wreck and some bombs.
Far from the city centre, there is a Dywidag-BWS at Stubenrauchstraße in Berlin-Schöneweide and a Humerohr-type can be found at the Museum im Alten Wasserwerk in Köpenick, salvaged in 1994 from a pit in the Johannistal Wasserwerk. In Reinickendorf there is another SSZ too inside a private garden. Other similar structures are found at the Werneuchen- and Staaken Flugplatzes and at Hennigsdorf. At the Polizei training area in Spandau there are over a hundred SSZs housed, which may come from the same manufacturer (this is probably a former assembly point in the British military administration), and several others in the woods of the Forts Hahneberg. Finally, if you walk into the abandoned Olympisches Dorf, 14 km west of the Olympic Stadium, you could see another pair of BWS, this time of hexagon-shape that were used by Wehrmacht guards that watched the villa. There are many others left in the Brandenburg area.
[This SSZ was found at Mahlsdorfer Str. in Berlin-Köpenick district in 2015.]
[At left the BWS exhibit at the Museum im Alten Wasserwerk in Köpenick; right photo shows one of the remaining bunkers at Hahneberg in Spandau.]
[One of the surviving hexagon-shape BWSs from 1936 located at the Berlin Olympic Village.]
[Some of the SSZs at the Polizeiübungsgelände area in Berlin-Spandau]
[This SSZ is preserved at the Geschichtspark Falkensee-Berlin. During the war years the DEMAG KZ-Außenlager (a satellite concentration camp of Sachsenhausen) was located here.]