Soviet Depots for Nuclear Warheads in the GDR

Despite their great destructive potential and strategic relevance, nuclear assets were deployed far from the ‘centers of power’ in Moscow and Washington by both the USSR and the US. As the front of the Cold War was especially ‘hot’ along the border between the Warsaw Pact and NATO Countries in central Europe, large arsenals of nuclear weapons were deployed to the area, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and in several instances.

On the western side this was not hidden and led often times to protests in countries like the UK, West Germany and Italy, so that the history of the presence of a nuclear arsenal in those Countries can be traced without much mystery. Conversely, much less is known about the deployment of Soviet nuclear arsenals over the territory of the former Eastern Bloc.

History – in brief

In this scenario, the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or DDR in German) received special consideration by the Soviets. Thanks to its advanced position in Europe and the local, much trusted ‘hardcore’ communist regime, the USSR planned the deployment of early strategic missiles – SS-3 Shyster and SS-4 Sandal – starting already in the late Fifties, the years of Khrushchev. Traces of an actual deployment exist in Vogelsang and Furstenberg, about one hour driving north of Berlin (see this post about Vogelsang, and this about the mysterious deployment of missiles in the area).

Later on, in the early years of Brezhnev as leader of the USSR, it was decided that for a prompter and more flexible response in case of an attack, nuclear warfare especially for tactical use should be deployed outside of the USSR borders, to Countries in close proximity with the West. On the other hand, strategic warheads and missile systems could be withdrawn to within the USSR, as more technologically advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles had become available, making a hit of a foreign objective possible even from deep inside the Soviet borders.

Consequently, deployment of air launched nuclear warfare started in selected Soviet airbases, which were really not in any shortage in the GDR – considering both the national air force (NVA) and the Soviet aviation, the DDR used to be one of the world’s top countries in terms of airbases per square mile, or per resident. You can see several posts on former Soviet bases in the GDR on this website (look here, here and here).

For military corps not operating from airbases – especially missile brigades – the headquarters of the Red Army in Moscow deemed necessary to deploy to the GDR nuclear warfare for tactical or theater missiles.

Two depots were built anew in dedicated installations. One was in Stolzenhain, codenamed ‘Objekt 4000’ and sometimes referred to as Linda (the name of a village nearby), close to the highly-militarized area of Juterbog (see this post) and Kloster Zinna, about one hour driving south of Berlin. The other was again close to Furstenberg, and named Lychen-2, and codenamed ‘Objekt 4001’.

The nuclear bunkers in Stolzenhain and Lychen were payed for by the GDR – through a governmental agreement with the USSR – which always detained official property of the facilities, and were built by German workers, around the year 1967. Once ready, in 1968 the bunkers were handed over to Soviet staff, and the corresponding areas totally closed to non-Soviets. The bunkers, as other similar facilities in other Countries of the Warsaw Pact, communicated directly with Moscow, as similarly to the US, only the top of the command chain could authorize the use of nuclear forces.

The facilities were kept running until the end of the Cold War. Control was officially given back to the agonizing GDR in 1990, the Soviets having transferred all valuable material to the (agonizing) USSR.

Here the story splits for the two installations. While the Lychen bunker has been selected for interment, the installation largely demolished around 2015, forgotten and reclaimed by nature, as of 2019 the Stolzenhain bunker is in a far better condition, apparently in private hands, and albeit plans for it are sadly similar to Lychen, it may be still in time to be turned into a unique, world-class museum.

About this post

This post covers both Lychen-2 and Stolzenhain bunkers, explored in summer 2019, thus providing a complete picture and overview of what you can find until today. As the Stolzenhain installation is still in a relatively good shape, you can also have a look at what the inside of these bunkers looks like.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

Sights

Objekt 4000 – Stolzenhain

The Stolzenhain bunker, aka ‘bunker Linda’, due to the name of a nearby village, is a perfect specimen of this type of construction. It is composed of two adjoining sub-parts – an area with larger barracks and soft constructions, and a larger area were two twin bunkers for warheads are located, together with smaller service buildings and smaller quarters for the troops. The two areas are arranged along a north-southern direction, with the bunker area north of the barracks area.

Today, access to the barracks area is partially interdicted – you may venture in by foot, but there is a gate which does not allow getting in by car, despite the relatively good condition of the road. The premises are likely in private hands, and some demolition/reconstruction/conversion works are being carried out here. There is also a house, looking like a private residence, built in recent times.

Main Gate and Outer Buildings

The main access road features typical prefabricated concrete slabs, found in most Soviet/communist installations everywhere in eastern Europe. Halfway between the external gate and the barracks area, traces of an external wall can be found, with a couple of ‘welcome stones’.

A closer look to the slabs reveal a rather poor quality material used for manufacture. Writings are excerpts of the Soviet constitution, presented as mottoes in Russian, with some communist symbols.

The barracks and some softer constructions date from the Seventies – the frieze on the sidewalls of the buildings tells it quite clearly. The area is protected by a concrete wall, bearing a probably original greenish camouflage.

Bunker Area

The area of the bunkers is fortified with a concrete wall with barbed wire on top running along all its perimeter. There is a gate connecting it to the barracks area, but it is currently obstructed. Similarly, the only other gate to the bunker area, located north on the other end of the complex, opposite to the first gate, is not easy to use.

The external wall of the bunker area is almost perfectly preserved, and abundant traces of camouflage can be easily spotted.

Inside the wall, you soon find a fence of barbed wire with concrete posts, again standard for Soviet military installations. Some sections of the barbed wire are very well preserved, albeit rusty. The overgrown vegetation looks like the only difference between now and the years when the bunker was in operation!

Inside the barbed wire fence, you find traces of an exceptional system of trenches and turrets, which should have granted protection to the innermost part of the complex – the storage bunkers. There are turrets of many kinds, including one which looks like the dome of a tank, re-used for the purpose – a feature also of the Atlantic Wall and the Salpa Line (see here). Such a degree of protection is extraordinary also with respect to other military installations. Abundant traces of barbed wire-holders along the tranches can be easily spotted. The site was clearly considered as an objective of special value, to be seriously defended in case of an attack from the West.

Close to the center of the large fenced area, you soon reach the bunkers (there are a western and an eastern bunker, described below), which despite being mostly underground, feature a small mound on top which allow spotting them from the distance.

Western Nuclear Storage Bunker

Access for the warheads is at the level of the ground. There are two large tight doors corresponding to the two ends of the main hall of the bunker. Below you can see a 3D sketch of the bunker, from a placard found close to Objekt 4001 (the Lychen bunker), describing the inner layout.

By one of the entrances to the bunker there is a small loading/unloading platform for two trucks. The apron connecting the platform to the bunker door used to be covered by prefabricated roof tiles – rich in asbestos – and covered with artificial vegetation, of which some traces remain.

The area is overlooked by a firing turret, seating above the front of the bunker.

The external tight door gives access to an airlock, a small square compartment closed to the opposite end by another identical door. This can be possibly explained in view of the need to protect the innermost part of the bunker from attacks by means of high-yield weapons. A similar architecture can be found in a Soviet nuclear depot in Szprotawa, Poland (see this post).

From the airlock you get access to a suspended platform, from which you can appreciate the storage facilities of the bunker. There is a main hall, where the warheads were lowered by means of a motorized crane from the suspended platform down to the underground level. From there, they were moved to one of the four long storage chamber, all accessible on the same side of the main hall.

Temperature and humidity of the main hall and storage rooms were perfectly controlled. Ventilation pipes and an impressive array of hangers for heat exchangers can be seen in the main hall.

Access to the underground floor from the suspended platform is only possible with a ladder, passing through a narrow hatch – as usual, it’s hard to understand why the Russians (or the Germans in this case) built passages so narrow and uncomfortable, considering they are not among the shortest human types on Earth… – see this post for another brilliant example…

The storage rooms are very long, and traces of strongpoints possibly for anchoring the warheads safely on ground can be seen surfacing on the floor. The doors between the main hall and the storage rooms, where present, don’t appear to be tight. Most writing is in Russian, but some labels are in German. This can be explained with the bunkers being realized by GDR personnel, upon requirements by the Soviets.

To the opposite end of the main hall from the entrance there is another identical entrance, with a suspended platform and an airlock. In the case of this bunker, the most external tight door to the far end has been taken off its hinges and put on the floor, whereas that between the airlock and the main hall has been permanently shut.

Back to the main hall, on the opposite side of the storage rooms on the underground floor, it is possible to access a service area, with several smaller rooms connected by a narrow corridor. The function of each room is difficult to argue, but looking at some details it is possible to make some hypothesis.

Electric actuation for the ventilation system may be the function of a first room.

What looks like a kind of hydraulic pumping/water filtering system is located next door, split over three adjoining rooms. The system has been pulled down to the ground, but it is not severely damaged.

Next you can find a reservoir, likely for water, placed in a room close by, painted in green and highly damaged.

Going further along the corridor, you can find a toilet.

Further on, you can see a room which is probably a sleeping room for the troops stationed inside the bunker. A heat exchanger and traces of a sink on the wall may support this theory. Air ducts leading to the surface can be found in recesses close by.

A room with traces of electric material and an electric panel outside may have been an electric power control facility, maybe even a cable communication facility.

Further on, you get access to a power station, where clear traces of a diesel system for supplying electric energy to the bunker can be found. A big reservoir painted in yellow may have been the diesel fuel tank. A stator of an electrical generator can be seen on the floor. Parts of a diesel engine can be found, and what may have been tanks for lubrication oil can be seen on the walls. As it often happens with defense bunkers – even for larger defensive forts since before WWII – the installation was usually powered from the outside grid in peacetime, but it had to be capable of staying active in case of an attack and failure of the external grid. Hence backup generators can be found in most underground bunkers since the 20th century. Especially in the atomic age, when a nuclear attack on the installation was considered as a potential scenario, a stress was put on this type of countermeasure.

Traces of lubrication oil can be found on panels on the floor. Between the power station and the main corridor, a side door gives access to a ladder going up. This was likely the ‘normal’ pedestrian access to the bunker.

A few more service rooms can be accessed from the main underground hall, through doors on its short sides, under the suspended balconies. There were probably mechanical workshops, but maybe also facilities for dealing with contaminated or poisonous material. This is further supported by traces in the eastern bunker (see below), and by special valves installed on the ventilation system in those rooms.

Getting out and climbing on top of the bunker, it is possible to spot several air hatches for the ventilation system (including that of the power station), as well as a metal cabin covering the ladder giving access to the service rooms in the bunker – the ‘normal’ pedestrian access cited above.

A loading/unloading facility, larger than the one on the other side and with platforms of different sizes numbered from 1 to 4, can found also by the other gate of the bunker, which as noted is sealed.

Also here, an asbestos-rich roof can be found in the truck docking area, but there is no superstructure covering the apron leading to the door of the bunker.

Eastern Nuclear Storage Bunker

A large concrete road forms an ‘8’ around the two nuclear storage bunkers. The bunkers are identical, but for some reason the eastern bunker was built tilted by 90° with respect to the western one.

The gate on one end of the bunker has been partially interred. The large apron leading to the truck loading facility is not covered. Traces of a fire emergency system can be found. Many hatches can be seen on top of the bunker, not all well conserved. One of them carries the curious inscription ‘Baku’, the capital city of the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, written in Russian – as elsewhere in Soviet military installations, maybe the troops stationed here marked the place with the name of their city of origin (see this post).

The bunker is slightly better preserved than the western one. The motorized cranes can be see on top of the main hall – nominal capacity is 32 tonnes.

The array of heat exchangers for temperature control on the side of the hall is clearly visible. A pressure gauge dates back to 1967. The storage rooms keep trace of a ventilation system, yet today humidity is damaging the inside of the bunker.

An exploration of the service rooms, accessible from the main hall opposite the storage rooms, reveals a water pumping/filtering system and a water tank in their original positions.

The toilet, complete of toilet brush, is placed on top of a platform – the composition is so perfect that it looks like a weird ‘monument to a toilet’!

Here the air pumps are better preserved than the in the western bunker, with fans still in place and air ducts pointing upwards to the roof of the installation.

A room possibly for the shift on duty, with a heat exchanger and sink, features a supporting structure possibly made for beds. The electric panels in the adjoining room confirm its function as a control center for electric supply.

Before reaching the power station at the far end of the service corridor, a side passage gives access to a room with huge air filters. This looks very similar to the filtering system of other military installations elsewhere – see this post for instance. Big green canisters are still there with writings in Russian. These were needed for survival inside the bunker, in case of an attack with nuclear or chemical weapons, which would have made outside air poisonous.

The area of the power station is similar to that in the other bunker, except the diesel engine, which is somewhat in a better shape. A big radiator, looking from an old-style truck, has been put alongside a large fan. More radiators can be found in the room, which is also stuffed with air ducts in a bad shape and tanks.

The smaller service rooms accessible from below the suspended platforms are basically empty, except one with a transparent case, likely for manipulating contaminated material. Holes for thick rubber gloves, and even remains of the gloves themselves, can be clearly spotted. The ventilation system in this room features particular valves.

Outside, also on the far end you can find a docking station for trucks. This has been used more recently as a deposit for asbestos tiles, and venturing should be avoided. On top of the bunker, the metal case with the ladder descending into the underground part, as well as the ladder itself, have been demolished to hamper access.

Other Buildings

In the premises of the fortified bunker area there are also other smaller service buildings. Their function is difficult to guess. Most of them display writings in Cyrillic.