What is the Wolf’s Lair?

The Wolf’s Lair (German: Wolfsschanze; Polish: Wilczy Szaniec) is the name given to Hitler’s eastern most wartime HQ. Located in the Masurian forests of what was then East Prussia, the colossal ruins of this Nazi base form one of the most atmospheric WW2 sites in present-day Poland. 

Surrounded by thick forest in the Polish region known as the land of 1,000 lakes, the Wolf’s Lair provides visitors with a jarring contrast: pristine natural beauty and the remains of a manmade command post from where the Nazis waged their murderous war.

The following article will outline the site’s history and offer tips on planning your visit.    

If you’d like to visit the Wolf’s Lair in the company of an expert guide, please consider joining our 4-Day WW2 Tour of Northern Poland, Comprehensive WW2 14-Day Tour of Poland, or reach out to us about our Bespoke Poland Travel Packages.

Claus von Stauffenberg meeting Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair

A Brief History of the Wolf’s Lair

Poland’s Warmia-Mazury Province formed one of the most important regions of Germany before the Second World War – (Ostpreußen) East Prussia.

General Paul von Hindenburg had won the Battle of Tannenberg there in 1916, avenging (symbolically, at least) the Slavic defeat of the Teutonic Knights in 1410’s Battle of Grunwald. He was subsequently buried in Hohenstein (present-day Olsztynek) upon his death in 1934.

Leading Nazis, such as Hermann Göring, liked to visit Ostpreußen on hunting trips, and to the average German, East Prussia was seen as an idyllic agricultural bread basket. It was, in fact, a desire to reunite Ostpreußen with the rest of Germany that inspired the Nazis to attack the Free City of Danzig (present-day Gdańsk) in 1939. 

So, although the existence of an enormous former Nazi base in Poland may cause surprise today, it was the ideal location for Hitler’s HQ at the time of the war. The location was hidden among dense forests and was only reachable via a single railway line and a small airstrip. 

Germans predominantly inhabited the region, and Hitler had wanted a base in Eastern Europe as his focus would increasingly be on Operation Barbarossa from late 1940. The entire complex was built in 1941, and its completion marked the commencement of Hitler’s long stay in the forests of Warmia (Ermland in German).

In total, Hitler spent 800 days of the war in the Wolf’s Lair (more time than he spent elsewhere during the war years). Here, the führer spent his days directing the Nazi war effort, watching films in his private cinema, listening to classical (German) composers on his gramophone, and delivering his manic speeches to the Nazi high command. 

Hitler himself chose the name Wolf’s Lair. The increasingly ailing führer enjoyed codenaming himself the wolf throughout the war – an absurd glimpse into the extraordinary self-delusions of the motley crew that formed the Nazi regime’s leadership.

Hermann Göring inspecting the damage caused by the July Plot

The 20 July Plot, 1944

At the Wolf’s Lair in July 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg planted a bomb designed to kill Hitler. 

Immortalised in countless history books and works of drama, such as Steven Spielberg’s Valkyrie, the July Plot was the closest anyone came to culling the wolf. 

Sadly, however, moments before the explosives went off, someone moved the bomb behind the leg of a large oak table. The table protected the dictator from the worst of the blast, though four other Nazis were killed. 

The Nazi response was merciless. Over 7,000 people were arrested after the assassination attempt, and nearly 5,000 were executed. 

Hitler was to leave the Wolf’s Lair for the last time just four months later as the Red Army came within nine miles of the base. 

Following Hitler’s flight, soldiers were instructed to destroy the complex. So much TNT was used that windows shattered many miles away. However, given many of the complex’s walls were around eight metres thick, the destruction was mostly unsuccessful and left the remains we see today. 

The Red Army captured the Wolf’s Lair on 27 January 1945, the same day that Auschwitz would be liberated in Southern Poland. 


The Wolf’s Lair Today

An estimated 54,000 landmines were planted around the site during the Second World War, but the area has since been meticulously cleared of ordnance. 

During Poland’s years under Communism, the site was left to the elements and not maintained in any way. However, since the early 1990s, the site has been maintained as a historical site and welcomes around 300,000 visitors each year. 

The information and visitor’s centre at the Wolf’s Lair are basic, so we recommend touring the site in the company of a guide. If our WW2 4-Day Guided Tour of Northern Poland does not suit your travel plans, please contact us about one of our Bespoke WW2 Tours of Poland.

Getting to the Wolf’s Lair

The remote nature of the Wolf’s Lair means it’s not as easy to visit as the historical sites found in major Polish cities, such as Warsaw, Gdańsk, and Wrocław. 

The nearest town to the Wolf’s Lair is Ketrzyn. Trains leave for Ketrzyn from Warsaw and Gdańsk, though the journey is four hours in length, and it should be noted that there is not much else to explore near the base, especially during colder times of the year. 

The journey will be easier if you have access to a car. In this case, we would strongly recommend combing your visit with a trip to somewhere else in the Warmia or Mazury regions, such as Olsztyn (the capital of Warmia) or Ełk (the biggest town in Mazury), from where you can explore the beautiful natural landscapes and enjoy outdoor activities. 

For further explorations of WW2 history in the area, you can consider visiting the Mamerki Bunkers, 30 undamaged Nazi shelters that was once the command center of the Oberkommando des Heeres (Upper Command of the Army). 

You can also visit the remaining locks from the Nazi’s Masurian Canal. Before WW2, the Germans had envisioned linking Mazury to the sea with an ambitious series of canals. 

The project gained momentum during WW2 as the Nazis wanted to be able to transport U-boats from the sea into East Prussia. The course of the war meant the canals could not be finished, but the remaining locks give an indication of the scale of the engineering project.

If you have any questions, please get in touch

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