The Alpine Fortress (German: Alpenfestung) or Alpine Redoubt was the World War II national redoubt planned by Heinrich Himmler in November and December 1943[a] for Germany's government and armed forces to retreat to an area from "southern Bavaria across western Austria to northern Italy".[b] The plan was never fully endorsed by Hitler and no serious attempt was made to put the plan into operation, although it would serve as an effective tool of propaganda and military deception by the Germans in the final stages of the war.
In the six months following the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, the American and British armies advanced to the Rhine and seemed poised to strike into the heart of Germany, while the Red Army, advancing from the east through Poland, reached the Oder. It seemed likely that Berlin would soon fall and Germany be divided. In these circumstances, it occurred both to some leading figures in the German regime and to the Allies that the logical thing for the Germans to do would be to move the government to the mountainous areas of southern Germany and Austria, where a relatively small number of determined troops could hold out for some time.
A number of intelligence reports to the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) identified the area as having stores of foodstuffs and military supplies built up over the preceding six months, and could even be harbouring armaments production facilities. Within this fortified terrain, they said, Hitler would be able to evade the Allies and cause tremendous difficulties for the occupying Allied forces throughout Germany.
The minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, set up a special unit to invent and spread rumours about an Alpenfestung. Goebbels also sent out rumours to neutral governments, thus keeping the Redoubt myth alive and its state of readiness unclear. He enlisted the assistance of the intelligence service SD to produce faked blueprints and reports on construction supplies, armament production and troop transfers to the Redoubt. This utter deception of Allied military intelligence is considered to be one of the greatest feats of the German Abwehr during the entire war.
Although Adolf Hitler never fully endorsed the plan, he did provisionally agree to it at a conference with Franz Hofer in January 1945. Hitler also issued an order on 24 April 1945 for the evacuation of remaining government personnel from Berlin to the Redoubt. He made it clear that he would not leave Berlin himself, even if it fell to the Soviets, as it did on 2 May 1945.
Nevertheless, the National Redoubt had serious military and political consequences. Once the Anglo-American armies had crossed the Rhine and advanced into Western Germany, a decision had to be made whether to advance on a narrow front towards Berlin or in a simultaneous push by all Western armies spanning from the North Sea to the Alps. America's most aggressive commander, Third Army head General George S. Patton in General Omar Bradley's centrally located Twelfth Army Group, had advocated a narrow front ever since D-Day, and did so again; likewise at this point British 21st Army Group chief Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in the north, each lobbying to be the decisive spearhead. Cautious Allied commander in chief U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, however, resisted both. Ultimately, this broad front strategy left the Seventh Army of General Jacob L. Devers' southern Sixth Army Group in a position at war's end to race south through Bavaria into Austria to prevent German entrenchment in any mountain redoubt and cut off alpine passes to Nazi escape.
When the American armies penetrated Bavaria and western Austria at the end of April, they met little organized resistance, and the National Redoubt was shown to have been a myth. The alleged Alpine Fortress was one of three reasons associated with SHAEF's movement of forces towards southern Germany rather than towards Berlin, the other two being the fact that the city was planned to be in the Soviet Zone of Occupation, and that the battle for it would have entailed unacceptably high Western Allied casualties.
Post-war claims regarding the Alpine Fortress include: