Soviet Depots for Nuclear Warheads in the GDR

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR

Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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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 over time.

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 with some accuracy, albeit not easily. Conversely, much less is known about the deployment of Soviet nuclear arsenals over the territory of the former Eastern Bloc, making this segment of Cold War history especially mysterious.

History – in brief

In this Cold War 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 On the other hand, strategic warheads and missile systems could be withdrawn to within the USSR, as more technologically advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles had become available, making a hit of a foreign objective possible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 the deployment to the GDR of nuclear warheads for tactical or theater missiles.

Two depots were built anew in dedicated installations specifically for hosting such warheads. 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 being 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. The former was explored in the summer of 2019. The latter was explored a first time in 2019, and in a second instance with the guidance of its owner Manfred van Heerde and the nuclear scientist and historian Reiner Helling in 2021. As the Stolzenhain installation is still in a relatively good shape, you can also get an understanding of what the inside of these bunkers looks like, their design and specific features. Pictures of this installation from above can be found in another chapter (see here).

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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 (codenamed Monolith-type – see also this post for similar sites in nearby Poland, including one open as a museum). 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 service quarters for the troops. The two areas are arranged along a north-south direction, with the bunker area north of the barracks area.

Today, access to the barracks area is mostly 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 in private hands, and some demolition/reconstruction/conversion works are being carried out here. There is also a service building, 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.

In the years of operation, there used to be four large apartment blocks aligned in a row, just ahead of the entrance to the area of the barracks. These buildings were for the officials and their families. While still inside the external fence of the base, these apartments allowed more privacy and convenience, forming a de facto little Soviet village in the GDR, segregated from the surrounding German community. This housing has been completely demolished today. However, some trace of correlated ‘civilian’ facilities can be found to the south of the barracks area.

In particular, a swimming pool was built at a certain point in the history of the base, and it is still in a relatively good shape. Changing rooms for men and women are still there. A tall springboard and starting blocks still face the pool, which is apparently watertight, despite the greenish water not being really attractive!

The pool features an outer fence, with a service gate bearing a characteristic Soviet ‘diverging rays’ motif.

Another facility put specifically for comfort in this area is a sauna/bathing house, a widespread Russian tradition. The sauna building in Stolzenhain features several smaller adjoining rooms, with pools, sauna/Turkish bath areas, a central heater, as well as more general purpose sitting rooms with fireplaces. A video studio was also featured in this multi-functional building.

An interesting specimen of Soviet naive art, some frescoes adorn the walls of some of the rooms, with subjects ranging from sea life to women performing ‘spa activities’.

Still outside of the innermost military part, yet inside the external fence of the base, a training ground is to be found to the east of the military area, not too far from the spa building. A walk in the trees along the inner perimeter of the wall of the base is needed to reach this part. A control building with an observation post on top features plenty of instructions for tasks to be performed in a training exercise – in Russian!

Close by, a shooting range for light weapons (rifles, guns) can be found, again with precise indications on the distances to be taken from the target, marked by colored lines on the ground.

Back to the gate to the military barracks area and stepping inside, among the few surviving buildings is a former gym. Despite used as a storage today, the larger hall is clearly a former volleyball/basketball court. A referee chair is still hanging from the sidewall, and sport-themed frescoes decorate the walls.

Former hangars for trucks or technical vehicles can be found in the eastern part of the former barracks area, similar to traces of a fuel pump. As said, most of the former buildings here are now gone.

A special feature in the barracks area is a manhole with traces of a set of cables, pointing towards the highly secretive and guarded bunker area. Communication is of paramount importance for military practice. In the case of nuclear depots so far away from Moscow, a cable connection was implemented not to loose contact under any circumstances between the Soviet headquarters and this peripheral, yet so valuable facility. Pressurized cables were used, such that when an attempt to severe or intercept cable signals was carried out by the enemy cutting the cable, the external jacket was pierced, a loss of pressure was sensed, and an alarm was triggered immediately. Similarly, in the case of an accidental degeneration of the ground where the cable ran, the pressurized jacket was pierced triggering an alarm, allowing the technicians to repair the cable and restore contact.

An old and forgotten Soviet standard service container, typically transported by truck, can be found close to the manhole totally invaded by vegetation. From here, a view to the perimeter concrete wall around the innermost part of the site can be easily seen, with clear traces of camo paint.

Bunker Area

The area of the bunkers is fortified with a concrete wall with barbed wire on top running along all its perimeter. The size of the bunker is immediately apparent from above – you can look at some aerial pictures from a dedicated flight over the area, see this report. There is a gate connecting it to the barracks area. The only other gate to the bunker area, located north on the other end of the complex, opposite to the first gate, is partially obstructed.

For its entire length, the external wall of the bunker area is almost perfectly preserved, and abundant traces of camouflage can be easily spotted all along.

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 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 is 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 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.

The blue cabinets and piping in the pictures are part of the warhead monitoring plant. Each warhead – the actual number is part of the mystery, but there used to be several tens of them in each of the two bunkers on site! – was kept in a sealed shell, to keep sensitive nuclear material precisely in the required climatic condition. Constantly checking the condition of the warheads was part of the duty of the bunker personnel. For the task, each warhead was moved to the hall and connected to the piping, to take measurements of temperature, pressure, atmospheric composition and similar parameters. In case of an anomaly, the warhead was resent to a major technical facility in the USSR (in particular, in Belarus for the Stolzenhain warheads), for fixing.

To the opposite end of the main hall from the entrance 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 not difficult to argue, and looking at some details it is possible to make some easy 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 for water, placed in a room close by, painted in green and highly damaged.

Going further along the corridor, you can find a toilet. Poor drainage – don’t forget this floor is entirely underground – meant that the troops spending their shift in the bunker did not use the toilet much, and climbed out of the bunker for their necessities.

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 a potential scenario, a stress was put on this type of countermeasure.

The diesel engine is earmarked with a Soviet label, witnessing its origin! Similarly, electric motors and components scattered on ground – part of the ventilation system – are ‘made in CCCP’.

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 mechanical workshops, but also facilities for dealing with contaminated or poisonous material, in particular that of nuclear warhead triggers. This is further witnessed 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.