The Construction Plan for Swallow V - A Chronology
On October 26, 1934, as a reaction to foreign business dominance in the mining industry, the national socialist model plant BRABAG was founded in cooperation with IG Farben, the German Oil AG, the Brown Coal Briquet AG, the coal mines in Saxony Anhalt, the Ilse coal mining AG, the Middle German Stealworks (Flick), the AG Saxon works, the Electrical works AG Berlin, and the Rhinish AG for Brown Coal Mining AG Halle/Saale. [The intention was to produce fuel from brown coal]
[AG = Aktiengesellschaft = public limited corporation]
More than three years later, on January 1, 1938, the chemical plant [hydrierwerk] Zeitz (Hyzet/BRABAG Zeitz) began production in Toeglitz, close to Zeitz.
When in 1944 the Allied air raids on the fuel oil producing industry locations began, the question of securing the fuel production assumes paramount importance for the war effort. On May 31, 1944, Geilenberg is ordered by Hitler to transfer fuel production to below ground. Already two months earlier, mining departments had received the order to investigate locations which were suitable for that enterprise. How necessary this step was, is obvious from the fact that after many air raids in July 1944, 98 % of the airplane fuel production had come to a halt.
In August of 1944 relocation of airplane fuel production to underground installations in connection with the Geilenberg program is mentioned for the first time under the designation “Schwalbe”[Swallow in English]. Seven “Swallow” projects are known: Oberroedinghausen, Koenigstein, Polenztal, Hegge - or Hoennetal, Berga/Elster, Alme and Ruegen.
Important criteria for the selection of these locations were: connections to railway lines, water, access to electricity and geological stability. Miners were conscripted in order to facilitate the earliest possible production start. In addition, the SS provided concentration camp prisoners. It was necessary for the construction of these chemical plants to build rooms with a height of 40-50 meters that needed to withstand high temperatures.
After 75 % of the production of Hyzet [fuel produced from brown coal] had ceased by the middle of August, the decision was made to shift it to below ground. The shale mines in Boxberg between Marktgoerlitz and Zopten near Probstzella were chosen locations, but were abandoned again already in September 1944 due to geological difficulties.
According to testimony by then Mayor Kluge, the first time engineers and mining specialists appear in Berga is in the beginning of September in order to examine the possibility of moving the production of Hyzet from Marktgoerlitz to Berga under orders of BRABAG. In October BRABAG Engineer Nerge arrived in Berga accompanied by experts to inform himself in person about the conditions in Berga and the geology of the mountain protruding into the location. Nerge acknowledged his satisfaction and declared that Berlin decided on the location of Berga. (Conference on March 10, 1944 in Probstzella.)
A few days later architect Hack confiscated the Berga town hall for his construction team. He explained to the mayor that he was responsible for everything there. Only miners and members of armed forces designated as uk ( = part of the German armed forces, but not engaged in fighting) from Dresden were employed for the preliminary mining work between October and mid-November. Surveying work was done under SS supervision on the North side of the Steinberg between Berga and the Oberhammer on October 20. Neighbors are beginning to take notice since they are deliberately pushed away from the works.
From November on a lot of tree felling happens in this area of the mountain. This wood was needed for bridges, foundations of barracks, auxiliary shaft support openings and diverse uses for underground work.
On November 6, SS Obersturmfuehrer (= high ranking SS man) Willy Hack officially took over the command of the SS-leadership staff in Berga. Before he had already been construction supervisor in Niedersachswerfen and Ellrich. At this time miners from Zwickau were reinforced by fellow miners from the Rhineland.
Hack turned to the main SS administration in Berlin in order to get additional help. As a result of that the first of approximately 70 concentration camp prisoners from Buchenwald arrived in Berga in mid-November. The “remote commando Swallow V” of the concentration camp Buchenwald evolved. The prisoners’ work consists mainly of building tunnels. Dembeck, hailing from Eastern Prussia, is the commander of this satellite concentration camp. The prisoners begin work immediately with extensive earth movements on the mountain side.
The main connection to the state railway had already been relocated to the opening of the construction site at the mountain. In order to achieve this, 12 kilometers of narrow gauge tracks were installed along the mountain’s hillside on the shores of the river Elster. Three huge buildings to house offices and lodgings, 12 large wooden barracks and a big number of small barrack dwellings had been erected. The Shed building (= sawtooth roof building) in the so-called work II of the Crous company (previously Ernst Englaender) was used to house and provision the prisoners.
In November, the dismantlement of the chemical plant began in Troeglitz simultaneously with the building operations in Berga. The intention was to set this up in Swallow V in Berga. The grey stones that resulted from this work on the rocks were re-inserted to serve as camouflage.
In the beginning of December work starts with the actual mining excavation of the gallery system inside the mountain. The plan is for 18 tunnels to lead into the mountain from the south side, to be connected inside through a large hall for the set up of the actual production assembly.
The daily reports of the construction site management from the second of December on show that for a 45 ton bridge, a 24 ton bridge, and other smaller bridges approximately 100 solid cubic meters of wood were used. Extensive orders for electrical materials were issued; their delivery was supposed to take place at the very latest by the middle of January 1945.
On the 18th of December 1944, a document emphasizes that after the beginning of production the factory will need to obtain m3 water per second from the Weisse(White) Elster river. It is envisioned that the water gas installation will be conducted through gallery 3.
Starting on December 22, 2 mobile and 2 stationary compressors for delivering compressed air to the tunneling systems and into the underground installations are put into operation.
A notice from January 18, 1945 reads:
979 Concentration Camp prisoners were ordered to work under the supervision of 75 guards.
In the mining operations 239 prisoners with 21 guards are put to work in a three shift system.
This results in approximately 80 prisoners working with 7 guards each per shift.
During this time shafts 3 to 17 are being prepared on the South side of the mountain for the preliminary work. The difficult excavations are advanced by miners to a point where inexperienced workers can take over and continue the work.
On February 13, 1945, 350 American POWs from Stalag ( = a prisoner of war camp during WWII) IX-Bad Orb are brought to Berga. At first they are housed in the former Arbeitsdienst ( = compulsory work service) building on the Eulaer Way.
They, too, are ordered to work in shifts doing miners’ work in shafts 3-17. There were 6 prisoners per shift per shaft. Their foremen are Germans, again 4 per shaft (2 per shift). During their work hours they have no contact with the prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp. They work in different shafts.
When they begin their work, the shafts are already 7 - 16 meters deep.
On February 15, 1945, the construction manager responsible for Project Swallow V, Architect Fricke, concluded that completion of the project could not be expected before March 1946. He demands 1000 more miners from the Ruhr region. Fricke had replaced Professor Rimpl in the management of the construction site on February 3.
Subsequently additional conscripted miners arrive in Berga. They are housed in mass quarters in the customs building and the city hall, or otherwise in already overcrowded private quarters in town.
It is documented in the archives of the concentration camp Buchenwald that on the first of March, 1945, 1,837 prisoners were kept in Berga. Up to that point in time, sick and dead prisoners were transported back to the camp. Due to emerging transport problems, immediately following this date, burials are taking place in a mass grave on Bader mountain. 314 dead prisoners were taken there till the camp was evacuated. On March 7th, 1945, the camp of the American POWs is transferred closer to the shafts. It is now located on the island between Muehlgraben and the river Elster opposite the construction site. This way the daily march of approximately 2.5 kilometers to and from the construction site is eliminated.
14 days later part of the prisoners of war are removed from the shafts and sent to fell trees and relocate the tracks. Primarily Russians and Slovakians now work in the shafts. On April 4th, 1945 Erwin Mertz, commander of the POW camp, receives the order to evacuate the camp. The march of the American Prisoners of war via Muehltroff, Bobareuth, in the direction of Hof begins on April 10.
Evacuation of the concentration camp prisoners[Jews from Buchenwald] begins on the same day. Originally it had probably been planned to blow up one of the shafts with them inside. This scheme was not carried out, however. The last prisoners leave the camp under surveillance by SS guards on April 12, 1945. Their march led via Werdau, Aue, towards Leitmeritz.
On April 10, 1945, the SS leadership is transferred to Hallein near Salzburg. On April 12 the miners of the EStAV are discharged to Zwickau. On the same day the building project Swallow V is closed down officially.
As news of the nearing American troops spreads, all documents of the project that could have any kind of informative value are destroyed. The SS leadership installs the mayor of Berga, Emil Kluge, as custodian for the entire project. At his side is a former member of the construction project, Kusminski. They administer the construction project jointly till the 23rd of May 1945.
On April 12 or 13 an SS commando returns to Berga with two jeeps and a lorry. They blow up the the bridge across the Elster river at the customs building and the railway bridge south of the Eula mill. It is alleged that at that time also members of the German armed forces were shot.
On April 16, 1945, the town was handed over to the Americans without a battle due to the intervention of Mr. von Zemen of Markersdorf. The 89th US Infantry division occupies Berga. It is alleged that during the time of the American occupation, shaft 18, which served as the depository for the explosive materials, was blown up. On May 1, 1945, the site was cleared for the liquidation of the entire project.
One month later, on June first, 1945, 26 graves are opened in the Berga cemetery. 22 of the 26 exhumed bodies were identified as being Americans who had been in Berga as prisoners of war. Their remains were transferred home.
US armed forces leave Berga on June 12.
July 1 marks the beginning of the town’s occupation by the Red Army.
After the Americans left Troeglitz as well, and the Russians moved in, the SMAD in Germany announces that it has been decided to build up the chemical plant Zeitz again. Now begins the dismantling of all the construction sites that had been built up to now in Berga. On the 28th of July, the President of Thuringia, Dr. Paul, gives the BRABAG Zeitz under the leadership of Engineer Nerge the authorization to confiscate all the materials extant in Swallow V with the purpose of rebuilding the chemical plant[hydrierwerk].
BRABAG Zeitz turns into a Soviet Russian state company. This way fuel oil production could resume under Soviet auspices after the return of the production facility from Berga to Troeglitz by the firm of Braun and Company. From October 1 on the factory site of Swallow V is now owned by the town of Berga.
During a meeting of creditors on April 20, 1946, the total costs for the endeavor of Swallow V were announced to amount to 110 million Reichsmark ( = German currency at the time). It is assumed that till the end of the war 3 million Reichsmark were spent. 24 million Reichsmark were spent for the mining work by the EStAV. From this it follows that a large part of the planned effort had actually been realized.
From June 21, 1946 on the district administration of Greiz is named as caretaker of the building project Swallow V. Architect Schellmann, who came as a coworker of building superintendent Frick to Berga only in February 1945, and who worked from the beginning of May as leader of the dismantling process, is promoted to district building leader. Schellmann is not able to furnish the necessary people for the preparation of the detonation of the tunnel openings.
The tunnel openings are blown up in October of 1946. As a result, Schellman receives innumerable notifications of damage and applications for replacement deliveries of roof tiles, window panes, electrical lamps, etc.[local building fixtures presumably damaged during the explosions.]
On December 31st, 1946, the dissolution of the buildings is finally completed.
It is only in 1947 that the building site is cleaned up for good and converted to agrarian use.