THE BUNKERS OF OBERBEFEHLSHABER WEST
|1. Oberbefehlshaber West
Of the three German army groups which had fought and won the the war in the West in 1940 Heeresgruppe A was designated to remain in the West. Its commander, Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt and his staff promptly established their headquarters in Saint Germain-en-Laye, just west of Paris.
In 1941 Hitler decided to attack Russia. In order to enable the OKH to fully concentrate on the impending attack in the East, Heeresgruppe A was assigned to guarding the West against possible attacks from Britain and its allies. On 29 October 1941 von Rundstedt was appointed Oberbefehlshaber West and made directly subordinate to the OKW.
However, von Rundstedt's talents, as well as those of his experienced divisions, were needed in the East and in April 1941 Heeresgruppe A was secretly moved to the East under an operation code-named Abschnittsstab Winter.
From 15 April 1941 onwards the defence of Western Europe was placed in the hands of Heeresgruppe D and a new commander was appointed, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin von Witzleben, who commanded three armies: 15 Armee, 7 Armee and 1 Armee.
Von Witzleben's presence at Saint German, however, was short-lived. In March 1942 he was sent on leave due to his bad health and Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt, who had been relieved of his command in the East in December 1941, on his own request and also due to health reasons, was appointed acting commander of Heeresgruppe D and from 8 March 1942 also Oberbefehlshaber West. His appointment was made official on 1 May 1942.
On 26 June 1944, 20 days after D-Day, von Rundstedt, together with Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel, the commander of Heeresgruppe B, was summoned to Berchtesgaden by Hitler. Not having been able to persuade Hitler to order a tactical withdrawal, he returned to Saint-German that evening. When he arrived there on 30 June he was informed of the new OKW orders to hold fast against the allied onslaught. Later that evening, von Rundstedt lost his self-control during a conversation with the chief of the OKW, Generalfeldmarschall Keitel. Having been asked what had to be done von Rundstedt is rumoured to have shouted: "Make peace, you idiots! What else can we do?". Hitler must have lost his patience at this point and sent Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge to replace him. Von Kluge arrived on the morning of 3 July to become the new Oberbefehlshaber West.
On 25 July, 5 days after the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, the Americans launced Operation Cobra and broke through the German front near Avranches. Far from the reality of battle Hitler ordered a counterattack near Mortain, code-named Operation Lüttich. It failed miserably, yet Hitler ordered it to be resumed, despite von Kluge's attempts to convince Hitler to withdraw the battered German troops. However, on 16 August, Hitler appeared to have accepted the fact that his armies in the West had been defeated and ordered units to the west of Argentan to withdraw. At the same time, though, Hitler also held von Kluge personally responsible for the failure of Operion Lüttich. Von Kluge's position became even more compromised when totally unfounded rumours began to circulate that he would have tried to contact the Allies to negotiate the surrender of German troops in the West. Hitler promptly replaced him and on 16 August Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model was appointed the new Oberbefehlshaber West. Having been summoned to Berlin by Hitler von Kluge committed suicuide on 20 August.
Ironically, Generalfeldmarschall von Rundstedt was again to become Oberbefehlshaber West between 3 September 1944 and 11 March 1945. The last officer to hold the position was Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring (11 March - 22 April 1945).
2. Saint Germain-en-Laye
When von Rundstedt and his staff arrived in Saint Germain in 1940 they officially resided in the Pavillon Henri IV. Built on the ruins of the Château Neuf of King Henri IV, it was a historic place, where Louis XIV was born and had spent his youth and where his father Louis XIII had died. The various staff sections occupied several schools and a barracks;villas and houses were requisitioned to house officers. Von Rundstedt himself, and later von Kluge, resided in the Villa David, a few hundred metres away from the Pavillon Henri IV. In winter the entire staff moved to the warm comfort of the Paris hotels, much to the dislike of von Rundstedt, who preferred the peace and quiet of Saint-Germain.
With the imminent threat of American forces reaching Paris in the summer of 1944, the Germans started evacuating the headquarters of Oberbefehlshaber West early in August. On 10 August the entire female staff was moved. Supplies were shipped off, the evacuation accelerated and soon most buildings and villas were empty. On 14 August road signs showing the way to Metz and Cologne appeared in the streets and an increasing number of troops was withdrawn. The evacuation was finalized on 24 August with loud explosions resounding throughout the night. In the morning of 25 August the French Resistance occupied the Gramont barracks near Place Royale and flew the French flag on the town hall and many other buildings and houses. At 7 pm a lonely American jeep appeared, carrying captains Mark Lillard and Jack Weber of 5th Armored Division. An hour later, in their last act of destruction, the Germans blew up the the huge Seine railway bridge at Le Pecq. On 26 August American tanks finally entered and liberated Saint Germain.
3. The bunkers of Oberbefehlshaber West
After the war the French authorities established the Commission de Classement des Ouvrages Militaires to produce an overview of all defence works built during the war in order to ascertain their value for national defence purposes. In Saint-Germain they documented 22 bunkers, which can be found in the table below:
In order to give the reader a better idea of where the bunkers are (were) located, we provide a map drawn up by the Commission de Classement des Ouvrages Militaires in 1948:
And in order to help the interested reader to the fullest we have also provided an overview of the location of all the bunkers on Google Earth:
4. The headquarters bunker
The most important bunker of the headquarters was constructed in an an old quarry and the Germans had used some existing cavities in the rock face. The bunker consists of three distinct parts: a central block with two floors, a right wing also with two floors and a left wing with a single floor.It is more than 60 metres long and contained more than 60 spaces, including corridors and toilets. The roof is 3 metres thick, the walls 2 metres. It is estimated that about 100,000 m³ of concrete were used to build it. The following drawing shows the parts and their levels.