Project Riese History


In WWII at the start of 1943, in the Sowie Mountains, Lower Silesia, the Germans started the largest underground project of the Third Reich. It was code named ‘RIESE’ which means ‘A Giant’.

Thousands of prisoners of war were worked to death constructing the tunnels, many only lasted a couple of months as the German guards worked them 24 hours a day. Children as young as 10 years old were put to work hauling the mining carts with the spoil out of the tunnel systems. Some of the huge tunnel networks were constructed in 6 months, my images may not show the scale of the networks, it was hard to get a photo of everything in a short space of time, there are many tunnel branches that went off into the distant darkness, seemed to go on for ever. For the time frame it was an amazing feat for the progress but at a truly horrific human cost.

The uses of the tunnels were mixed, some were underground arms factories, some were used by the Third Reich’s best scientists for advanced weapon testing and development and others were used as Hitler’s Headquarters (Führerhauptquartier or FHQ) and military shelters.

More than 50 German construction companies were involved in the major project.

There were seven underground complexes situated around the Sowie Mountains including: Wlodarz, Osowka, Sokolec, Sobon, Rzeczka, Jugowice and Hitler’s tunnel complex under the castle of Ksiaz in Walbrzych.

A huge infrastructure was built including new and adapted roads, narrow-gauge railways, bridges and overpasses. In total, around 8.5km of tunnels were excavated (113,000 m3), 60 narrow-gauge railways systems added, 36km of roads and a dozen bridges and fly-overs were built in the area.