Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Nazi Mega Weapons: The Eagle’s Nest (British TV/PBS, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2017 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched an episode of Nazi Mega Weapons, an occasional British show with an on-screen anchorman who’s all too reminiscent of Eric Idle’s parodies of a newscaster on Monty Python, whose agenda has been to present the huge construction and engineering projects commissioned by Adolf Hitler and his gang as magnificent feats of human imagination while at the same time not only enlisted in the service of an evil cause but pointless as well. This one was about “The Eagle’s Nest,” brainchild of Hitler’s henchman Martin Bormann, who was the most feared of Hitler’s aides mainly because, like H. R. Haldeman with Richard Nixon, Bormann controlled access to Hitler. (Albert Speer’s memoir Inside the Third Reich makes it clear how much Speer hated and feared Bormann and kept trying to outmaneuver him.) Hitler already had a spectacular home in the Berghof, a mountain overlooking the town of Obersalzberg on the German-Austrian border (remember that Hitler was actually Austrian and he liked being able to stand in front of his spectacular picture window and look over the country of his birth), but Bormann kept expanding it with a series of bunkers, tunnels to connect them and other installations that were supposed to make the Berghof an impenetrable fortress. Not surprisingly, none of it exists anymore except the Eagle’s Nest, an inaccessible house Bormann had built at the peak of the Berghof which could only be accessed by driving up a road tunneled into the mountain (itself a major engineering feat since the damned thing was made of solid rock!) and taking an elevator up the last 400 feet.

Unfortunately for Bormann, when he took Hitler to it for the first time, instead of being impressed, Hitler was freaked out of his wits — he said the elevator was too vulnerable and he didn’t trust the mechanism. Ironically, the rest of the Berghof was destroyed by a British bombing raid on April 25, 1945, five days before Hitler’s suicide and the fall of Berlin (where he stayed until the end because he didn’t like the image of himself as a coward dashing back to the Berghof to escape), but the Eagle’s Nest was spared and is now a museum. The show followed most of the pattern of the Nazi Mega Weapons episodes: marvelous feats of engineering that were militarily worthless precisely because they were so big they couldn’t be mass-produced (among the projects showcased in previous episodes are the “Mouse” tank designed by Ferdinand Porsche and a huge piece of artillery that required a special railroad system to move it and proved to be a sitting duck for enemy aircraft raids — one would have thought Hitler, who’d won his early victories mostly through the power of his air force, would have had some idea that his giant weapons were especially vulnerable to air attack, but no-o-o-o-o), while the “Mouse” tank was too large to be mass-produced in any quantity that made a difference (and when the Soviets captured the prototype in early 1945 they quickly concluded that it was so slow and vulnerable it was useless as a weapon) — apparently Hitler, like Donald Trump, prized bigness for its own sake and had virtually no sense of proportion. The Nazis so insanely wasted resources — both workers and materials — on these oddball projects, as well as continuing the Holocaust even when it was using up precious productive capacity (including diverting all that fuel to run the trains to the death camps instead of powering tanks and other weapons against the Allied armies), that they managed to speed their own defeat, a bad thing for them but a good thing for the world.