Hitler’s Steel Beast: At the end of the 1930s, Hitler ordered the construction of a special train, under the code name “Amerika”, that could transport him around safely and appease his growing paranoia.
Hitler had a few iconic pieces of transportation, from a famous Mercedes to the SSS Horst Wessel sailing vessel, but his headquarters train was one of the most famous during the war.
Hitler’s Steel Beast
Nazi soldiers would march along routes ahead of the train to make sure no one was lying in wait for it, and there were multiple decoy trains that would run up to 30 minutes ahead of or behind Hitler’s train. In addition, a Condor plane, controlled by Hitler’s personal pilot, always follows the train, if necessary.
A veritable fortress on rails, this armored fifteen-carriage convoy served as his mobile headquarters during the invasion of Poland and the Baltic states and was where he met privately with Petain, Franco, and Mussolini. Decisive meetings in the course of the Second World War. It was also the target of numerous assassination plots by the British secret service. Equipped with the most advanced communication facilities and a battery of anti-aircraft cannons, its construction called for a team of the biggest names in engineering, while the luxurious interior of each coach was designed by the Fuhrer himself.
We travel to Germany to discover what’s left of these exceptional trains and dig through the few surviving archives to retrace the little-known history of this special train and pierce the secrets behind Hitler’s beast of steel.
The Führersonderzug (lit. Führer’s special train) was Adolf Hitler’s personal train. It was named Führersonderzug “Amerika” in 1940, and later in January 1943, the Führersonderzug “Brandenburg”. The train served as a headquarters until the Balkans Campaign. Afterward, the train was not used as Führer Headquarters, however, Hitler continued to travel on it throughout the war between Berlin, Berchtesgaden, Munich, and other headquarters.
The Führersonderzug was the special train used by Adolf Hitler for his travels across Germany and Europe. In 1937, Hitler ordered a special train to the Deutsche Reichsbahn which he would use for his travels. After 2 years of conception, the train was ready in August 1939. It was first named Führersonderzug “Amerika“, and later renamed “Brandenburg“. During the war, the train served as a Führerhauptquartier (mobile headquarters), up until the Balkans campaign, however, Hitler continued to travel on it throughout the war between Berlin, Berchtesgaden (Berghof), Munich and other headquarters. The train was always followed by Hitler’s Mercedes and plane.
The train weighed 1200 tons, and its maximum length could reach 430 meters. The train could travel at a speed between 80 and 120 km/hour.
The wagons were not armored, these were standard travel wagons that were adapted to the Führer’s needs (for example, Hitler’s private coach included a marble bathroom that needed to be reinforced with a concrete lid). The wagons were build in the 1930s by 3 German companies: Henschel & Sohn, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Credé. The interior was designed by a well-known Munich company, in a simple art deco style. Each coach was equipped with a heating system and air conditioning, which was quite rare at the time.
The configuration of the train varied according to the needs and the number of people needed on board: 10 to 16 wagons, and a length between 300 and 430 meters. The train could host more than 200 persons on board. The layout of the head wagons however never changed, as they included the defense and communication cars, as well as Hitler’s personal wagon. The exact composition of the train is not known, but historical studies show that the following was most certainly accurate (from front to rear):
- The train was equipped with 2 locomotives allowing the convoy to function even in the case of a machine failure. However, when using steam engines, the locomotives had to be changed every 200 kilometers with a new one charged with coal. The Führersonderzug could be powered by several types of locomotives, both with steam and electrical engines, For example, the steam BR 52 (“Kriegslok”) class KDL1 for Kriegsdampflokomotive (war steam engine) which first appeared in 1942, the Fleischmann, the Roco or the Märklin.
- At both sides of the train was one SdPl 4i-39 Flakwagen, each equipped with 2 anti-air Flakvierling 38 quadruple tube canons with center space for crew and munitions, for defense against ground and air attacks. The flak canons of 20 mm were able to fire as far as 4,7 kilometers on the ground and 2.500 meters high with a cadence of fire of 800 shots/minute.
- One baggage car
- Hitler’s personal car (the Führerwagen) was a Pullman DRB car and included (in order): an antechamber guarded by 2 bodyguards, a lounge with a big table and veined maple couches, Hitler’s bedroom with a simple single bed, a marble bathroom, 3 rooms for guests, a shower room, and another antechamber with 2 bodyguards.
- The command and communication car (Befehlswagen) included a conference room and was equipped with all contemporary ultra-modern communication devices, a strategic room and telecommunication rooms with teleprinters and encryption devices, telephone exchange (for internal and external calls), and a radio room with an enigma machine to encode and decode the messages. These devices were not operational during travels, they had to be plugged into the different stations in order to work. However, a powerful 700 watts short wave radio could be used to communicate everywhere while the train was moving.
- The Begleitkommandowagen was dedicated to the accompanying Reichssicherheitsdienst, Hitler’s personal guard, which could have up to 26 SS men.
- One dining car.
- Two guests cars.
- One car was dedicated to bathrooms and haircut services (Badewagen), it was offered to Hitler by the Reichsbahn for his 50th birthday on 20 April 1939. This car was particularly heavy (78 tons) due to the 5 bathrooms, 3 marble showers, 1 shower room, and the 11.000 liters of water available.
- Another dining car.
- Two sleeping cars for personnel.
- A press car (Pressewagen) dedicated to the Propagandaministerium and their Reich press release.
- Another baggage car.
- Another Flakwagen.
Source: Hitler Archive