For Rent - Apartment in the Lubuskie Lake District (Lubniewice)
Location: Lubniewice, Lubuskie Lake District, Poland, Europe
(Close to Gorzow Wlkp, Poznan, Zielona Gora, Lagow, Miedzyrzecz & Berlin, Germany )
Accommodations: Apartment with Kitchen: Living room - 1 Bedroom - 1 Bathroom - (Sleeps 4 / 5)
Holiday Home Rental Poland
The underground complex of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front is an unequalled monument of military architecture of the 20th century in Poland and one of the most interesting in Europe. The history of the construction, architecture of the defensive fortifications, the present state and the future of the fortifications are of great interest.
In accordance with their military doctrine after World War I, the Germans assumed France to be the first enemy in the next war. Germany had to then think about preventing a costly two-fronted war. So fortification work on the eastern border started in 1932, as a result of the crisis in political relationships with Poland. As early as in 1933 fortifications were built in Eastern Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. The most important strategic direction still remained at the stage of plans. This resulted from the importance of the problem. Because the ultimate concept of protecting an advance on the capital Berlin had still not been completed, it was decided to provisionally close the so-called Lubuska Gateway with the Line of Obstacles Nischlitz (now Nieslysz) - Obra River. It was agreed that the system of obstacles would consist of regulated rivers connecting lakes, and defensive fortifications at the most important road crossings. In 1934-1935, 12 fortifications were built of C class resistance, commonly known as Hindenburgstand, and officially called MG-Schartenstand und Pak-Unterstellraum. In the summer 1935, because of the low resistance of the already constructed objects, it was decided to reinforce the obstacles of the Line Nieslysz - Obra River with bunkers of B and B1 resistance class, which would sustain the fire of the then Polish artillery. Such constructions were situated mainly at main roads. Thirteen such fortifications were built by the beginning of 1936.
In May 1935 the ultimate design of the fortifications that would close the Lubuska Gateway was completed. The plan was based on the concept of Fortified Front. It was presented to the Operation Squad of the General Staff, but Adolf Hitler, the Chief of the German Military Forces, was to decide about its implementation. On October 30th 1935, Hitler accompanied by officers from the Wehrmacht High Command inspected the construction of fortification no 516 (775) in Wysoka (formerly Hochwalde). Looking at an extensive panoramic view from the hill near Kalawa (formerly Kalau), he listened to the officers of the Inspectorate of Engineers and Fortifications who described to him the construction of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, constructed in part using an existing series of mine workings. In spite of the enormous costs expected, Hitler, fascinated by the project, accepted the plan of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, i.e. Miedzyrzecz Fortified Region.
Preparatory work started in the spring 1936. Since the mid section between Staropole, Wysoka and Klszyca was the weakest point of the Line of Obstacles Nieslysz - Obra River, devoid of any serious water obstacles and large forested areas, with the moraine bank in the foreground, it was decided that this section should be the strongest fortified.
The Central Sector “Wysoka” (Zentralabschnitt or Abschnitt Hochwalde), starting south of Staropole, and ending on the lake Kursko, only about 15 km long, was to be especially studded with fortification objects of B, A1, and A resistance class. According to J. Miniewicz, the Germans planned to place as many as 11 such forts in that sector (including 15 A-Werke, 13 A1-Werke, 79 B-Werke and 4 armoured batteries, more than half of which were to be connected by an underground system of corridors and roads.
The German classification of bunker resistance according to J. Miniewicz and R. Jurga:
A - wall thickness 3.5 m, armour thickness 600 mm, resistant to multiple hitting with projectiles cal. 420-520 mm
A1 - wall thickness 2.5 m, armour thickness 420 mm, resistant to multiple hitting with projectiles cal. 220-305 mm
B - wall thickness 1.5 m, armour thickness 250 mm, resistant to multiple hitting with projectiles cal. 150-220 mm
The preparatory work initially involved preparing roads to the spots where the forts were to be constructed. In the Northern and Southern Sectors of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front this required hardening of the roads. In the central Sector "Wysoka", because of the planned range of earthwork and construction, railways had to be used. For this reason the construction work in the Central Sector "Wysoka" was preceded by building a railway track connecting the station in Kursko, on the already existing line from Miedzyrzecz to Rzepin, with the station in Staropole (today no longer used). To this line subsequent branch lines were added, leading to the future bunkers and fortified groups. By the end of 1936 the rail network in the Sector "Wysoka" was about 50 km long.
Before the construction of the first bunkers in the Northern and Southern Sections started, as early as the beginning of 1936, aircraft flights over Ziemia Lubuska were forbidden. The Germans negotiated with the Polish authorities shifting the passageway for passenger airlines Berlin-Warsaw more to the south, outside the area of the construction of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front.
The construction of the bunkers of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front in the Northern and Southern Sectors started in the summer 1936. That Autumn a private German company "Barzewski and Ziemek" began to build the underground system of the Sector "Wysoka". Its starting points were locations of the first bunkers, built on the northern edge near Klszyca and on the southern edge near Boryszyn. The total length of the underground excavations was to reach around 35 km, but not much more than 25 km were actually constructed. The budget of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front construction of 1935 very soon became out of date, and the planned deadlines of its completion could not be met. The plans of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front were first modified in 1936, and the ultimate version was prepared on the turn of 1937/1938. The modifications involved first of all the supply of bunkers with armaments. Because of this, the original date of completing the construction was shifted from 1944 to 1951, and it was expected that the fortifications might be completed even later. With advancement of the construction of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, symptoms of changes in the German military doctrine started to appear.
The so-called Green Plan, made more detailed at the end of 1937, assumed that Germany would initiate its military operations in the east. In the spring 1938, Hitler, realising that the French direction would change from offensive to defensive, issued an order to reinforce the western fortifications, and in the summer 1938 decided to stop the construction of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front. His argument was the fact that he needed tank divisions, and not bunkers, for the fight on the eastern front, and that the cost of the planned work, including its completion, would equal those of forming 5 or 6 such divisions. Hitler's decision evoked a protest from the Inspector of Engineers and Fortifications, General Major Otto Forster who, argued in favour of completing the construction of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front. This not only failed to affect Hitler's decision, but also resulted in the loss of its author's position. However, in the end, considering the arguments of specialists, Hitler found a compromise solution, admitting that the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front should be brought to defensive readiness.
The Todt Organisation took over the management of the construction. Todt concentrated on assembling of the installations and on earthwork at the forts already constructed. In accordance with Hitler's orders, only objects of B (B-Werke) resistance class were built. They had very modern and very strong anti-infantry armaments, but no anti-tank defensive capability. In mid 1939, instead of the name denoting the resistance of the constructed bunkers ‘B-Werke’ , a propaganda name was introduced, which was supposed to discourage the enemy – ‘Panzerwerke’ (armoured bunkers). At that time the stations of the underground railway in the Sector "Wysoka" received names starting with letters of the telegraphic code: B - Bertha, H - Heinrich etc., and all the fortified groups received their patrons - commanders especially distinguished in the Prussian tradition, such as General
E. Ludendorf; Marshall A. Gneisenau; General. G. Scharnhorst etc.
The successful attack on Poland in September 1939 gave rise to a gradual abandoning of all the work in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front. Up until this point, over the entire front of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, which exceeded 80 km, 12 positions called Hindenburgstand and 83 panzerwerks of various sizes, of which 41 were situated in the Central Sector "Wysoka". This constituted about 25-30% of the planned fortifications of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front.
The war time in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front
The war with the USSR and the good military situation on the eastern front, as well as recruitment of workers by the army emptied the work camps. More and more low-grade groups were left to carry out maintenance work in the Sector "Wysoka". They were supplemented with forced labourers of various nationalities. When, after annexing France, the Germans started construction of the Atlantic Wall, they began to remove the building materials and parts of equipment stored in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, and even to dismantle some of the machinery, and weaponry, and transport them to the French coast. By Autumn 1940 the RAF had begun the programme of bombing Germany, joined by USAF in 1942. The main targets of these bombing raids were factories - especially armaments and vehicle plants.
Searching for underground facilities which could accommodate the armaments industry, somebody remembered the system of tunnels of the Sector "Wysoka" in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front. In mid 1943, the Daimler production line for aircraft engines was moved there. In order to make production in the tunnels possible, the tunnels were enlarged in places. Close to the entrance, large factory halls were built, where the engines were assembled.
Workers were needed for the underground factory, so forced labourers were brought in. But even the enlarged workers camp of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front on the southern edge of "Wysoka" was too small for them, and new camps had to be established, one north of Wysoka and another near Boryszyn.
Besides the aircraft engine factory, a part of the "Wysoka" tunnel system was used as storage space. For instance Airforce uniforms for Luftwaffe women were among the items stored there. In four chambers (according to J. Miniewicz) archives and works of art were deposited. In 1944, among others, exhibits from the museum in Poznan were placed there, as well as archives from Królewiec. Archives of the General Staff are also listed as being stored there. The works of art were later found by the Russians, but – apparently – not the archives...
When, at the end of 1943, the Russians took the initiative on the eastern front, the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front gained importance again. However, Hitler, not admitting the need of defence of the Berlin direction, refused to discuss the subject. Only when the Russians arrived at the Vistula River, did defensive preparations start in earnest.
In July 1944 General H. Guderian was nominated the Chief of the General Staff; and he became the driving force behind defensive preparations in t Germany. The construction work in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front was aimed at completing the panzerwerks and underground tunnels. In 1944 the work was taken over by the company "Gotlieb Tesch", until then engaged in adapting the tunnels for military production. With increasing intensity of the construction work, more workers were employed. The preparatory work in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front started with providing it with field fortifications. This lasted so long that, because of the winter, the work aiming at supplying the Sector "Wysoka" with missing panzerwerks or bunkers which would complete the intervals between the existing forts, was no longer possible. Only the protection of entrance shafts was completed before the winter, but no planned A1 and A objects or armoured batteries were placed on them.
On the edges of the fortress plots and on some panzerwerk midfields, firing positions of Ringstand 58c type, called Tobruk pits, were erected, and on some field positions of anti-tank cannons reinforced concrete shields were erected, reaching 0.5 m above ground level, to protect the crew against machine gun fire. Because of the absence in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front of fortifications provided with anti-tank armaments, it was planned to construct bunkers armed with anti-tank cannons, but the time proved too short to do that. Only the "experimental" fortified group "Ludendorf" was fitted with a rather provisional object, on which a fortress anti-tank cannon was mounted, a Czech 47mm model 36.
Because in 1944 it was found that the anti-tank obstacles, the so called dragon teeth, did not provide sufficient protection against tanks of a great weight and speed, it was decided to deepen the trench situated before them and add a small rampart in front of it. The rampart was to keep the obstacle out of view and protect it against the fire of the anti-tank cannons. In marshy areas, in the valleys of streams and in the region of the roads crossing canals, obstacles were made of steel spines or rows of deeply set wooden poles. The latter can still be seen today in the valley of Struga Jeziorna stream, between Pz. W 739 and 741, and at the bridge on the Bledzew canal.
The field fortifications situated in front of the armoured vehicle obstacle were built from September to November 1944. To speed up the work supervised by the Todt Organisation, the local people (including women and girls), and forced labourers were employed; convicts and Soviet prisoners were used to perform the hardest tasks.
The field positions were situated from 0.5 to 2 km before the obstacles and behind them, between the panzerwerks, from several hundred metres to several kilometres. Behind the field positions, there were field stations of artillery which had to replace the non-existent anti-tank batteries, especially in the Sector "Wysoka". Behind the belt of the armoured vehicle obstacles, barbed wire entanglements and other anti-infantry obstacles were placed. A network of such entanglements covered also the fortress plots and bunkers. Outside these anti-infantry obstacles, mine fields extended.
Before the construction work on the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front was stopped, (the end of September 1937), the Germans had trained their first fortress machine gun battalion. Quarters for these troops were prepared. One of them was to be a large group of barracks which, now partly inhabited by people from Miedzyrzecz, and acquired the status of a village and the name of Klszyca Lezna. The fate of the troops is unknown. In the autumn 1944, another order was issued, to form fortress troops, which were supposed to fight both on the eastern and on the western front. Initially it was planned to form around 100 fortress infantry battalions and the same number of artillery batteries. However, immediately after forming a part of these troops, they were sent to the western front upon the order of Hitler. And thus, before the winter offensive of the Soviet Army, the largest and most modern German fortifications on the most important Berlin direction, stood silent and almost unmanned.
Defensive war in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front
On January 12th 1945, the eastern front moved from the Vistula River. As a result of the powerful attack of the Soviet army, after 15 days the troops of the Red Army arrived in front of the screening position of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, near Trzciel.
The first to break through, on the night of 28/29 January was 44 Guards Armoured Brigade, forming a part of 11 Guards Armoured Corps, a select unit of 1 Tank Army of General M. Katukow. On January 29th, 11 Guards Armoured Corps, after crossing the Obra River, continued to march west and in the evening arrived in front of the main fortification line of the Central Sector "Wysoka"; 44 Guards Armoured Brigade and 1454 Armoured Artillery Regiment - near Kalawa; 45 Guards Armoured Brigade - near Nietoperek, and 40 Guards Armoured Brigade and 27 Guards Motor Brigade - near Klszyca.
After a conference with Colonel Sobolew (reconnaissance chief of 1 Guards Tank Army), commanders of these troops were convinced that what they had before them was the fortifications of the so called Odra Rectangle, with numerous bunkers and field fortifications, as well as armoured vehicle obstacles and traps. They thought also that the Germans had not managed to man the fortifications and that not more than 2000 soldiers would be there, and that these soldiers would be only guarding the forts and unable to defend them. The information, however, proved false.
The screening belt of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, which had been broken, was defended by retreating and demoralised troops of 9 Army of General T. Busse and by Volkssturm battalions, while the main position of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, whose significance for the Germans at that phase of the war was already primary, was to be defended by V SS Mountain Corps, with SS Obergrupenführer, General W. Krüger in command. Because of this, V Corps was hastily brought from the Balkans. These and all other German forces were constantly moving, spread between the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front and the Odra River. The main crew of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front consisted of 86 Fortress Machine Gun Battalion and 103 Permanent Fortress Infantry Battalion. The arriving infantry troops of 433, 463 and re-created 192 Depot Infantry Divisions of the Wermacht were not familiar with the Mildzyrzacz Fortified Front and manned it chaotically, unprepared for an immediate fight.
As they advanced, the troops of 44 Guards Armoured Brigade were fired on by the German mortars. The Brigade Commander Colonel. J. Gusakowski placed his troops in the fields behind Kalawa westwards, and awaited the engineers’ reconnaissance to be completed. At that time the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front remained silent.
There is no German account of this consequence-laden night, and it can only be surmised what was the situation on the other side of the front. The night 29/30 January 1945 was dark, cloudy and windy. The third tank battalion of Major A. Karabanow, which formed the point of advance guard of 44 Guards Armoured Brigade moved forward to find that the trenches protecting panzerwerk 717, where the German infantry should have been, were empty and that there was nobody at the armoured vehicle obstacle on the road to Wysoka. Perhaps the soldiers retreated leaving the obstacle unblocked.
It is certain that the movements of the Soviet soldiers were watched through periscopes of armoured cupolas from the nearby hill of panzerwerk 717 by the undermanned German crew. In the darkness, even from this distance, it is difficult to discern silhouettes of men and tanks; the Russians were taken for the Germans' own retreating troops.
The engineers removed the unblocked obstacle and the tanks of 44 Guards Armoured Brigade moved in a column towards Wysoka, which they reached before 23.00. The first exchange of fire took place only there. Panzerwerk 775, (10 years earlier visited by the Führer) opened fire. The fight with this fort was short but violent. When it became impossible to defend it any longer, its crew probably blew themselves up. Thus on January 30th in the north the last shots were fired near Wysoka.
The remaining troops of 11 Guards Armoured Corps were less lucky. Both 45 Guards Armoured Brigade near Nietoperek, and then near Kalawa, and 40 Guards Armoured Brigade with 27 Guards Motor Brigade near Klszyca, met with a very strong German fire, losing a lot of equipment and people. Unable to cross the fortifications of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, they started to look for the defence weak points. When the scouts discovered that the line of armoured vehicle obstacles ended in the south, west of Golcikowo, both brigades regrouped and tried to break the fortifications there.
Up until January 31st 1945 the Soviet army formed a uniform, continuous front before the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front position. 8 Guards Mechanised Corps of General Driemow, attacking in the morning, north of Lubrza, after firing at the fortified group "Körner" with 203mm heavy cannons and making use of the fact that the Germans had not managed to flood the area between the lakes Paklicko Wielkie and Goszcza, crossed the canal and arrived at the rear of the German defence in the region of Staropole and Boryszyn.
In the evening of January 31st the Germans began their retreat from their battle positions in the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front. The chaos and the lack of communication between the German troops prevented an efficient transfer of orders, and the soldiers, hearing the battle noise behind them (44 Guards Armoured Brigade), retreated in fear that they might be encircled. Only few panzerwerk crews, obeying orders, kept fighting somewhat longer, but in the night of February 1st the Germans deserted the fortifications. The troops of 8 Guards Army in the north, 1 Guards Tank Army and 69 Army in the centre, as well as of 33 Army and 7 Guards cavalry Crops in the south took part in the short but difficult fight to break the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front.
The fortification system failed to fulfil its role. Aimed at a long-lasting defence, and in the case of the Central Sector "Wysoka" a defence of total encirclement, resisted for only three days.
This, however, should not be treated depreciatingly. The Mildzyrzecz Fortified Front was only 30% complete. It was manned by weak and untrained military personnel, who were surprised by a sudden shift of the front. It was situated on the main route to Berlin, which should have meant it was built to resist a much stronger enemy.
The three-day delay slowed down the impetus of the Soviet attack on Berlin. This resulted in diverting the efforts of the Soviet Army, which - at great cost - had to start again its final offensive on the capital of the “1000-year Reich" - Berlin.
Post-war fates of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front
When WW2 ended, a new, no less interesting history of the Fortified Front started, especially of its most fortified part, the Central Sector "Wysoka".
Having captured and manned the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, the conquerors started to investigate the object and to dismantle all that was valuable, especially technical equipment, such as electric aggregates, pumps, compressors, ventillation devices, machinery etc., and obviously armaments.
For propaganda purposes journalists and war correspondents took photographs and made films and descriptions of the object which was to save Germany and which fell in such a short time under the pressure of the invincible Soviet Army. Already then the most often photographed object was panzerwerk 717, while the fortified group "Scharnhorst" near Kalawa was most often visited by various military and civil officials.
The employees of the section dealing with searching for and protecting the works of art looted by the Germans reached the place very soon. At the beginning it was a special unit of the Soviet Army, later, after capitulation of Germany, it was transformed into a section of the allied Control Council in Germany. The head of the section was the later Minister of Foreign Trade of USSR, a Colonel Zorin. The search in the Sector "Wysoka" of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front resulted in a discovery of a hidden chamber containing chaotically accumulated works of art: dishes, paintings, coins etc. The treasures of the Polish culture found then returned to the country after 1956, ceremonially transferred after preservation in Moscow.
The panzerwerks of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified front served also as an experimental artillery shooting area, to check the efficiency of cumulative, anti-tank and anti-concrete projectiles. The most obvious traces of these events can be seen today on the armoured cupolas Pz.W 717 in the fortified group "Scharnhorst".
After removing the technical equipment, under direct orders of Stalin, a partial or complete dynamiting of the bunkers facing east (i.e., towards the USSR) started, in order to deprive them of their battle value. At the same time the Polish engineers removed mine fields from its foreground.
At the end of the 1940s, after the Soviet army left the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, a wasteful dismantling of the remnants of the equipment started, especially in the Sector "Wysoka". Besides companies which had licences, there were illegal companies and individual looters from nearby villages. The remaining factory machines and carriages of electric trains were thus removed. The pipelines, both those of steel and of concrete and asbestos, were dismantled; the water, electric, telephone and other installations were destroyed.
In 1953 the Polish Army manned the underground system of the Sector "Wysoka". The dismantling and the looting were stopped. The bunkers were cleared and the completely or partly damaged entrances bricked up. An inventory was made, and preservation work was done, consisting in painting the walls of chambers and corridors with white paint. The German signs were replaced with Polish ones. The numbering of the forts were changed from the German three-figure (Pz.W 717) to the Polish four-figure (Ob. 2572).
The preservation did not include all the forts and installations. In the northern part of the Sector "Wysoka", where the construction work had been the least advanced, with floors and tracks missing in many places, and where it was difficult to control the ingress of water into the tunnels, there was no preservation; thus the original signs, numbers of the forts etc., and names of the technical items were preserved. Only later (1980-1990) young vandals penetrating the tunnels completed the destruction.
It is rumoured that when the Sector "Wysoka" was manned by the Polish Army during the Cold War, an order was issued to direct the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front to the west. No other work was done besides preservation, and the tunnels of the Sector "Wysoka" were adapted for storage of nuclear material; warheads apparently.
Though at the beginning of 1956 the authorities were preparing to resettle the villages adjoining the underground system from the west, the idea was abandoned, and in 1957 the army completely left the tunnel system.
Once again dismantling started of what was left, again with the help of the army. The still preserved cupolas and armoured plates were dynamited, cut with blowpipes and removed as scrap metal. Also "treasure seekers" appeared at that time, excited by the fact that after the war the treasures of Polish culture had been found there. They continued searching, contributing to the damage of the tunnels by excavating into the walls etc. The disassembling and looting in the area of the Sector "Wysoka" went on till the entrances to the tunnels were sealed in 1991.
The unused, abandoned and damaged tunnels were discovered also by bats, which were becoming increasingly numerous in the winter. As a result, on August 11th 1980 the Minister of Forestry and Wood Industry proclaimed a part of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front a nature reserve called "Nietoperek".
But a new and much graver danger to the tunnels was now imminent. In July 1983 a group of employees of the Research-Development Centre of Chemical Raw Materials Mining "CHEMKOP" arrived from Cracow. Not knowing the tunnels they employed as a guide (officially in a position in the technical department), an activist of the PTTK section in Miedzyrzecz, Tadeusz Lwider, today one of the best Miedzyrzecz guides, and a great fan of fortifications and especially of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front.
In this way the still secret plans of the State Atomic Agency pertaining to the creation of nuclear waste dump in the tunnels became known to the local population. In November 1984, a secret meeting of atomic scientists, radiologists, naturalists and local authorities with representatives of the Ministry of Energy took place. The anxious naturalists did not, however, keep the secret. They sent a letter of protest to the authorities against the idea of this nuclear waste dump.
From the beginning of 1985 the situation started getting worse. As a result of official indifference to the protests, on February 20th 1986 a formal ecological group co-ordinating arguments against the choice of location in the tunnels was founded in Miedzyrzecz. The struggle to save the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front and its inhabitants - bats - continued till August 1988. The two-year struggle resulted in the victory of the "ecologists". The then Minister of Environment Protection and Natural Resources wrote that "the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front must not be considered as a possible nuclear waste dump because of its natural history and tourist value". The threat to the nature reserve "Nietoperek" and the tunnel system was over.
The tourist movement had to be organised in a way satisfactory to the tourists and ensuring protection of the bats inhabiting the tunnels. The mayor of Miedzyrzecz prohibited entrance to the tunnels in order to protect the reserve "Nietoperek"; only PTTK guides were allowed to guide groups along the tourist route.
So on July 15th 1991 the entrances to the forts and emplacements of the tourist route were provided with gratings, and on December of the same year the last entrances to the tunnels of the Sector "Wysoka" in Miedzyrzecz District were closed.
The architecture of the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front and its present state.
In spite of the fact that the construction was never been completed, the bunkers (panzerwerks) of the Central Sector "Wysoka" with its system of underground tunnels, form an enormous, compact fortification system of a unique architecture, even on European scale.
As was already mentioned, the construction of the system of underground tunnels started after building the first, flank panzerwerks. Construction of a panzerwerk began with digging an excavation for the foundations of the object; then a shaft was dug which connected it with the tunnels. The shaft was dug in a way similar to digging a classical well. On the completed well, a foundation plate was placed in such a way that it was separated from the shaft concrete rings by a so called expansion gap, which prevented vibrations caused by bomb and projectile explosions from being transmitted to the panzerwerk itself. The foundation plate was about 80 cm thick, while the walls and ceilings were 1.5 m thick. The concrete was reinforced throughout, typical of the German reinforcement system. The panzerwerk ceiling was protected by a counter-splinter layer of steel beams, supplemented with a belt of sheet steel.
Inside, the panzerwerk was divided into an array of compartments which fulfilled various functions, and were separated from each other and from the tunnels by steel, armoured, gas-tight doors of various types. Robert Jurga’s excellent books describe the names and functions of particular compartments in detail. Because of the almost complete lack of any equipment, the functions of the compartments can only be determined by specialist experts working from source records.
The shape of the compartments in the upper part of the panzerwerk differs essentially from that of the compartments and corridors in the underground part. All the underground compartments and corridors are ovoid in cross-section, as this shape is the most resistant to the external pressure of the enormous mass of earth. They were dug using mining methods, and their size depends on their function.
Function and size of the underground compartments:
- barracks and machinery rooms: height 5 m, width 4.6 m;
- railway stations on the thoroughfare and ammunition chambers 4.4x4.2 m;
- corridors of the thoroughfare 3.2x3.7 m;
- smaller ammunition chambers and communication tunnels 2x2.7 m;
- the smallest railway tunnels 2x2.2 m;
- drainage tunnels and canals carrying away water from the drainage system to the outside have the smallest cross-sections.
Lower parts of the ovoid corridors and chambers were covered with concrete on a sand bed or with concrete tiles; in the concrete tracks of the underground train were placed.
The panzerwerk was connected with other bunkers/forts of the fortified group and then with the thoroughfare by a tunnel leading from the underground part of the storage-technical group and barracks through a gas lock.
In order to prevent the enemy from entering the underground system after capturing one of the panzerwerks, caponiers for machine guns with grenade launching slits were placed in the tunnels leading to the fortified groups, just before they joined the thoroughfare, or a system that made it possible to dynamite a part of the corridor was installed, like that used in mining galleries.
Today, all the areas of the existing panzerwerks, tunnels and underground chambers of the Sector "Wysoka" are empty of equipment, and even parts of the concrete tiles from the floors and concrete-asbestos pipes that supplied drinking water have been removed. In spite of all this, the sheer size of the installation is impressive. The overall effect is spoilt only by numerous ugly, partly obscene inscriptions and drawings on the walls.
Tourism in the Tunnels of the Miedzyrzecki Rejon Umocniony (Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front)
In the second half of the 1950s, i.e. from the moment the forts and tunnels stopped being a "military secret", their penetration and, in consequence, devastation started, especially in the Sector "Wysoka". It should be admitted, though, that among the intruders there were some bona fide tourists and fortification enthusiasts. As a result of these underground and overground trips, the knowledge and interest in the area increased.
At the end of the 1960s and in the first half of the 1970s, former combatants of the Red Army started visiting the Miedzyrzecz Fortified Front, to see the places where they had been fighting in WW2. They were the initiators of the construction of the monument commemorating 11 Guards Armoured Corps; the monument was situated in the main square in Lubrza, the nearest town to the place where the defences were broken through.
In the 1970s, organised tourism started. The Gorzów Speleoclub “Gawra”, PTTK, organised Steel Cupolas Walking Tours along the routes that partly passed through the underground corridors of the Sector "Wysoka”.
In the second half of the 1980s, as a result of the great publicity generated by the campaign against the nuclear dump, and the resulting protests, the interest in the tunnels increased and the tourist movement became more intense. Trying to meet the new requirements, the PTTK Division in Miedzyrzecz trained a group of tourist guides, who later became the first members of the PTTK Guide Group of the PTTK Division, founded in 1988 in Miedzyrzecz. A prepared special underground tourist route in the driest and safest part of the corridors of the Sector "Wysoka” was created. The route included panzerwerks 717, 716 i 716a with the underground corridors, and the station (Bahnhof) “Heinrich”.
In 1991 most bunkers and tunnels of the Central Sector "Wysoka”, situated within the Gorzów Voyvodeship became a communal property of the Miedzyrzecz commune. The decision was then taken to close all the entrances to the tunnels with special gratings.
So, on July 15th 1991 the entrances to the panzerwerks included in the underground tourist route were closed with gratings, and by the end of 1991 all the entrances to the tunnels of the Sector "Wysoka" situated in the Miedzyrzecz commune, Gorzów Voyvodeship, were thus closed. Soon also the entrances to the tunnels located in the Lubrza commune, Zielona Góra Voyvodeship, were closed.
Since that moment, the only way to legally and safely visit the fortified group "Scharnhorst” has been to follow the underground tourist route, with a licensed guide.
The route starts in the village Pniewo at a small parking place near the armoured vehicle obstacle and a building with the ticket desk and a small shop. In the spring-summer season, from May 1st until August 31st, the following bunkers/forts can be visited:
1. Armoured vehicle obstacle (the so called "dragon teeth");
2. Surface part of Pz.W 717 with armoured cupolas;
3. Back wall with entrance block and entrance defence;
4. Upper (battle) level of Pz.W 717;
5. Lower level and well of the communication shaft;
6. Shaft station and corridor of storage-technical complex;
7. Barracks and gas lock;
8. Branch and corridor of the so called "gallery";
9. Branch of the corridors leading to Pz.W 717 i Pz.W 716;
10. Station (Bahnhof) “Heinrich” on the main thoroughfare;
11. Branch of the thoroughfare corridor with the planned but never constructed
A-resistance class bunker.
12. System preventing the enemy from entering the corridors in the corridor
leading from the fortified group to the thoroughfare;
13. Branch of corridors and Pz.W 716a;
14. Underground storage-technical complex of Pz.W 716;
15. Chamber with the entrance to communication shaft and chamber with
the emergency exit;
16. Surface part of Pz.W 716;
17. Machine gun position of "Ringstand 58c” type (the so called Tobruk) in
the north-eastern corner of the fortress plot of Pz.W 716;
18. Armoured vehicle obstacle.
In the autumn-winter period, from September 1st to April 30th, because of the wintering bats, the tourist route is limited to the section from Pz.W 717 to the station "Heinrich” on the thoroughfare, and back, that is to the following objects:
1. Armoured vehicle obstacle (the so called "dragon teeth");
2. Surface part of Pz.W 717 with armoured cupolas;
3. Back wall with entrance block and entrance defence;
4. Upper (battle) level of Pz.W 717;
5. Lower level and well of the communication shaft;
6. Shaft station and corridor of storage-technical complex;
7. Barracks and gas lock;
8. Branch of the corridors leading to Pz.W 717 i Pz.W 716;
9. Station (Bahnhof) “Heinrich” on the main thoroughfare;
10. Branch of the thoroughfare corridor to the planned but never constructed
A-resistance class, and the grating separating the strict nature reserve from
the tourist route;
11. System preventing the enemy from entering the corridors in the corridor
leading from the fortified group to the thoroughfare;
The overground parts of the panzerwerks of the Sector "Wysoka", except those situated among cultivated fields, are accessible to visitors. They can be reached with a guide or without, following the European Long-distance Walking Route E-11 (yellow), traced by the PTTK Division of the Miedzyrzecz Region.
The most interesting underground storage complex, over 7 km long, consisting of 12 huge chambers and commonly called is situated around Lubrza; besides, this part of the tunnels includes three railway stations and, in the overground part, a system of 5 bunkers, of which two are undamaged and have preserved armoured cupolas. Also two, regretfully unfinished, objects are preserved, which were to form a part of the planned anti-tank batteries.
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