Oranienburg is one of those German Cities whose not so distant history casts a very dark shadow over it. It was home to not one, but two Concentration Camps – the KZ Oranienburg (one of the firs Camps in Germany) and the KZ Sachsenhausen, it was here were the theory of Nuclear Fission was discovered and Hitlers “Nuclear” plans originated, and where the Heinkel Werke GmbH had one of its main production facilities and developed/tested the world first stealth bomber.
*Warning – Flugplatz Oranienburg History*
Ernst Heinrich Heinkel was born on the 24th of January 1888 in Grunbach, Baden-Württenberg. After finishing school he went on to study Mechanical Engineering in Stuttgart. From 1911 onwards, Heinkel worked for several Aircraft manufacturers, until he decided to design and build his own aircraft under his own name in 1922.
After the Nazis came to power, the German Reich secretly began preparations to build up its Luftwaffe again. On the 1st of March 1935, Reichsminister für Luftfahrt Hermann Göring officially unveiled the new German Luftwaffe. At this point the Heinkel-Werke, which had settled in the northern German city of Rostock, was already rolling out the newly developed Heinkel He 111. The Heinkel He 111 was to become the standard aircraft for the Luftwaffe, forcing the Heinkel Werke to increase its production output. The Factory in Rostock had already reached its maximum capacity, so the Reichsluftfahrtministerium was on the lookout for a new production site around Berlin. On the 18th of March 1935, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium decided to set up the new Heinkel Factory in Oranienburg and Germendorf.
On 1 May 1935 the Heinkel-Werke GmbH Oranienburg was formally established. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium held 97% of the shares, while the remainder was held by Ernst Heinkel. The Heinkel Werke GmbH were a de facto a state operation, but the state granted Heinkel wide-ranging authorities. After 1939, Heinkel took over the shares of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium for the sum of 17.95 Million Reichsmark.
A group of 25 Architects – under the leadership of Herbet Rimpel – was set up, who then designed and planned out the various factory facilities, including the Workshops, Sports and swimming facilities, canteen, administration buildings and living quarters. The entire facility was built between 1936 and 1937. The entire production was split up into several production plants. The “Werk I” was set up next to Germendorf, while the “Unterwerk II” was set up to the west of Oranienburg-Süd. The simple reason for the separation of the production plants was to minimize damage and production loss due to possible bomber raids.
During the construction of the Heinkel Werke – the Architects not only stressed on the aspects of ideal production conditions, but also put their highest priority on constructing buildings that would withstand air raids. The production halls were all built in the same format and style with a steel frame construction, bomb-proof foundations, large glass paneling and massive sliding-folding gates. The advantage of building identical production halls meant that they were quick and easy to build, and if damaged by fire or bombs – production could be relocated into a different hall. The large glass paneling kept air raid damage to a minimum and could be quickly replaced. To black out the halls, Heinkel had automatic blinds installed that could black out the entire facility in less than 2 minutes. The large folding gates meant that the halls could be cleared instantly and fire crews could rush in, in case a fire broke out.
In the beginning the Heinkel Werke exclusivley produced the Heinkel He 111. After the individual aircraft pieces were constructed in separate locations, the aircraft was moved into the “Werk II” where they attached the wings, radio equipment and weapons. After this they were moved to the “Einflughalle” where they were tested for their aeronautical properties. A total of 3 separate test flights were conducted with each aircraft before they were transferred to their new destination.
A fun fact on the side – Beate Uhse, known all over Germany for her Sex Shops – was one of the most well-known “transfer” pilots at the time.
Over the course of the war, the Heinkel Werke produced several variations of the Heinkel He 111, as well variations of the He 177 and the Junckers Ju 88 (under license) and the Dornier Do 335 (which had 1 propeller in the front and one in the back). In March, 1944 – the first test flights with experimental flying wing aircraft were conducted. Several prototypes and variations were available for testing. A glider variation of the flying wing aircraft was successfully launched and thoroughly tested for its flight characteristics by the famous test pilot Lieutenant Erwin Ziller.
The first 30 minute test flight of the Horten IX (H IX V2) – the first jet propelled flying wing – was conducted on the 2nd of February 1945 at the Flugplatz Oranienburg. The aircraft was developed as a miracle weapon for the so-called Jäger-Notprogramm (Ziller crashed and died on the 18th Feb. 1945 while testing the H IX V2). The flight characteristics were revolutionary: the top speed was about 1000km, it had a reach of a 1000 kilometers and it could hold a payload of over 1000 kilograms.
The aircraft was developed by the Horten brothers and produced by the Gotha Waggonfabrik.When the Americans entered Gotha and Leipzig they discovered various prototypes and swiftly confiscated them. A Ho 229 Prototype was shipped off to the US – and during the cold war the B-2 stealth debuted showing great similarity to previous Horten Models (especially the Horten GO).
Despite it being a very prominent target, US Bombers only attacked the site for the first time on the 18th of April 1944, and a second time on the 10th of April 1945. The 2 raids did little damage by comparison as production only ceased once the Soviet and Polish forces occupied the factory on the 23rd of April, 1945.
At the end of the war – the soviet troops ordered the complete dismantlement of the factory aside from the Einflughalle, the airstrip and a few other administration buildings. Despite the massive use of slave labor from the nearby concentration camp (totaling to over 14000 by September 1943) – Ernst Heinkel was only classified as a “Follower” (mitläufer) by the Denazification process. It is worth looking at the Operation Paperclip – as the Allies seemingly had no problems with war criminals as long as they provided valuable technology. In 1950, Heinkel started production of scooters and cheap cars. He died in 1958 in Stuttgart – shortly after, the Heinkel Werke resumed the production of Aircraft in Stuttgart.
The Soviet troops then continued to use the Flugplatz Oranienburg as an airfield for their own troops. At first the base was used for transport aircraft, until the Soviets stationed the 239. OGvVP (Otdelnij Gwardeski Vertoletnij Polk – Independent Guard Helicopters Regiment) and the 9. OVE (Otdelnaja Vertoletnaja Eskadrilja – Independent Helicopters Squadron) there. After 1994, the two helicopter regiments were moved to Jefremov and Nowosibirsk, Russia.
The Russian troops pulled out in 1994, and since then most of the Soviet-made buildings have been torn down. Almost all of the tarmac has been removed, while a giant supermarket distribution center and solar panel field have moved on to the former airbase.
A few buildings remain to this day – most notably the industrial Bauhaus “Einflughalle”. It probably owes its survival to the fact that it has been put under Denkmalschutz, but it is in a pretty bad state like every other building on the property. almost all of them have been set on fire, and they are rather hazardous to explore.
There isn’t much to see – aside from the massive Einflughalle, most buildings have been removed and those that are still standing have been ruined by vandalism. Despite this I can only highly recommend making the trip out to Oranienburg and checking this place out. It’s a fascinating piece of aviation history which will most likely disappear within the next 5-10 years.
For more photos of the Flugplatz check out the Flickr Album: Flugplatz Oranienburg
16515 Oranienburg, Deutschland
Public Transport: Take the S-Bahn S1 direction Oranienburg and get off at Lehnitz. Its best to bike it from there (takes about 15 minutes). There is a bus thats way too complicated.