Thursday 16 September 2010

Waldwerke - late war Luftwaffe fighter production in 'forest factory' complexes

The field of German late war production is a fascinating aspect of Luftwaffe history - from underground facilities such as mines or tunnels to so-called "Waldwerke" - literally 'forest factories'. Examples of these were the KUNO I Waldwerk set up to turn out Me 262 jet fighters or the Cham-Michelsdorf site in northern Bavaria which produced the latest Bf 109 K fighters. Allied bombing raids starting early in 1944 with ‘Big Week’ set about dislocating aircraft and aero engine production. At their Augsburg and Regensburg plants Messerschmitt quickly organised the ‘relocation’ and ‘dispersal’ of some of their manufacturing capacity.

Kuno I was one such ‘plant’ established in pine forests in the vicinity of Leipheim. Issue 16 of ‘Luftwaffe in Focus’ gives a description of the production ‘facilities’ in the KUNO I Waldwerk set up to turn out the Me 262. So-called Waldwerke usually comprised a production line set up on a long forest road, so-called "Holzrückewege". Concentration camp internees – production line workers - would be housed in wooden barracks alongside the ‘production line’. Paint shops and compass platforms were all built under cover with various airframe components arriving at different points along the ‘road’ for final assembly. On completion airframes were towed out of the forests onto a stretch of the nearby A8 Stuttgart - München Autobahn comprising a two kilometre long straight which was also camouflaged with green paint from where the freshly turned out Me 262s were flown off to Memmingen or Leipheim to be handed over to the Luftwaffe. With dispersed facilities under heavy cover, the KUNO forest complex was turning out five completed Me 262s per day from late April 1944 in complete impunity from prowling American Jabos almost right up until the complex was captured by American troops on 21 April 1945. In fact Leipheim was heavily damaged on 28 April 1944, and no fewer than fifty Me 262s were written off, while KUNO I was untouched until a raid on 18 November 1944 caused slight damage, resulting in the setting up of KUNO II south of the original Kuno Waldwerk.

Completed - even down to the camouflage paint finish - Me 262 discovered at the KUNO I forest factory complex - note the line up of Me 262 tail assemblies under the pines

Messerschmitt also shifted production of other major types such as the Bf 109 K-4 into the dense pine woods in northern Bavaria, adhoc facilities manufacturing major assemblies such as wings and fuselages all under cover of dense foliage. Wings and fuselages would then be delivered usually by rail to final assembly plants. There were a number of known or no doubt some unknown Waldwerke in the area around Regensburg. The designations of the production sites are for the most part deliberately misleading. The records name the next larger town - little settlements with a railway station in most cases.
Mtt Flossenbürg is KZ Flossenbürg
Mtt Flossenbürg is Altenhammer
Mtt Vilseck is Heringnohe
Mtt Bodenwöhr is Mappach
Mtt Cham is Michelsdorf

These sites would very often exploit labour sources locally – KZ or concentration camp internees for the most part. There is thus little information in the respective town administrations, at least none about technical details and production. Most research on these sites – such as it is – has been carried out by private individuals eg the discovery of abandoned rail tracks leading from Vilseck to Heringnohe airfield. The site itself nowadays is part of US Grafenwöhr training ground and thus not accessible.
The subject of the MTT delocalised assembly lines in the Vilseck, Cham-Michelsdorf area, north-east of Regensburg, was given new impetus in a recent lengthy thread on the TOCH forum. One particularly interesting shot taken in December 1944 at Cham - Michelsdorf, shows a wingless BF 109 G-10 or K-4 parked outside a restaurant in the old town and was no doubt being pulled from Michelsdorf through the centre of Cham to Cham freight yard- an indication of just how tortuous the transport route of these particular wingless Bf109 fuselages was. Similarly for the transport arrangements from the KZ Flossenbürg production site to Flossenbürg railway station. These logistical difficulties were imposed by Messerschmitt for the sake of concealment.

Other Waldwerke sites near Regensburg, Hagelstadt (Gauting) and Stauffen produced the Me 262 to the end of war. Gauting also produced K4 types in the 330105-330491 Werknummern Block. From 331323-335210 Cham is named as supplier. It would appear that Gauting was more specialized on G-6 and G-14/AS types to the end of war although the Bf 109 K-4 was also produced there. By night the completed – but wingless -airframes were towed by tail on a truck to the airfield of Obertraubling via the Reichsstraße 15 (now B15). Here the wings were attached and the acceptance flights were made. Me 262s produced at Stauffen were transported to Obertraubling via a small railway track along the Autobahn. Acceptance flights were conducted at Obertraubling.

The method of transport of the various Bf 109 assemblies being produced at dispersed sites was similar at Flossenbürg - by truck to the railway station. Here the completed fuselages were loaded on stake cars and ferried to Vilseck-Heringnohe, where the wings were attached. Acceptance flights were made at Amberg-Schafhof, Messerschmitt test pilots ferrying the Bf109s from Vilseck to Schafhof.

In Bodenwöhr the finished fuselages where brought to the narrow train station here: ( 49°15'52.39"N / 12°22'47.00"O ) by trucks. Resilent bridges up to 10 tons can still be found in that forest.

A number of books by local German historians have shed further light on the so-called Waldwerke in this area such as Timo Bullemer’s "Das Kriegsende in Cham: Ereignisse und Entwicklungen - November 1944 bis Mai 1945". This work is illustrated with photos taken by US Army Signals Corps photographers, including shots of the 50 fighter aircraft found when the Michelsdorf complex was overrun.

"Beiträge zur Geschichte im Landkreis Cham" Band 23 ("contribution on the history of the district of Cham" vol 23 ) includes on pages 203-212 a short essay on the Cham-Michelsdorf airfield, including pictures taken by the U.S army. The aerial overview photo presented here depicts every step of the final assembly and test flying process. This was a Messerschmitt production site, were wings were attached to the fuselages delivered from Waldwerk Bodenwöhr. The Cham-Michelsdorf site exploited a small patch of forest to conceal these ‘production’ facilities.

Aircraft found at Cham-Michelsdorf include this Bf109 lying alongside a FW190A and a rare Fw 190D-9 with a Stkz, ?S+DH with the old style canopy. Fw 109D-9 W.Nr. 210034 is totally undocumented so far, both by Jerry Crandall or by Eric Larger and al.