German and Soviet Military Traces in Jüterbog

The area around Jüterbog, about 1 hour and 15 minutes south of Berlin by car, has enjoyed a long military tradition, dating from the years of the Kaiser and WWI, through the Third Reich and all the more than four decades of the Cold War, until the departure of the Soviet Army in the early 1990s.

Almost for the entire duration of the 20th century, the area has been scattered with barracks, immense training grounds, shooting ranges, officer’s houses, army administration buildings, technical depots, airports and military academies.

The town of Jüterbog is actually much older than the 20th century, but the Soviets, who grew to a much greater population than the Germans in town after 1945, did not pay much attention to this nice medieval town. Following their withdrawal and the end of all military operations around, the town center received substantial money for restoration from the Government of reunified Germany, and the result is really remarkable – Jüterbog is today possibly one of the most lively and nice-looking centers in the region, with medieval towers, gates and churches, hotels, restaurants and bright-painted houses all around.

However, one hundred years of military activities in this province could not be wiped out at once, and despite nature is now invading the old army premises after operations ceased, to a careful eye the heritage of the German and Soviet Armies stationed there can be spotted quite easily, immediately out the lovely historical town.

Perhaps the most prominent witnesses of the past activities are the old flight academy, installed in the Third Reich years and later employed also by the Soviets, who got control of the area after they arrived in 1945, and kept it even after the foundation of the GDR and the corresponding Armed Forces (i.e. the Nationale Volksarmee, or NVA). The flight academy is today a listed building, despite in a state of partial disrepair. Another example is the big airbase of Jüterbog/Altes Lager, which went on operating as an NVA and Soviet airbase until the very end of the Cold War, and is now being used as a sport airfield, a kart circuit track, an event venue and a solar power plant.

Both these two items are covered in another chapter.

In the following report, more locations in and around Jüterbog are pinpointed, photographed during two visits, partly guided by the knowledgeable Dr. Reiner Helling, in the Summer seasons of 2021 and 2022.

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Sights

The material in this post covers ‘Shelter Albrecht’, a one-of-a-kind private collection of items from WWII and especially from Soviet times, more views of the former airfield of Altes Lager, with a Granit bunker still in very good conditions, an abandoned military hospital with evident traces of Soviet operations, a Soviet cemetery, and a few more items, silent and overlooked witnesses of a recently bygone era.

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Shelter Albrecht

The airbase of Jüterbog/Altes Lager was selected by the Soviets for further development with the arrival of jets in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and grew to be a prominent attack aircraft and helicopter base in the territory of the GDR. Now reduced in size to the point that some taxiways have been turned into public roads, some of the incredibly many aircraft shelters originally in place in the peripheral parts of the base – mostly AU-16 – have been wiped out. However, a set of two to the east of the runway have been spared this fate, and have been redeemed by a private business. One has been turned into a venue for events, whereas the other has been employed to showcase a great collection of WWII and Cold War memorabilia. Actually, the two hangars are located inside a somewhat larger perimeter, with an original technical building and room for even more exhibits.

A first impressive sight is the original Soviet scheme of the base. Similar signs were typically put close to the gate of any Soviet base (as seen for instance here in Ribnitz/Damgarten), and with their Russian writings today they witness the Soviet tenancy of the base.

On the apron, an original military version of the ubiquitous Trabant, in army green color, is on display together with a field kitchen and a gigantic roadwork machine. The latter is Russian made, with tank tracks, and powered by a 12-cylinder Diesel engine.

A Mil Mi-2 helicopter, which for some hard-to-imagine reason had ended up on the Adriatic coast of Italy in a private collection, where it sat almost derelict, has been brought back to the other side of the Iron Curtain, and restored in a camo coat and placed in a prominent position. Not far, a wing from an old Lavochin La-5 Soviet aircraft can be found.

Still on the open air exhibition are a decorated panel once gracing a Soviet hospital – possibly the one described later (here) – and another celebrating the Warsaw Pact. But the exhibits are really countless, and include propaganda posters, and canisters for ordnance.

To the side of the main exhibition hangar, in the area of an interred fuel tank once serving the base, is an incredible set of Soviet panels, originally from this or other Soviet bases around. These panels are partly decoration/celebration signs, with portraits of Soviet soldiers and emblems.

Other are technically-themed, with explanations concerning driving habits and rules, hand-to-hand combat, and more. Similar items, including fake targets for assault training, can be found for instance in Forst Zinna, an abandoned Soviet base not far from Jüterbog (covered here).

Also part of the collection is a rare mural, apparently retracing the push to the west of a Soviet division (?) during the Great Patriotic War.

Inside, the aircraft shelter is stuffed with interesting memorabilia. From WWII, exhibits include remains of downed aircraft, including damaged engines, propellers and canopies. Among them are remains of an Avro Lancaster, a Focke-Wulf 190, a Junkers Ju-87 and the canopy of a pretty rare training (two-seats) version of the Messerschmitt Bf-109.

Four large scale models cover as many interesting sights around. The first is the former flight academy of the Third Reich (mentioned above and covered here), north of the Altes Lager airbase premises. Also on display are books and furniture originally from the library of the academy.

A second model portrays the entire area between the academy (north) and the airfield (south), including the latter. This area, now largely shrouded in the trees and partially in private hands, used to host technical installations and even factories connected with warfare business – all linked by an extensive network of roads and railways.

Another model is that of two airship hangars from the years of German tenancy. These had to be really huge, but are today completely gone. Among the factories in place in the area, were those for supplying gas for the airships.

Finally, a fourth scale model represents the older airfield of Jüterbog/Damm. The latter is not far from Altes Lager, and is today in private hands for some cattle breeding business. It features very peculiar concrete hangars, an interesting specimen of Third Reich construction engineering. Some aerial pictures can be found here. That airfield was not selected for further development by the Soviets, due to the limited potential for runway lengthening, in turn due to the proximity with Jüterbog town.

Soviet-related items on display range from painted tables, originally gracing the walls of the base, to technical signs in Russian, to a full array of personal and military items, all belonging to the Soviet staff stationed in Jüterbog. These include an interesting overall map of the Soviet airfields on GDR territory, with basic technical data.

Among the highlights, an official printed portrait of Stalin, and one of Brezhnev in a military uniform, parachutes and parts from attack aircraft, many direction signs and instructional panels for low-ranking military staff. Also very interesting is a radar scope with the three air corridors to West-Berlin and the position of Altes Lager printed on it!

Of special interest for aircraft enthusiasts are many pictures from the days of operation of the airbase, with many exotic Soviet aircraft seen landing, departing or taxiing around.

Other panels tells about the presence of rocket forces in the area of Jüterbog – in particular the 27th R.Br. of the NVA. They operated the SCUD-B system.

Back outside, the exhibition is completed by an original monument from Altes Lager, often employed as a background for official ceremonies, and more personal memorabilia of the owner of the museum, formerly serving within a tank division of the NVA.

Reconstructed shops and schools are on display, with much original furniture and everyday items of Soviet make.

Getting there and Visiting

The place is really worth a visit for everybody interested in memorabilia items from Soviet times, or for those looking for tangible traces of the military past of Jüterbog. The location is easy to reach by car, with a convenient internal parking. The address is Niedergörsdorfer Allee 4, 14913 Niedergörsdorf, Germany.

An updated official website with opening times is apparently not available. However, Mr. Helmut Stark, the owner of the place, may be contacted beforehand (in German only) to inquire about opening times and plan a visit – try Googling his name and that of the site for updated contacts. The place is regularly open at least in the weekends in the warm season. A visit to this site will be likely with Mr. Stark following you and giving explanations in German. This will take about 45 minutes.

Granit Bunker and Hangars in Jüterbog/Altes Lager

Some views of the Altes Lager airbase are provided in this chapter, and some aerial views can be seen here. The huge, flat-top hangars date from the Third Reich era, and similarly the control tower with its annexes. Some of the hangars were reportedly dismounted by the Soviets and taken to the Soviet Union soon after the end of WWII.

Besides all the aircraft shelters scattered all around the runway, a relevant and pretty secluded Soviet addition north of the airfield is a Soviet Granit-type bunker. This type of bunker was among the lightest in Soviet inventory, and could serve multiple purposes, e.g. storing movable radar trucks, tanks, other machinery, or weapons. Actually, its presence on an airfield may suggest the purpose of storing special air-dropped weapons, maybe tactical nuclear, high-explosive or chemical ordnance.

Bunkers of Granit-type are possibly the most frequent special constructions in former Soviet bases (see for instance here or here), but the one in Jüterbog is interesting since it is very well conserved, and its massive metal doors are still perfectly in place, providing a nice impression of how this technical item should have looked like in the days of operation.

Getting there and Visiting

The airport of Altes Lager is today pretty busy, with several companies having taken over much of its original premises now open for business. Multiple access points are available, and chances of looking inside the original installations are many. Given the still exceptional state of conservation of the Granit bunker, in order to protect this rare historical artifact from the impressive hordes of catatonic idiot spoilers and writers out there, no indication is provided on its exact location.

Military Hospital

Among the buildings now shrouded by the overgrown vegetation in the area between Jüterbog/Altes Lager airfield and the town of Jüterbog is a sizable military hospital. Totally invisible from the road, the hospital is basically made of a single, building featuring three long interconnected rows.

It is made of the typical German dark-red brick, a design which is way too elegant for Soviet occupants. The arrangement of the facade and the nice railings suggest a construction date from the years of the Kaiser and the German Empire, maybe early 20th century.

However, the years of Soviet use are witnessed by a big mural, portraying Lenin with some Soviet soldiers in the background, with a black and yellow striped ribbon and a red star, emblems of the Red Army.

To the more careful eye, a few graffiti in Russian can be found here and there, with a date as usual.

The aura is very silent and mysterious, and as such, this location is a mecca for urban explorers. Actually, the only noise came from a fast spinning ventilation fan in a window frame! This was pushed by an air stream however, not likely by a motor…

Some more buildings complete this complex, and original GDR-style lamps can still be seen around – the tall trees now surrounding the building were likely not in place when the hospital was closed, presumably in the early 1990s.

Getting there and Moving around

Not difficult to find in the trees between Jüterbog and the airfield of Altes Lager, there is no clear interdiction sign to access this complex from behind, yet vibration sensors planted in the ground can be spotted around, and some security cars can be seen sometimes parked on the main road. A walk around the hospital is not especially dangerous nor difficult, and may take about 25 minutes taking all the pictures. The building is architecturally nice and possibly listed. Yet it is in partial disrepair and largely sealed, and getting in is obviously not advisable.

Soviet Cemetery

The only relic of the years of Soviet occupation which is immediately visible to the general public in Jüterbog is the Soviet military cemetery. This is located to the back of the Liebfrauenkirche, in the historical center of Jüterbog.

Actually, a monumental part, with railings embellished with hammer and sickle emblems and a monument with writings in German and Russian to the back, is detached from the church yard.

However, possibly in later times, the limited space available in the lot originally planned for the monument meant some graves were dug right in the church graveyard, side by side – but not mixed – with German graves.

Getting there and Visiting

The exact address is Am Dammtor, 14913 Jüterbog, Germany. The place is well-kept, being part of the historical city center of Jüterbog. Parking opportunities all around on the street. A visit may take 10 minutes.

Railway Yard, School and Command Building

The town of Jüterbog acted as a ‘local capital’ for the many Soviet troops and their families scattered in the corresponding district. The hospital (see above) was not the only large installation in place. A district school was also installed, which served not only the very town of Jüterbog – with a Russian-speaking population of more than 70.000, greater than the German nationals – but also the residing Soviet population of smaller technical installations in the area. A notable example is the impressive nuclear depot in Stolzenhain (see here), where a dedicated staff and their families occupied four residential blocks now gone. Their children reportedly attended school in Jüterbog.

The school is today largely abandoned, and a quick tour around reveals typical Soviet decorations in the large sporting hall.

The school building is geographically close to the railway station. The latter had a passenger terminal dedicated to the Soviet population, which was completely segregated from the German one.

Furthermore, the railway in Jüterbog had also a primary logistic function, connected with the military activities going on in the area. Besides transporting tanks, vehicles and other material, also nuclear warheads arrived by rail from Belarus or Ukraine (both in the USSR at the time), for storage in the Stolzenhain Monolith-type bunkers (see here). A special railway track with a dead end in the trees featured a special interchange platform, allowing to move the sensitive warheads in their controlled canisters to trucks, and by road to Stolzenhain – usually at night. Since warheads were also sent back for maintenance or overhaul, the transport operated also in the opposite direction.

Very close to the railway station and the school is also a large grassy area, surrounded by a nice, old-style metal fence. This area is that of an older training ground, dating to the years of the Kaiser. A command building, now in disrepair, betrays the same origin, featuring decorations in a typical old-German style.

Getting there and Moving around

The school can be found in Jüterbog here. Cross the street from the school, the old training grounds and command building are immediately spotted. Walking north past the command building, you get access to a pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, with a nice view of the station. An exploration of the railway tracks has to be considered extremely dangerous, since the railway line there is today a high-speed one, with bullet-fast trains appearing in just seconds. A walk around this spot in Jüterbog may take 15 minutes. Parking opportunities ahead of the command building.

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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.

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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.