An uncertain future

From June 1945 the iron and steel works in Salzgitter initially came under the control of the British military government. By the end of the War, only a part of the vast complex originally planned had actually been built. The works comprised twelve blast furnaces, of which ten were operational at the end of the war, a Thomas-method steelworks, Siemens-Martin steelworks, two electro-furnaces, a rolling mill with several mill trains, two coking plants, Germany’s largest coal-fired power station and various ancillary units. Although the equipment was operational and had suffered little war damage, it did not at first appear that the works would ever resume production. As an armaments company and a symbol of the National Socialist regime, the plant was to be dismantled. That which could not be removed was to be destroyed. The necessary work began forthwith.

From the end of the 1940s public opposition to the dismantling of the plant grew steadily stronger. On the one hand, the reconstruction of Germany and of Europe in general was generating a huge demand for steel, while on the other the local population were in dire need. Many refugees and expatriates from the former German territories in the East were seeking new homes in and around Salzgitter and urgently needed work. There was a threat of social unrest.

Even when the first blast furnace was permitted to resume operations in April 1949, the dismantling of the remaining installations still continued. In March 1950, in a spectacular protest desperate workers occupied parts of the plant that were scheduled to be blown up in order to prevent their demolition. The West German government, too, supported by political parties and trade unions put massive pressure on the Allies to ensure the continued existence of the iron and steel works. The dismantling was finally halted on January 20, 1951, by which time three quarters of the blast furnaces, the entire steelworks and rolling mills, one coking plant and large parts of the ancillary works and numerous foundations had been removed or destroyed.

Even after the dismantling was halted, the future of the iron and steel works in Salzgitter remained uncertain as the Allies refused to allow the erection of new steelworks and rolling mills. It was mid 1953 – eight years after the War ended – before a steelworks resumed operations on this site. In the same year the plant was transferred to Hüttenwerk Salzgitter AG, a newly formed subsidiary of the AG für Berg- und Hüttenbetriebe. The latter, as successor in title to the German portfolio of the Reichswerke, was in turn in the ownership of the Federal Republic of Germany in the meantime. On June 27, 1953 the Allied High Commission declared its restructuring and control over the former Reichswerke to be officially ended.

History Salzgitter plant at a glance