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Jakob Ehrensvärd | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> The Falkenhagen Complex tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

The Falkenhagen Complex

In the peaceful and bucolic forests of Falkenhagen in the eastern part of Germany, the Nazis built a top-secret vast industrial complex in 1938, including underground production bunker and supporting facilities. The main objective was to produce industrial quantities of "N-Stoff" or chlorine trifluoride - a very reactive chemical compound that required very special handling precautions and the stable low underground temperature allowed the compound to stay in liquid form. Although it is even today somewhat unclear what the real application for the ClF3 was, its volatile nature points at rocket-fuel, bunker-penetrating poison gas or an early attempt to create an incendiary weapon. It seems to be some evidence that some trials were conducted against the Maginot line in the 1940 campaign against France.

It seems however that the idea of using the volatile and highly oxidizing compound as a rocket fuel was not practical to implement and the high costs together with handling constraints for the stuff coincided with the Wehrmacht's setbacks at Stalingrad and elsewhere. Ultimately, this all pushed Hitler to intensify the search for the ultimate "wonder weapon" and in 1943, the facilities at Falkenhagen changed direction to setup an industrial scale production site of the newly developed extremely lethal nerve gases Sarin and Tabun. Although not verified beyond doubt, it has been said that the plans of the German leadership was to create nerve gas rockets with capacity to reach New York or even Los Angeles. Again, the development on the battlefield did put these bold plans to an abrupt end in late 1944 when the Red Army approached the river Oder and the Germans had to quickly abandon Falkenhagen. The site was designed to produce some 500 metric tons of Sarin per month but luckily, this never became a reality and nerve gas never went into use during WWII. It is said that due to the fact that Hitler was wounded by mustard gas in his duty during WWI, he was personally extremely hesitant to put gas into use on the battlefield. At the time of WWII, Sarin was proprietary to the Germans and presumably it must have been tempting to use it during the worst setbacks in the Eastern Front from 1943 and onward. Given the terrible way the victim dies within minutes and that the lethal dose being just 10 micrograms per kilo of body weight and that no anti-dote was known at that time, it would surely have became a real ghastly situation if it had been used.

Although it has been said that the Falkenhagen facility was finished to some 80% at the time of its abandonment in late 1944, it's a puzzling and scary thought that the sequel of the V1 and V2 rockets might have been nerve-gas filled ones with a far longer reach. Would that ultimately have changed the outcome of WWII? Most likely no, but considering a US military command having nuclear capabilities being faced with nerve gas loaded rockets - a scary thought indeed...

Whatever the truth in the terms of advanced capabilities of the Third Reich in the very final years of the war, the post WWII-future of rocket technology, fuel bombs and organophosphorus, chloro-fluorine chemistry was not occurring in Germany. It is by no means a secret where Werner von Braun ended up, where the modern organophosphorus insecticide- and pesticide industry was built up and where Teflon was commercialized and so on. One can just silently wonder how many newly naturalized scientists with German names were in the corridors of Dow, DuPont, Union Carbide, Eastman and Monsanto in the 1950s... Well, not to mention the British and US Army VX programs... And of course the Red Army nerve agent programs...

The fate of the Falkenhagen complex just after it was seized by the Red Army is somewhat uncertain, but it seems like the Soviets were keen to keep a bunker like this after the US nuclear program became known. It seems like there is a fair amount of rumors what happened in the forests of Falkenhagen in the 1950s, including developments of chemical agents, plasma guns and other more exoteric forms of weapon systems.

However, in 1965 a highly classified main command central of the Warsaw Pact was established in the complex and a state-of-the-art nuclear- and chemical warfare proof underground bunker with supporting facilities was built up. Ultimately, this unit was seen as The Bunker of the Warsaw Pact outside the Soviet Union. Over the years, a Soviet village was built up, including large residential areas, a cinema and a kindergarten.

With the unification of Germany in 1989-90, the Falkenhagen complex again became the scene of dismantling and abandonment and the last Russians left in 1992. Left were a vast amount of meticulously stripped installations including the giant underground bunker.

Exploring these almost endless number of empty premises is somewhat a surrealistic experience and the omnipresent attributes from the time of Third Reich mixed with that of the Soviets makes it all simply unreal. Just imagining the scenario of the Warsaw Pact high-command rushing down here and slamming the blast-proof doors shut in case of a nuclear alert is a really chilling thought. How near was ever anyone here to push The Button? Although I've read about it and experienced the Cold War "off-side", being here and seeing the epicenter of what it was all about is just amazing. I just cannot explain how grateful I am that it never became real.
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