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1933-1953 Hötzendorf Kaserne:
The Origins of the Barracks and its First Steps After WW II

History of the Hötzendorf Kaserne

The Hötzendorf Kaserne (barracks) in Oberammergau was planned soon after the German National Socialist Party took power in 1933 and construction began in 1935. Most of the original twenty buildings were completed in just two years and are still standing today, albeit in modified form.

The Hötzendorf Barracks was named after Field Marshal Franz Xavier Joseph Conrad von Hötzendorf (1852 - 1925), who was the Chief of Staff of the Austrian-Hungarian armed forces at the outbreak of the First World War. Franz Conrad also held titles of nobility.

In October 1937, the first unit assigned to the installation was the 54th Mountain Signal Battalion under the First Mountain Division of the regular German Army uder the Command of Lieutenant Colonel D.I. Kleinschroth. In 1938 the Signal Battalion deployed near Salzburg as part of the occupation of Austria after "Anschluss". In 1939 the Signal Battalion deployed to Poland, and then to France in 1940. The Battalion was never to return to Oberammergau as a formed unit, and over 150 local soldiers were killed or missing by the end of war.

Construction of the Underground Complex: From Barracks to Aircraft Research

During the last years of World War II, many large underground facilities were being constructed across Germany in an effort to disperse production disrupted by the Allied bombing offensive.

In August 1943 the Army were ordered out of Barracks and the Messerschmitt Design Bureau, based in Augsburg, referred to as the 'Upper Bavarian Research Institute' for security reasons, moved in one month later.

Under Project CERUSIT, a tunnel complex, approximately 150 by 90 meters, was dug into the base of the Laber mountain, adjacent to the barracks. The massive underground construction work was completed by approximately 500 volunteer and forced labourers, who were housed in the nearby "Rainenbichl" temporary barracks. The tunnel complex comprised of workshops, duplicate document storage areas, test facilities and air raid shelters, carved out of the soft limestone rock. A road tunnel complex called 'Duck', just north of Oberau on the road to Eschenlohe, was constructed as a logistics base.

Upper Bavarian Research Institute

Professor Willy Messerschmitt (1898 - 1978) was based in Oberammergau from November 1944, working on the development of the Messerschmitt P.1101 jet fighter. Willy Messerschmitt also controlled research facilities at Linderhof Castle, where the Enzian surface to air missile system was developed.

From Research to Production

Because of the deteriorating situation, on 15 December 1944, Commander of Home Forces Heinrich Himmler directed that all aircraft production should focus on the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter Schwalbe ('Swallow').

  • These orders were carried out by his deputy, SS-Obergruppenführer Dr-Engineer Hans Kammler, who was responsible for all missile technology and was based in Oberammergau from February 1945.
  • Kammler, who previously directed the V2 ballistic missile attacks against the United Kingdom, ordered Messerschmitt Company Regensburg to stop research into aircraft and missiles and to increase Me 262 jet fighter production.
  • Oberammergau underground jet aircraft research and development facility was transformed into an underground jet aircraft factory, similar to codenamed "B8 Bergkristall" tunnel complex near the Austrian town of St. Georgen an der Gusen.
  • Close liaison continued between the two facilities, however apart from prototype airframes, no production aircraft were delivered from the Oberammergau or Eschenlohe complexes. In spite of the order to focus solely on the production of the Me 262, sporadic work on the P.1101 and successor P.1110 continued in great secrecy.

After the Discovery

On 29 April 1945, when the P.1101 model was nearing completion, the US Army occupied the town of Oberammergau and discovered the Oberammergau complex. The prototype P.1101 and a ME-109 were found in Building 615 – now housing the Manfred Wörner Lecture Hall. Other experimental airframes where found in the gymnasium, Building 607.

  • After visits by military intelligence and technical exploitation teams almost the entire Messerschmitt underground production plant and the P.1101 prototype were shipped to the Bell Aircraft works in Ohio.
  • Although the prototype airframe was badly damaged in transit, the “Bell X-5” was directly derived from the P.1101 had an American engine and its swing wings were adjustable while in flight. Using this technology, SAAB in Sweden produced the sucessful crescent-winged Saab 29 “Tunnan” jet fighter.
  • Microfilmed plans of the P.1101 and P.1110 were purportedly hidden in the Ettal Monastery and seized by French personnel. The post war- French designed and built Fouga CM.170 Magister exploited the V-tail technologies developed by Messerschmitt and mimicked the early P.1101 designs.
  • Post war-British transonic aircraft designs such as the Hunter fighter and Valiant and Victor bombers also utilized the crescent-wing technology developed in Oberammergau.

The End of the War - US Occupation

On 29 April 1945, the 7th US Army under General Alexander Patch, consisting of the 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Infantry Division, with elements of the 10th Armoured
Division attached, approached the town of Oberammergau without opposition.

Regular German troops designated to defend the town melted away ahead of the US advance however a tank 'stop line' was constructed just south of the Barracks on the road to Ettal and was manned by SS personnel and officer cadets from Mittenwald. This defensive line was shelled by US artillery positioned in Unterammergau on 29 April and tragically, a number of the teenaged defenders were killed.

SS–Obergruppenführer Kammler

The Architect of Auschwitz was wanted for war crimes and Kammler may have escaped Allied capture by disguising himself as a monk at nearby Ettal Abbey; there are a number of theories surrounding the demise of Kammler, including his subsequent involvement in US and Soviet weapons programmes, but he is thought to have died near Prague in May 1945.

Post-War Challenges

Although the town Oberammergau was spared the destruction of war, it faced many challenges. The US Army set up a local militar y government to re-establish order and address the chronic food, fuel and housing shortages. The US Army set up headquarters, initially in Villa Ammerhof (opposite the railway station), and US personnel were billeted in already crowded local houses.

United Nations Refugee Camp

By mid 1945, the town was swamped by thousands of civilians, former forced labourers and released prisoners of war who had moved west ahead of the Soviet advance. Part of the barracks was established as a United Nations Displaced Persons (refugee) Camp under the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to cope with these ‘DPs’. It is thought that the UNRRA camp closed in mid-1946.

Leap into Space

In addition to discovering the existence of the Messerschmitt complex – unknown to the Allies - perhaps the greatest discovery made by US forces was Wernher von Braun (1912-1973), director of the V-2 (‘A-4 Bombardment Rocket’) ballistic missile programme, accompanied by up to 500 engineers, scientists and technicians, billeted around Oberammergau.

Wernher Von Braun

Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) became director of the Army Rocket Research Centre in Peenemünde where he developed the V-2 ('A-4 Bombardment Rocket') ballistic missile.

Braun was evacuated by train and car from the Harz Mountains to Oberammergau with his development team of 500 engineers and technicians under the direction and close supervision of SS General Dr Hans Kammler.

Von Braun became a naturalised US citizen in 1955 and was chiefly responsible for the successful launch of America's first satellite - Explorer I - in 1958. He then became director of the Marshal Space Flight Centre under NASA where he developed the Saturn V launcher, responsible for the successful Apollo Moon landings.

The first steps after war

Intelligence Operations

In June 1945, the first US Army unit to formally occupy the Barracks was an intelligence unit conducting 'de-Nazification' programmes for local officials and high-ranking military detainees.

  • One of the first assigned US officers was Henr y Alfred Kissinger (born 1923), serving with the Counter-Intelligence Corps. At Oberammergau he lectured both on the Nazi threat, and later the Soviet threat, as well as interrogating Nazi detainees, and remained in the US Army until late 1946 before returning to the US.
  • Kissinger also worked in Oberammergau with his good friend and mentor Fritz Gustav Anton Kraemer (1908 -2003). Kraemer had fled Germany in 1939. Kraemer and Kissinger had previously worked together, interrogating captured German prisoners after the 'Battle of the Bulge' in early 1945.

6819th Army Information and Education Special School

The 6819th Army Information and Education Special School (AIESS) moved from England in 1945 to Oberammergau and merged with a school established in October 1944 at Cité Universitaire, Paris. The establishment of AIESS started an unbroken post-war histor y of multina- tional training at Oberammergau.

  • AIESS instructed personnel from across the US Forces, as well as representatives from the 'United Nations' (ie Allied personnel) training over 700 students per week.
  • When 6819th AIESS closed in mid 1952, in total over 22,000 officers and men - mostly college graduates - had been trained 'to be teachers and trainers of teachers in their own units' spreading the adult education and professional development programme across the European Theatre.
  • AIESS also deployed mobile training teams across Europe to instruct in adult education, teaching personnel the skills necessary to provide a training and education service to US Army personnel.
  • In Oberammergau, the School was run on democratic lines, with Officer and Enlisted Men's Councils overseeing pastoral aspects and utilising guest speakers, panels and films to encourage 'acrimonious and blasé blarney [conversation]' amongst Staff officers and enlisted men.

Kissinger and Kraemer

Henry Kissinger was born in Fürth (near Nurem- berg, Germany) in 1923 and settled in America in 1938. He joined the US Army in 1944, served in Germany and was de-mobilised in 1946.

After studying at Harvard, Kissinger became a consultant to the US Army Operations Research Office in 1951 and in 1952 he was appointed to the Psychological Strategy Board of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whilst retaining his reserve com- mission as a Lt Col in Military Intelligence. He was Professor of Government at Harvard (1969-1971) and in 1968 he became President Nixon's National Security Advisor and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 and became US Secretary of State until 1977. He was particularly active in diplomatic negotiations (détente) with the Soviet Union and discussions with Mao Zedong led to the US recognition of China in 1972. He also took a leading role in peace negotiations between Israel and Arab world in 1973-1975 in what became known as Shuttle Diplomacy. He is a widely-published author on international affairs and remains the 'father figure' of foreign relations in the US.

Fritz Gustav Anton Kraemer (1908-2003), who was based with the Counter Intelligence Corps in Oberammergau in late 1945 - late 1947, was a friend and mentor to Kissinger. Kraemer, born into and upper-Middle Class Protestant family, was shocked by the rise of National Socialism in Germany.... He moved to Rome in 1933, where he obtained a Doctorate in Political Science and worked for the Comparative Law Institute of the League of Nations.

In 1939 he fled to the US and was drafted into the US Army as a private soldier. He was 'talent spotted' along with Kissinger in Louisiana and they both served with the 84th Division, though in separate intelli- gence units. In Oberammergau he re-established his friendship with Kissinger where they both worked on de-Nazification programmes and then on the task of identifying and analyzing Soviet influence in Western Europe. Kraemer served as Senior Civilian Advisor to the US Army Chief of Staff, including Gen Alexander Haig (who served as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe - SACEUR from 1974 - 1979) and was re- garded as a mentor of James R. Schlesinger and Donald Rumsfeld, who both became US Defence Secretaries.

Oberammergau - a Centre for Training and Education

European Theatre Intelligence School.

On 14 December 1945, three intelligence instructors came to Oberammergau to run the European Theatre Intelligence. In early Januar y 1946, further militar y and civilian instructors arrived and courses of instruction commenced.

  • The European Theatre Intelligence School was initiated 'to present instruction on the German Armed Forces, the political organization of Nazi Germany and intelli- gence activities' but after the end of the European war, the focus was on stabilising the Occupation and growing threat posed by the Soviet Union.
  • The school trained officers and enlisted men in the political and militar y aspects of the Soviet Union and prepared Liaison Officers and Intelligence Specialists for the European Theatre.
  • In April 1946 language training was introduced to the Intelligence School: German, Russian, Czechoslovakian [sic], Serbo-Croatian [sic], Polish and Hungarian were taught here. There are some reports that 'displaced persons' received rudimentary intelligence training at the Barracks and were sent back in to the Soviet Zone as agents.

Military Police School

The Military Police School for the European Theatre as several other locations was finally consolidated with the Intelligence School at Oberammergau in May 1948.

  • The Military Police School conducted a basic Military Police Course, and courses in Criminal Investigation, and Officers’ Refresher Course. The courses were also planned to meet the increasing traffic problems of the European Theatre, as well as normal MP constabulary duties.

Life on Post

Personnel assigned to Oberammergau described the near total destruction of German cities and towns as they travelled across Europe to Oberammergau.

  • US personnel enjoyed a very pleasant lifestyle at Oberammergau. In addition to the usual range of cultural trips and outdoor activities, GIs had access to winter sports which, pre-war, had been the preserve of the very wealthy.
  • As well as the usual range of services for the troops such as a library, dispensary, dentist, canteens and a Beer Hall (Building 620), stables were re-established in Building 616 and 617, with Building 615 (now Manfred Wörner Hall) reverting to an indoor riding school.
  • The alpine swimming pool at the nearby Wellenberg pool complex was also part of the Officers’ Club. The school also provided much-needed employment for villagers from Oberammergau working in support and domestic roles, as the local economy struggled to recover from the ravages of war.