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Project Riese: Hitler’s Shadowy Incomplete Underground Complex that Remains a Mystery

BY Namrata Naha February 23, 2019
Project Riese unfinished tunnel.

Project Riese: Unfinished tunnel in Owl mountain range. (chained / Wikimedia Commons)

Project Riese refers to a mammoth network of unfinished underground tunnels in Lower Silesia region of Germany (now under the modern day territory of Poland). The construction work was flagged off on Hitler’s order in the month of April 1943.

The underground structures lie eighty kilometers towards the south of Wroclaw in mountainous ranges of Poland’s Owl Mountains. There are many unanswered questions and myths associated with the series of tunnels concerning the reason behind the construction, the manpower behind it, the engineering expertise and why it was left unfinished in 1945.

Project Riese: A giant venture

‘Riese’ is a German word for giant – the name itself suggest the magnanimous stature of the world famous construction project. Project Riese comprises – a series of fortified tunnels spread over 5.5 miles (9 km) close to the Walbrzych, a town in Poland built inside the Owl Mountains.

The tunnel has seven large underground structures located in the hard rocky landscape of Owl Mountains among which Ksiaz Castle was supposed to be one of the prime headquarters of the Nazi supremo.

Książ Castle

Książ Castle. (Jar.ciurus / Wikimedia Commons)

The tunnel network was probably built to move armaments, important offices and official documents to underground places safe from the sudden aerial attacks of the Allied Forces.  Documentations have been lost or destroyed to justify this intention.

Who spearheaded the project?

The secret venture was assigned to the efficient leadership of Albert Speer, the Nazi Minister of Armaments and War Production. A new company called the Silesian Industrial Company was created to carry forward the project that comprised of the 7 bunker complexes:

• Książ Castle
• Complex Wlodarz
• Complex Sobon
• Complex Osowka
• Complex Sokelec
• Complex Rezeczka
• Complex Jugowice

Albert Speer and Adolf Hitler discussing about Project Riese.

Albert Speer showing the project to Adolf Hitler. (German Federal Archives)

Out of all the tunnels, Complex Wlodarz has the highest number of tunnels bored underneath. Few have a concrete finish but most of them have been left abandoned in its natural state. The longest and the most fascinating complexes available for tourist’s viewing is in Osowka. The plan was to convert Osowka into a city that could house more than 20,000 Nazi troop members and workers. Out of the 7, only 3 are open for public viewing – they include Osowka, Wlodarz and Rezeczka.

Project Riese Map.

Map of the tunnel. (Les7007 / Planiglobe)

The accounts of the workers at underground shelter construction sites

Project Riese took the lives of many– the workers were forced to work in wretched condition. Prisoners of war (POWs) from Italy, Russia and Poland, prisoners of Auschwitz concentration camps and also children were forced to work as labourers.

There were 13,000 labourers appointed to do the digging job and the tasks of building roads and air ventilation systems. Many succumbed to death due to exhaustion, malnutrition and typhus endemic disease. The death count was 5000 and 14 were executed since they made an attempt to escape.

The construction work was highly exhausting because the Owl Mountains is made of impenetrable, hard rock gneiss.

So what exactly have researchers found?

Seven underground sites is not an easy task to excavate. In fact, only 1,00,000 cubic meters of the total 2,13,000 cubic meter space of Project Riese has been found so far. Some of what was found has been left open for public display for tourists in Walim-Rzeczka, Włodarz and Osówka.

Complex Rzeczka

Complex Rzeczka. (Przykuta / Wikimedia Commons)

Complex Włodarz

Complex Włodarz. (Dariusz Cierpiał)

Complex Osówka.

Complex Osówka. (Chmee2 / Wikimedia Commons)

Amongst the many things, archaeologists found an abandoned painted gate that was supposed to trick people, a gun, and a giant hall with a construction track. To top that an old winch, munitions carts, a paint inscription that read “Riese”, solid arches, barracks and other wrecks in a basement.

This is just a gist of the number of things that have been dug out. A structure known as the Fly Try was also found in an external above ground area. The existence of this structure has also been backed by a number of theories. The one theory that received a lot of limelight was that it was meant to produce an anti-gravity state.

Abandoned places now turned a museum

The charm of the abandoned places attracts adventure lovers. The primitive paint, although showing signs of peeling out, camouflages the entrance of the bunkers. The design of the underground bunkers preserves the unfinished look and feel. The guns and munitions carts on primitive, narrow gauge railways tracks are kept as it is, giving the place an eerie feel. The old pipes and ventilators are still there. People are amazed to witness such measures that prepared Nazi men to safeguard themselves against possible poison gas attacks by the Allied enemies.

Tourist at Complex Osówka.

Tourist at Complex Osówka. (Chmee2 / Wikimedia Commons)

The changes have been kept nominal with the addition of health and safety measures for the tourists who come to visit once-a-tunnel-complex-turned-museum. But, not all bunkers are accessible; only a few of them have been concretized, proof of the fact that the project came to an abrupt halt in the month of May 1945 due to the approach of the Red Army. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler died the month before by committing suicide. The death of the commander drove the nail in the coffin. 

The 73-year-old underground bunker complexes of Riese seem to hold within itself some of the top, secretive stories of one of the largest, secret construction projects of the Nazi.

Enjoyed this article? Also, check out “Schwerer Gustav: Why the Largest Artillery Gun Turned Out to Be a Flop During World War II?“.

Recommended Visit:
Underground City Osówka | Poland

Fact Analysis:
STSTW Media strives to deliver accurate information through careful research. However, things can go wrong. If you find the above article inaccurate or biased, please let us know at [email protected]


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