Bauvorhaben 21 is the code name for this structure, a code name that a lucky few had the chance of ever discovering. The real name is La Coupole and the reason this building was built was its destination to be used for a massive V2 rocket attack.
In 1943, Hitler’s army faced their first battlefield defeats in the Second World War. These reverses of fortune for the Wehrmacht led Hitler to thin at some secret weapons with V1 and V2 a top priority program.
The construction of several hardened launch sites for V2 rockets is undertaken along the coasts of France. It is in October of 1943 that the Todt organization begins construction of one of the most imposing bunkers related to the program V2 – La Coupole, the domed bunker.
The guided ballistic missiles V2 had one goal – destroy whatever was opposing the Nazi ideology. This structure was a precursor to the modern underground nuclear missile silos that are still in use to this day, even some say they are now abandoned.
Construction of La Coupola
1300 workmen would build on the Bauvorhaben 21, laboring day and night. The foremen and the skilled workers were German, the hard laborers were forced workers – young French forced into the “Service of Obligatory Work” and captive Soviet (men and women).
In July 1944, at the time the building site was abandoned, the 500 Soviet prisoners working on the construction of the CUPOLA were dispatched by train to Germany. They were never seen again.
The building plans of the site were titanic – galleries are dug in the chalky plate for storage of the rockets, the fuel supply, a liquid oxygen production facility and housing for the garrison.
There would be paths leading from outside, through rocket height doors, and into the interior assembly area. Inside, the rockets could be serviced and assembled safely, shielded from Allied bombing by the massive dome. A small railway supply tunnel would lead to all of the underground workings and a large octagonal chamber over 100 feet under the dome.
The octagonal chamber would have a diameter of 41 meters. The height to the underside of the dome was 24 meters. Seven stories high, all for fueling and prepping of the rockets, the floors would be carried by the concrete slabs, on which steel beams would lay.
Another chamber for preparation of the rockets would be located directly under the dome. When ready to fire, they would be rolled down the giant tunnels through the 5-foot-thick solid steel exterior doors (55 feet high) and launched quickly.
The site was abandoned a couple of days before the Allies started a rapid liberation of the area. Together the British, American, Canadian and Polish troops conquered this bunker and by this act alone could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives that would have been lost had the “vengeance weapon” found its way into the air from this launch pad.
The allies advance put Hitler and the V2 rocket campaign on a back foot. No longer could there be a stationary launch pad but instead, they had to revert to mobile rocket launch pads.
On April 27, 1944, 16 U.S. Army Air Corp planes dropped (128) one-thousand-pound bombs on the target with good results, losing one aircraft in the action. On June 22, 1944, the U.S. 303rd flew a morning mission with a small force of 14 B-17s.
This Wizernes mission was ineffective due to a heavy cloud cover. After a two minute bomb run, the bombs fell short in a wooded area east of the target and one B-17 was shot down by anti-aircraft guns. Although the bunker was not destroyed by the bombings, it was logistically unusable.
It was not until July 1944 that an attack by Allied bombers proved somewhat successful. RAF Lancaster bombers rained down the new 6-ton “Earthquake” Tallboy bombs. Although the dome remained intact, the RAF bombers dropped their bombs all around the dome.
Three of the Tallboys exploded next to the tunnels, one burst just under the dome, and another burst in the mouth of one tunnel. The whole hillside collapsed, undermining the dome support, and covering up the two rocket vertical entry ways.
The Germans were never able to finish it’s construction and the ambitious complex never saw service.
It was left abandoned and never used until 1990s. In 1997 it was opened as a museum and the public could see it for the first time in all it’s glory.
What do you think about this massive construction? Have you had the chance to visit it? Please share with us your experiences.