The Berlin bunker where Hitler spent the last year of the war – and his life – has been vividly described by historians and film-makers. Much less has been made of the bunkers that were built for him near Couvin in Wallonia’s Namur province, from where he directed the second stage of the French campaign in June 1940, and drew up the Armistice agreement after France capitulated.
Ahead of the Hitler’s arrival, the inhabitants of the village of Brűly-de-Pesche and 27 surrounding settlements were forced out of their homes on 28 May, and Brüly’s church and school were sequestered to create the headquarters Hitler named ‘Wolfsschlucht’ (The Ravine of Wolves.) The church, which had its roof removed to act as a water catchment area, became the Germans’ HQ, and the school their map room. Hitler flew in on 6 June, and set to work, preparing and correcting the documents laying out the peace terms for France, in which he returned (with interest) the humiliations imposed on the Germans in the 1918 Armistice. Hitler was quartered in one of two bunkers built above ground in woodland just outside the village. Both heavily reinforced bunkers have survived intact, but only one is open to the public.
During his 22 days at Brűly-de-Pesche, Hitler made several short tours away, including a day-trip on 21 June to Rethondes in northern France to conclude the Armistice agreement with Marshal Pétain, in the same railway carriage where the 1918 Armistice was signed. Settling old scores was important to the Führer. That evening he returned to Brűly, and the following day France formally capitulated. On 25 June trumpets signalled the cessation of fighting, and three days later Hitler left his Belgian bunker for the last time to fly to his new HQ in the Black Forest.
After the war, all the German buildings except the concrete bunkers were destroyed by the villagers, but the chalets have since been rebuilt and turned into fascinating museums commemorating a crucial phase of World War Two. One of the buildings has a 20-minute film about Hitler’s arrival and a large collection of photographs charting the German occupation of the area. The other chalet, or ‘pavilion’, is dedicated to the local resistance effort. Group D from the Hotton Resistance Movement consisted of 250 men and women who hid in the forest for nearly three years and worked mainly on sabotaging the enemy’s lines of communication.
Overlooked by most WW2 historians, Hitler’s Belgian bunker and temporary HQ at Brűly-de-Pesche are a microcosm of overwhelming German dominance in the first year of hostilities. While Hitler was plotting the capitulation of France, the Allies were retreating from Dunkirk to go home and think again. On the Western Front, the Germans would never be so dominant again.