Forgotten Cold War Bases Around Prague

Todays Czech Republic was born from the peaceful split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The latter was founded after WWI from the ashes of the Austrian Empire. Its well-developed industrial plants and proximity with Germany made it a primary target in the expansion phase of the Third Reich – in fact, after the Munich Agreement a large part of the territory of Czechoslovakia was annexed to Germany in 1938.

Towards the end of WWII, Czechoslovakia was conquered by both the Soviet Red Army and US troops. As a result of diplomacy moves soon after WWII, a new free republic was founded. Unfortunately, as soon as 1948 the local Communist Party conquered power with a coup d’état, turning this Country into a Soviet satellite.

From a military viewpoint, this period saw the adoption of Soviet supplies and organization standards. Czechoslovakia shared a border with the Ukraine, hence with the USSR. Yet the stability and reliability – from a USSR standpoint – of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, differently from other countries under soviet influence – like Poland – meant a certain level of autonomy in the setup of the armed forces, which were not massively present over the territory of the country during the 1950s and 1960s, until 1968.

The Prague Spring, triggered by the announced reforms of the leader of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party Alexander Dubcek, brought Brezhnev-led USSR to fear a loss of control of that industrialized region, creating a dangerous diplomatic affair and a bad example for other Soviet-controlled countries.  The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, codenamed ‘Operation Danube’, was launched in August 1968.

The operation led to the successful occupation of the country by more than 250’000 troops from the USSR, Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria. Since that time, and until 1989 with the overthrowing of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, the Red Army was present over the territory of this country, taking control and developing bases formerly managed by the local armed forces. The two largest airbases in the country, Ralsko and Milovice, both less than 40 miles away from Prague, were among the installations taken over by the USSR.

Despite this, the already developed Czechoslovakian Army maintained a high standard of proficiency and supply, thanks also to the local production of top-quality weapons. The local army was responsible of the Czechoslovakian sector of the anti-aircraft barrier of the western border of the Eastern Bloc, which was built in the 1980s based on advanced Soviet material, namely the SA-5 Gammon surface-to-air missiles. Furthermore, the city of Prague was protected by a network of anti-aircraft missile batteries based on the SA-3 Goa. Anti-atomic bunkers were built both in Prague for civil defense (see this post), and in more remote areas of the country for the government and for the military chain of command (see this post).

After the end of communism both in Czechoslovakia and the USSR, the departure of the newborn Czech Republic from the influence of Russia, and the reconfiguration of the Czech Army in view of the new geopolitical situation in the 1990s, the majority of the former military installations were shut down and abandoned – a scenario totally similar to all former Soviet-controlled countries, which had known an exponential increase in the military presence over the years of the Cold War, which could not be supported any more by the economies of the new independent Countries (see for instance here or here). Furthermore, like in every other country in the Eastern Bloc, the retreating staff of the Red Army and their families left extensive ghost towns (see for instance this post).

Today, after substantial demolition works and years spent under the action of the elements, a few traces remain of these witnesses of the Cold War. Yet as of 2018 some notable relics of this bygone era could still be found, conveniently reachable from Prague.

This post covers Milovice Red Army airbase, possibly better known through the name of the local Soviet town of Bozi Dar, two abandoned anti-aircraft missile batteries for the protection of Prague – Tocna and Miskovice – and an anti-aircraft battery in the vicinity of Dobris, south of Prague, once a focal point of the anti-aircraft defense of the European border of the Eastern Bloc, against NATO forces. Photographs were taken in summer 2018.

Map

The following map is very basic, and helps just to highlight the location of the four subjects of this chapter in the Prague region. The reason for not being more explicit is that the Dobris and Milovice bases are possibly not publicly accessible. Concerning Tocna and Miskovice, they are rather small installations, thus not difficult to explore.

As usual with this kind of attraction, approaching by car is the only way possible, due to the remoteness of the locations. Once there, much walking on uneven terrain is required. A tripod and torchlight are highly recommended for indoor exploration, and a cell phone with a GPS may be handy for moving around especially in Dobris and Milovice.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

Sights

Milovice Airbase

Much before being turned into one of the busiest and largest Soviet airports in central Europe, the airbase in Milovice had experienced a long history of upgrades and developments. Activated in the 1920s on military grounds previously established by the Austrian Emperor, the airfield was actively used by the Luftwaffe in the years of the Nazi occupation and WWII. Later on, it was turned into a major base of the Czechoslovakian Air Force, with MiGs reportedly operating from there as soon as a hardened runway was built in the early 1950s.

Before the Soviet invasion of 1968, the staff of the base used to stay in the village of Milovice, on the southwestern corner of the base.

After the Soviets came to occupy the field, they built from scratch a new, self-sufficient village on the northern side of the base, where Soviet troops and their families could live segregated from the local community. This village was named Bozi Dar. The Soviets developed the facilities of the base enormously, lengthening the runway to almost 8’500 ft, building about 40 reinforced hangars sized for MiG-21 and later MiG-23/27, and more than 25 open-air landing bays for Mi-8 and Mi-24 attack helicopters. The base featured also large open-air aprons for transport aircraft, which reportedly operated many military transport flights to and from the USSR with larger cargo aircraft.

A storage for nuclear warheads for tactical weapons was built to the south of the runway, with two Granit-type concrete containers.

Today this once prominent base is largely abandoned. The village of Bozi Dar, while surprisingly still hosting some form of business in a few surviving smaller buildings, has been almost completely demolished, leaving behind the depressing view of piles of rubble. The village had been ceded to private owners after the withdrawal of the Russian troops, but all proposed restoration ideas have come to nothing, and the by-then rotting buildings have met their fate in the early 2010s.

The northwestern corner of the airport is the richest in relics. Approaching the airport from this corner, you first meet significant remains of the double fence once delimiting the perimeter of the airbase.

In the same area, it is possible to find the helicopter aprons, almost untouched, with scant yet visible remains of tarmac repairs and typical airport area signs and delimiters painted on the ground.

From the same northwestern corner, you may go ahead along a former main road of the base looking east. South of the road you may soon spot the reinforced aircraft shelters built in this part of the airbase.

North of the road, you can see two unusual constructions, looking like fortresses of the Atlantic Wall (see here). These are likely part of the reinforced fuel resupply system, a pretty interesting feature of the Misovice airbase. These two reinforced tanks were only a part of a huge network of pipelines and reservoirs, which allowed to store most of the fuel in the vicinity of the base, but not on it, to prevent damages in case of an attack. The two reinforced tanks served only the immediate needs of the aircraft and helicopter fleet, and were designed to withstand a direct hit. This system was put in place by the Czechoslovakians, before the Soviets took over the base. You can spot the reinforced concrete roofs of the two reservoirs emerging from the bushes.

The aircraft shelters of this area are all shut. You can walk around, ahead and over them as well – useful for getting a panorama view of the base.

From the top of the shelters you can get a view of the open-air apron, and of part of the runway. The airport is today closed, but after the military quit, some ultra-light and RC aircraft activities were carried out from the area.

Having a close look at the gates of the hangars, you may notice they are made of concrete, really sturdy. Small engines to operate the gates can still be found on the sides of most of these hangars.

In the same area you can find a former cabin, probably hosting a power generation unit or something alike.

Further west, you can find a large unarmored hangar, most likely from older times than 1968. This was probably for maintenance activities. The windows on top of the front façade bear ‘KPSS’ in Cyrillic – this is the Russian acronym for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This is probably only part of the original writing. Further right, there is a Czechoslovakian flag, possibly from the later years when the base was operated.

The building of the maintenance hangar is composed of a very large main hall, and many smaller rooms all around its perimeter.  Electric plugs and switches bear writings in Cyrillic. Today, there is also monumental pile of used tires!

On the walls of the main hall there are traces of Soviet murals and Cyrillic inscriptions – most of them are fading.

The rooms along the long side of the hangar are mainly heavily damaged and spoiled.

The rooms along the short sides are in a bad shape, but something more remains of the original furniture, including some doors and windows. The traces here suggest a more aesthetically pleasant design, not just purely functional – look at the doors and handles, more like those of a canteen than of a mechanic workshop.

Especially on the eastern side of the hangar, evident remains of a sauna and steam room tend to confirm the function of this area as a recreational facility. Having such facilities close to the runway would not be strange – something similar can be found for instance in Soviet airbase in Wittstock, in the former GDR (see here).

Leaving the hangar to the north you can find several fences, and leaving the airport you may meet the original double fence with barbed wire – almost untouched from Soviet times, so may you need to walk along it to find a way through!

All around the former airport it is possible to find memorabilia and items of interest – mugs, metal pieces, fuel tanks,…

Getting there and moving around

As said, while largely abandoned and mainly unfenced, this area is likely all private property. Moving around does pose some safety issues, for when walking in the bushes and wild grass you may stumble due to abandoned cables or barbed wire at the level of your ankles. The main hangar is not completely rotting, but it is unlikely that it underwent maintenance in recent years. The adjoining small buildings are probably even more dangerous due to risk of collapse.

The village of Bozi Dar does not deserve any attention, unless possibly if you are looking for memorabilia – all buildings are completely gone. The area to the south of the runway where the nuclear facility used to be has been completely demolished. It was reportedly similar to the one preserved in Grossenhain, next to Dresden in the former GDR (see here).

Approaching the airport from the northwest is convenient, for there is chance of parking on the side of the perimeter road, far from the unwanted attention of the locals. There are some local businesses insisting in the last buildings of Bozi Dar, and possibly on the apron, but probably there are not real security issues in entering the base area by foot – there are no barriers nor prohibition signs whatsoever, except for cars. The area of the base is very large – it is an airport after all… – and visiting the northwestern corner may take about 2 hours for a well-trained subject, including time for all the pictures.

Tocna Missile Battery

This is part of the former network of missile batteries for the anti-aircraft defense of Prague, operated by Czechoslovakian 71st Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. This ring of protection was established in the 1970s. The base in Tocna was equipped with approximately 12 batteries of 5P71 two-rocket trolleys for the Soviet SA-2 Goa, which in the Soviet classification is known as S-125 Neva (or Petchora for the exported version). This is a popular model from the early 1960s, adopted in many countries outside of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc over the years, and still deployed today. These 24 missiles had a range of roughly 20 miles and a ceiling of more than 50’000 ft. The electronic gears for target acquisition and missile guidance comprised the trailer-mounted P-15 acquisition radar and SNR-125 tracking and guidance radar – all Soviet supply.

Similar to other batteries of the kind, Tocna was divided in two smaller sectors, one with the barracks, parking, living facilities for the troops and fuel storage, and one with reinforced shelters where the missiles were stored, and open-air aprons from where they could be launched. Today, the former sector is part of a local institution, and is separated by a fence from the latter sector, which is totally abandoned and can be accessed.

The missile area is located on top of a small hill. You can get access to the area starting from the gate of the former guard sector (still in use, inaccessible). Taking uphill you will soon meet the old inner wall of the base, which originally divided the guard part from the missile sector. Traces of the camo paint still adorn the concrete wall.

The storage facilities are basically four barrel-vaulted halls inside a shelter. The shelter could be accessed from two opposite sides. Each of the four halls could host three twin-rocket trolleys.

Dark and narrow passages connect the blind ends of the vaulted halls, and give access to a small protection area, where personnel could stay for protection in case the base was attacked from the air.

As you can see from the pictures, unfortunately the halls are in a very bad shape, covered in stupid graffiti and full of rubbish.

On top of the halls, there is a circular wall probably intended for the guidance radar. The missiles could be extracted from the shelters and prepared for launch from predetermined areas of the base.

On the western side of the shelter you can find a command building, which today is barely accessible due to piles of rubbish obstructing the door. This is used as sporting ground by paint-ball teams. The emerging foundation wall of the shelter area was covered in camo nets, with some remains still in place today.

On the northern end of the base you can find two more smaller shelters, with a large round hole in the roof giving access to where two large antennas can be found still today. These do not look like highly directional radar antennas, but more like usual communication antennas – maybe they are not originally from the time, yet they look unmaintained and rotting. The two shelters were possibly for control/communication trailers, or for power generators. These too are in a very bad shape today.

Getting there and moving around

The former base has been split into two parts. One is still run by some public service, and cannot be accessed. The other – the rocket storage part – is totally abandoned and can be accessed without clear restrictions. Some paint-ball activities are (or used to be) carried out around here – but apparently only rarely. During my visit I came across two people walking their dogs, and was alone for the rest of the time.

The place can be easily reached by car in the southeastern outskirts of Prague. Parking is possible right ahead of the gate of the public service in the still active area – there is a large apron where your car will not be noticed.

The site is rather compact, but the terrain is uneven and steep. Anyway, considering also the very bad shape of the installation, visiting will not take more than 45 minutes.

Miskovice Missile Battery

This site is similar to the one in Tocna both in history and function. Unfortunately, possibly due to the immediate vicinity to a nearby village, this site was completely demolished. Only few traces remain of the original installation.

Accessing via the only way possible, you will soon meet traces of the outer fence, with vertical concrete posts and barbed wire.

The framework of inner roads can still be seen, albeit invaded by vegetation. The only visible remains are the round wall for the radar, and part of the access door to one of the shelters.

Getting there and moving around

I went to the Miskovice site as I expected it to be in a much better shape. Clearly, demolition works have hit here months before my visit, so that basically nothing remains here to see – just another lost occasion of sparing a piece of military history from total oblivion. While not far from Prague and easy to reach, I would not suggest to waste time in this location.

Dobris Missile Base

Together with another sister site in the vicinity of Brno (Rapotice), the Dobris base was part of the Czechoslovakian stronghold of the anti-aircraft defense line of the Eastern Bloc, countering intrusion from the nearby NATO forces operating mainly from West Germany.

This defense line was implemented in the final years of the Brezhnev leadership in the early 1980s, and comprised of ten missile bases, located in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria. It was based on the advanced SA-5 Gammon surface-to-air missile, known in the Soviet archives as S-200 Vega. Designed in the late 1960s, this massive anti-aircraft missile is still in service in many countries, offering a range of over 180 miles, a top altitude over 120’000 ft and a peak speed over Mach 4. It can carry a 450 lb warhead of conventional explosive, or a 25-kilotons nuclear warhead.

The missile battery of the SA-5 is typically composed of six 5P72 launchers, and a single radar 5N62 illuminating the target up to a distance of 180 miles.

The Dobris site, operated by the Czechoslovakian 71st Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, is an example of a really advanced launch facility for the SA-5 type. It is composed of three launch areas, with six launchers each, and correspondingly three 5N62 Square Pair radar antennas, making the three launch areas capable of working in parallel. Further antenna systems included a O-14 Tall King and a PRV-17 Odd Pair early warning radars, providing a seeking range of more than 350 miles at an altitude of 100’000 ft.

The area of the base in Dobris is correspondingly pretty large. The most notable feature are the incredible 60-ft-high concrete platforms where the square pair radars used to be placed. These structures are really unique, and clearly date from the latter, hi-tech stage of the Cold War era. The base was operative only in 1985, after four years of construction, carried out in secrecy by a force of 1’500 men. The areas was protected from intrusion by land, with a barbed wire fence and a concrete wall with watchtowers. All technical trails for operating the radar antennas and coordinating an attack, plus all power generators were sheltered in concrete bunkers, dug in the ground and covered in camo paint.

The base was deactivated at some point after the end of communism, for sure by the early 2000s. A private business has taken over the property, and a modern research center has been erected on the southern part of the former base. Thanks to its secluded place, sufficiently far from the city and deep in the trees, the area has come to our days in a relatively good shape. Due to the vicinity with a running business, exploring the launch part of the complex may be risky. This post covers only the more remote northern part, with the radar facilities and the control bunker.

Accessing the site from the north through the external fence and concrete wall still in good shape, you soon come to the first bunker, connected with the early warning O-14 Tall King. The bunker features two halls, which could host a control and signal processing trailer, and a power generation unit for the antenna. A corridor leads to a back door emerging to the ground level.

Holes in the ceiling allowed signal and power cables to reach the adjoining apron, where the antenna used to stay anchored. The Tall King was a massive 100-by-40 ft radar antenna, kept in place through six anchor points.

Pits and concrete pipes emerge from the ground all around the base. Moving southwest from the position of the Tall King radar, you will meet the monster structure supporting the Square Pair radar for one of the southernmost missile launch battery in the base (battery number 18 in the original maps). The support structure is accessible by a steep ramp, which allowed trailers for further electronic systems to climb on top of the platform.

The round wall on top of the platform provided the foundations of the radar antenna. Caution is needed here, for the center of the pavement is covered with some rubbish, deceiving a hole which allowed the power and signal cables of the antenna to run below the platform, and down into the nearby shelter.

The Square Pair operation trailers were hosted in that shelter, dug in the ground and featuring a single vault. Behind the main vault you can find smaller rooms with traces of technical gears – possibly for ventilation – and a service area for controllers and operators. A back door made access easier of the technicians.

The service roads leading to the three high platforms for the Square Pair radar antennas meet in the same point, where the control bunker of the base can be found. This bunker is interred and very large. It features three entrances on the front façade, leading to as many vaults.

Each vault contained a power generator close to the entrance. The right vault contained the K-9 combat control trailer, with sensors and computers, from where the whole Dobris site was controlled. The central vault hosted a K-21M electrical distribution group, and the left vault the K-7 control group, which was used to monitor the status of the base and the accuracy of the targeting system. The graffiti on the sidewall of one of the vault clearly date to later than 1993, the year of Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park feature!

To the blind end of the vaults a network of corridors and rooms can be accessed. This is interesting, for it features a protection system likely to be used in case of a serious threat to the base. This includes a system of tight doors, a ventilation system, showers and services typical to a decontamination facility.

This area is great fun to explore, but it is completely dark – a great environment for bats, like the one captured in this pic, purely by chance!

A powerful torchlight is mandatory for safely finding your way out. Traces of a control room – besides the trailer, which is clearly gone – can be found among other features of this interesting part of the bunker.

Just out of the control bunker you can find a building which served as a relax area for the troops. Traces of a gym can be found in one of the rooms.