Soviet Nuclear Bunkers in the Czech Republic

History – In brief

After the end of WWII and the collapse of the Third Reich, the territory now belonging to the Czech Republic fell on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain. Together with today’s Slovakia, it formed the now disappeared unitary state of Czechoslovakia. Despite laying right on the border with the West – including Bavaria, which was part of West Germany and NATO – communist Czechoslovakia enjoyed a relative autonomy from the USSR, until the announced liberally-oriented reforms of the local communist leader Dubcek in the spring of 1968 triggered a violent reaction by the Soviet leader of the time, Leonid Brezhnev (see here). About 250’000 troops from the Warsaw Pact, including the USSR, landed in the Country. As a result, the Soviets established a more hardcore and USSR-compliant local communist regime, and largely increased their military presence.

Similar to the German Democratic Republic (see here for instance), Hungary (see here) or Poland (see here), since then also in Czechoslovakia the local national Army was flanked by a significant contingent of Soviet troops, who left only after the entire Soviet-fueled communist empire started to crumble, at the beginning of the 1990s.

Consequently, for the last two decades of the Cold War, Czechoslovakia was a highly militarized country similar to other ones in the Warsaw Pact (see here). Its geographical position on the border with the West meant it received supply for a high-technology anti-aircraft barrier (see here). Two major airbases in Czechoslovakia were taken over for use by the Soviets and strongly potentiated (see here).

Soviet Nuclear Depots in Czechoslovakia

Beside conventional forces, also nuclear warheads were part of the arsenal deployed in this Country. Where in the late 1960s Soviet strategic nuclear forces were already mostly based on submarine-launched missiles and ICBMs ground-launched from within the USSR’s borders, tactical forces were forward-deployed to satellite countries, to be readily operative in case of war in Europe. Missile systems like the SCUD, Luna (NATO: Frog) and Tochka (NATO: Scarab) were deployed to the Warsaw Pact, supplying either the local Armies or the Soviet forces on site. Typically armed with conventional warheads, these systems were compatible with nuclear warheads too, making them more versatile, and of great use in case of a war against NATO forces in central and western Europe (see here).

Irrespective of their employment by a local national Army or a Soviet missile force, nuclear warheads were kept separated from the rest of the missile system for security, and invariably under strict and exclusive Soviet control. Bunker sites were purpose built in all components of the Warsaw Pact for storing nuclear warheads – see page 46 of this CIA document, showing with some accuracy the location of the corresponding bases.

Granit– and Basalt-type bunkers were typically prepared on airfields or artillery bases, for short-term storage of soon-to-be-launched nuclear weapons. Instead, top-security Monolith-type bunkers (the triangles on the map in the CIA document) were intended for long-term storage of nuclear ordnance.

Monolith-type bunkers were built by local companies on a standard design in the Soviet military inventory, and were implemented in satellite Countries in the late 1960s. Czechoslovakia received three such sites, which took the names Javor 50, by the town of Bílina, Javor 51, close to Míšov, and Javor 52, close to the town of Bělá pod Bezdězem. All three locations are in the north-western regions of today’s Czech Republic.

The Soviet military started withdrawing the nuclear warheads from satellite Countries in 1989, months before the collapse of the wall in Berlin. As for Czechoslovakia, by 1990 all nuclear forces had been moved back to the USSR. Following the end of the Cold War, Monolith-bunkers – similar to most of the colossal inventory of forward-deployed military installations formerly set up by the Soviet Union – were declared surplus by the Countries where they had been implemented.

These primary relics of the Cold War have known since then different destinies. Some of them have been hastily demolished, and together with their associated fragments of recent history, they have almost completely disappeared into oblivion. Luckily, a few are currently still in private hands, and still in existence (see here and here) – specimens of recent military technology, and a vivid memento from recent history, when the map of Europe looked very different from now. Two can be visited, of which one is Javor 51, in the Czech Republic, the main topic of this post. This has been turned into the ‘Atom Museum’, which has the distinction of being the only Monolith-type site in the world offering visits on a regular schedule (the other open site is Podborsko, in Poland, covered here, which is open by appointment).

Also displayed in the following are some pictures of the now inaccessible site Javor 52 in former Czechoslovakia. Photographs were taken in 2020 (Javor 52) and 2022 (Javor 51).

Sights

Javor 51 – The Atom Museum, Míšov

An exceptionally well preserved and high-profile witness of the Cold War, the nuclear depot Javor 51 is a good example of a Monolith-type installation. These bases were centered around two identical semi-interred bunkers for nuclear warheads.

When starting a visit, you will soon make your way to the unloading platform of bunker Nr.1. The shape of the metal canopy, and the small control booth with glass windows overlooking the platform are pretty unique to this site. The metal wall fencing the unloading area is still in its camo coat outside, and greenish paint inside. Caution writings in Russian are still clearly visible. Concrete slabs clearly bear the date of manufacture – 1968. This site was reportedly activated on the 26th of December, 1968.

Even the lamps look original. Some of the – likely – tons of material left by the Soviets on the premises of this site has been put on display ahead of the massive bunker door.

The opening mechanism of the latter is a nice work of mechanics. Four plugs actually lock or unlock the door. They can be moved by means of a manual crank, or likely in the past via an electric mechanism (some wiring is still visible). The thickness of the doors is really impressive (look for the cap of my wide lens on the ground in a picture below for comparison!).

Each bunker had two ground-level entrances to the opposite ends, each with two blast-proof doors in a sequence. Warheads were transported by truck, unloaded beside the entrance of one of the two bunkers, and carried inside through the two doors, which constituted an air-tight airlock.

Today, you can see the inside main hall of the bunkers from the outside during a visit. This was likely not the case in the days of operation. The opening procedure required a request signal to travel all the way to Moscow, and a trigger signal traveling in the opposite direction. Once past the first (external) door with the warhead trolley, that door was shut, and the procedure was repeated for the second door, giving access to the inside of the bunker.

A security trigger told Moscow when the door was open. It can still be seen hanging from top of the door frame.

Once inside, you find yourself on a suspended concrete platform. The warhead trolley had to be lowered via a crane – still in place – to the bottom of the cellar ahead, i.e. to the underground level. The stairs now greatly facilitating visitor’s motion around the bunker were not in place back then, and descending to the underground level for the technicians was via a hatch in the floor of the suspended platform, and a ladder close to the side wall.

On the platform, an original Soviet-made air conditioning system can be seen – with original labeling – and signs in Russian are on display on the walls.

The platform is also a vantage point to see the extensive array of heat-exchangers put along a sidewall of the central hall – atmosphere control was of primary importance for the relatively delicate nuclear warheads. Each of them traveled and was kept in a pressurized canister. However, also the storage site was under careful atmospheric control.

To the opposite end of the bunker, the inner tight door of the second entrance can be clearly seen, ahead of another suspended platform. The warheads left the bunker for maintenance (they might have left also for use, but this never happened, except possibly on drills) from that entrance, which had a loading platform outside for putting the warheads on trucks (this can be better seen in other Monolith sites, like Urkut in Hungary, or Stolzenhain in Germany).

Down on the lower level, the main bunker hall gives access to one side to four big cellars, where the warheads spent their time in storage, and to the other sides to technical rooms. The pavement in the storage cellars features the original metal strongpoints, used to anchor the trolleys for the warheads to the ground. This was in case of a shockwave investing the site in an attack, to avoid the trolleys moving and crashing against one another. The original hooks with spherical joints to link the trolley to the strongpoints are also on display.

The storage cellars today have been used to display informative panels, with many interesting pictures and schemes. These include some from major sites connected with the history of nuclear weaponry in the Soviet Union (like from the test site of Semipalatinsk) and the US (like the Titan Museum near Tucson, AZ, covered in this post).

A few former technical rooms are used to store much original technical gear. This ranges from spare parts, tools and personal gear like working suits left by the Soviets (most with signs in Russian), to items ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ or even radiation detectors from Britain and the West, gathered here for display and comparison.

Some of these spare parts are wrapped and sealed in Russian, looking like they were cataloged back in the time of operations.

In the main hall, many rare vintage pictures retrace the presence of Soviet military forces on this site as well as others in Czechoslovakia. Magnified copies of rare pictures portray the trucks, canisters and the very warheads likely involved in transport and storage in Javor 51. Actually, much mystery exists around the deployment of nuclear ordnance by the USSR outside its borders (not only to Czechoslovakia). Historical and technical information today made available, even to a dedicated public, is very limited, making this chapter of Cold War history even more intriguing.

Again in the central hall, cabinets for monitoring the nuclear warheads can be seen hanging from the walls, painted in blue. Each warhead used to be stored in a canister, which was periodically linked to these cabinets to check the inner atmosphere, temperature, etc., in order to monitor the health of its very sensitive content.

A large part of the technical/living rooms has been preserved in its original appearance. You can see parts of an air conditioning system, a big water tank, a toilet, a now empty bedroom for the troops. The bunker was constantly manned inside by typically six people, who operated in shifts. They did not sleep there, nor used the toilet much due to poor drainage. However, these facilities were used in drills, and were intended for the case of real war operations, when the bunker might have been sealed from the outside.

The electric cabinets take a dedicated room, like the huge air filters and pumps (Soviet made), installed to grant survival of the people inside the bunker in case of an attack with nuclear weapons or other special warfare. Clearly, the level of safety in the design of the bunker stemmed from the fact that it was considered by the Soviet as a a strategic target for NATO forces.

The last technical rooms host a big Diesel generator, supplied with air from the outside, and a big fuel tank in an adjoining room. Many labels bear writings in Russian, but the generator appears to be made in Czechoslovakia. The bunker was linked to the usual electric power grid of the region, and the generator was intended for emergency operations, in case the grid was lost or the bunker was isolated.

From the technical area, it was possible to access or exit the bunker, via a human-size airlock. The innermost tight door can be seen painted in yellow, with a locking mechanism resembling that of the major tight doors for the missile warheads. Outside the airlock, climbing three levels of ladders was required to get to the surface. This was the normal access to the bunker for the military technical staff, except when warheads arrived or left the storage (this was made via the major entrances, as explained).

Back outside, the second bunker, Nr.2, can be found at a short distance from the former. Nr.2 is being prepared for an exhibition on technology. At the time of writing, it can be toured except for the technical/living rooms. It is in a very good condition, and allows to get similar details as the previous Nr.1 on the construction of this type of facility – including the heating/air conditioning system.

The blue cabinets for plugging the canister for routine status checking and maintenance can be found also in Nr.2 in good shape.

Clearly visible here are the doors closing the technical areas and the warhead cellars. The latter were monitored for security just like the external airtight doors of the bunker, each with a sensor telling controllers whether the cellar was locked or not.

The airlock is covered in soot, possibly the result of a fire. Ahead of the entrance, the unloading platform is very interesting, having a unique set of light doors which had to be opened to allow trucks to come in. The concrete part of the platform appears slightly off-standard, with a short lateral concrete ramp, giving access to the main platform from one side. Parts of missiles – original – are being gathered in this area for display.

Monolith sites include two bunkers, which are the core of a strongly defended fenced area. In Javor 51, fences except the external one have been removed for the safety of visitors (rusty barbed wire can be very dangerous). These can still be found in other similar installations (see here). Similarly, the troops and technicians working on site lived in purpose-built housing, segregated from local communities. In Javor 51, this housing still exists, but cannot be visited.

Leaving the place, you can visit the nice visitor/gathering center, and even find some interesting souvenirs!

Getting there and visiting

All in all, the Atom Museum prepared at Javor 51 is a top destination for everybody interested in the history of the Cold War, nuclear warfare, Soviet history, military history, etc.

Credit goes to the owner of the place, Dr. Vaclav Vitovec, who is leading this remarkable preservation effort, and is a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide to the site for those visiting. Dr. Vitovec is also the owner of the border museum in Rozvadov, covered in this post.

The Javor 51 site is actually fairly well known at least to a dedicated public, having been visited by historians, scientists and notable figures – including Francis Gary Powers, Jr., who is very active in preserving the history of the Cold War.

The commitment of the museum’s managers is witnessed also by the nice website (also in English), where you can sign-up for a visit on pre-arranged days – as of 2022, all Saturdays in the warm season – or contact the staff for setting up a personalized visit. It is nice to see a good involvement by the local population (the great majority of visitors on regular visits are Czech), including many from younger generations. The exhibits tell much on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and this is a major topic in the guided tour in Czech. Actually, the Czech Republic has a strong nuclear tradition, with many power plants in use, and a commitment for the development of nuclear energy in the future.

The location is around 25 miles southeast of Plzen, or 60 miles southwest of Prague. Easy to reach by car. The exact address is Míšov 51, 33563 Míšov, Czechia. Full info on their website. Visiting on a normal scheduled visit is on a partly-guided basis, meaning that you will get an intro (in Czech) of around 40 minutes, than you will be allowed to access the bunkers and visit on your own, for all the time you like. You might end up spending more than 2 hours checking out the site and everything is in it, if you have a special interest for the topic. Dr. Vitovec is fluent in English, and can provide much information upon request.

Javor 52 – Bělá pod Bezdězem

The Monolith-type site Javor 52 has been willingly demolished, likely by the Government of the Czech Republic, as it was the case for most other similar (or more in general, Soviet-related) sites in Poland and Germany.

However, it was hard to get completely rid of any trace of an installation so bulky and reinforced. Therefore, some remains can still be found and explored.

Some technical buildings still in use close to the bunkers may have been there from the days of operation.

Getting close to the bunker area, traces of the multiple fences originally around the site can be found, either in the trees or in the vicinity of unmaintained roads. Wooden or concrete posts with fragments of barbed wire are clearly visible. Also reinforced concrete shooting points can be spotted in the wild vegetation.

As typical, two bunkers were erected on site, and similarly to Javor 51 (see above), in Javor 52 they are aligned, with the entrances all along the same ideal orientation.

The bunkers in Javor 52 have been interred, so that they are now hardly noticeable from the outside, except to a careful eye. Looking inside the eastern one, it is possible to get a view of the open doors of the main airlock, providing a distant view of the inner main hall.

Descending through the lateral human-sized airlock is not possible except for a short length, from a concrete manhole on top of the bunker.

The western bunker is in a better general condition, and the main hall still retains a pretty unique writing in Russian. The ladder descending from the suspended platform has been substituted with a posthumous, regular ladder. Much metalwork has disappeared though, including the heat exchangers, the crane, and the tight doors.

Between the bunkers, a concrete pool can be found – still watertight! – with a function which is hard to guess. A pool for civil use was installed in Stolzenhain (and reportedly also in Javor 52, but I had not the time to watch out for it), but this was in the low-security of the site, far from the bunkers.

Getting there and moving around

Access to this place is possible without violating any property sign, but is clearly not encouraged. Going unnoticed is made tricky by the presence of a public facility nearby – a shelter for foreigners and some education activity. Parking out of sight is possible along the road 27235, north of the complex and to the west of the road – trailheads and corresponding parking areas can be found there. Check out some satellite map to find a way to the exact location of the bunkers – their respective entrances are approximately here (eastern bunker) and here (western bunker).

I visited the site in 2020, and the entrances appeared very dangerous and easy to seal in a permanent way. I do not have any further update, but would suggest to go prepared to find definitively interred and totally inaccessible bunkers.

Javor 50 – Bílina – Quick note

As of 2020, the site of Javor 50 is in a peculiar state of ‘conservation’. The place is closed to the public, but entering would be basically unimpeded, since the external fence to the former military base is mostly collapsed and interrupted. The Soviet quarters insider still have much to offer – including writing in Russian, a scheme of the base, and much more. Likely, the bunkers are also still in a relatively good shape.

Much surprisingly though, somebody is living there with watchdogs, in miserable conditions, keeping visitors out. It is likely that an official visit may be booked by getting in touch with the municipality, since it appears that the site is not used for anything. However I was not successful in connecting with anybody there, therefore I have no suggestion on this point. The of the main entrance is here.

The Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade

With a few parallels in aviation history, especially in the years immediately following WWII, former Yugoslavia benefited from supplies by a great number of countries. As a matter of fact, the air force of this newborn communist republic was formed at first from leftovers of retreating Germany and conquering Britain, followed by the establishment of a supply line initially from the USSR, and later the US and again Britain.

The special political ability of marshal Tito, who ruled uncontested as a communist dictator since the foundation of Yugoslavia in 1945 until his death in 1980, and the credit he benefited from especially in Britain, allowed him to keep out of the sphere of influence of the USSR since 1948. In a strategic position on the border with NATO countries like Italy and Greece, Tito adopted a detente policy of ‘equal-distance’ between the two opposing blocs over the Cold War period (even though NATO did not trust him fully, as testified by the deployment of a SAM defense line in northeastern Italy, see this post).

Of course, most of the military supply was of Soviet make, especially after the death of Stalin and well until the end of communism in Europe and the bloody fragmentation of the Yugoslav state. However, concerning civil aviation, autonomy from Moscow allowed the adoption of western aircraft, like the French Aerospatiale Caravelle and much of the Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas inventory, in the major national airline JAT – something which happened very rarely anywhere in the communist bloc over the years of the Cold War, another notable instance being Romania, again a ‘semi-autonomous’ communist dictatorship, who refused the Soviet Tupolev Tu-134 in favor of license-built British BAC 1-11s.

Another effect of the autonomy from the USSR was the creation of a national aviation industry, which especially in the case of SOKO, produced military trainers and light attack aircraft of good success, which despite ageing, are still flying today.

More recently, the fierce conflicts raging over the Balkans in the 1990s have created a major active front for modern aviation, where the air force of Serbia – which inherited the geographically central part of Yugoslavia and its capital city, Belgrade – confronted the NATO alliance in an open conflict. The unbalance of forces allowed the western coalition to quickly establish air superiority, which did not come without a few notable material losses however.

A rich display of this peculiar aviation history, actually tracing back to WWI and the early years of aviation, can be found in the Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade, which despite being in today’s Serbia, acts as a kind of Yugoslav Aviation Museum. As a matter of fact, it was founded as such back in the years of Tito, and opened in its current building nearby ‘Nikola Tesla’ civil airport of Belgrade in 1989, when Yugoslavia was still a reality.

This short post provides an outline of what you can find in this museum, with photographs taken on a visit in April 2019.

Sights

The museum occupies a relatively large area in the vicinity of the airport of Belgrade, and is made of an open-air exhibition, open-air storage area, and big mushroom-shaped building hosting an indoor exhibition.

The ‘gate guardian’ is a SOKO J-21 Jastreb, a nice light multi-role aircraft from the 1960s, powered by a British Rolls-Royce Viper jet engine.

Indoor exhibition

The entry hall of the mushroom-shaped building features is a good example of the architectural style from the late communist era. The ground floor hosts a small exhibition about the early days of aviation in the former region of the Balkans, with documents from WWI years. Among the items on display, you can find early pilot’s licenses from notable war pilots, likely granted after training abroad, and actually written in French.

The main hall of the museum can be found upstairs. This large can be walked on two levels. Most aircraft are to be found on the lower level, but a few are suspended to the glassy circular sidewall of the mushroom, lighted from behind by the sunlight – so that taking pictures is just a nightmare!

The centerpiece of the collection is an exemplar of the SOKO J-22 Orao, a twin-engined – two Rolls-Royce Viper turbofans – light ground-attack and trainer aircraft from the 1970s. Designed jointly by Yugoslavia and Romania, this model equipped the Yugoslav (then Serbian) air force during the 1990s, where a handful exemplars are still flying today.

Indeed a clean design with an interesting performance, this aircraft was possibly the last heir of the Ikarus-then-SOKO lineage, originated back in the years before WWII. In this respect, some unique exemplars of aircraft are preserved in this museum, witnessing the existence of a school of skilled aircraft designers in Serbia, not much known in the western world.

A key figure of the Ikarus design bureau, Dragoljub Beslin led the design of Ikarus S-451, a nice, very small, twin-prop attack aircraft flown in 1951, especially designed to sustain high load factors in maneuvers at high speed.

Another unique specimen is the twin-jet Ikarus 451M, the first jet aircraft built by Yugoslavia. Same designer as the S-451, this unusual jet-engined taildragger flew in 1952, but was soon superseded by more modern models, in those years of quick-paced development of aviation technology. Again, the engines were from the West, in the form of two French Turbomeca Palas turbojets.

Another member of the ‘Ikarus 451’ family – it must be said this Yugoslav one is likely the oddest model numbering systems ever created… –  the T 451 MM Strsljen (Hornet) features a more convincing configuration, resembling the single-engined British BAC Jet Provost and the Italian Macchi MB 326, both rather successful trainers from the late 1950s. On display is actually the ‘Strsljen II’ version, which is a attack/training version with more thrust than the first series aircraft. This model was conceived to operate from unprepared runways, and featured two Turbomeca Marbore II French turbojets. The aircraft flew in 1958, but an air force contract was not granted.

Some functional wind tunnel models of other aircraft, actually never reaching the 1:1 prototype stage, are on display. These include a rare ekranoplane design, the UTVA 754. With a mechanic-monster-like appearance like all ekranoplanes (the most famous being probably the Bertini-Beriev preserved at the Russian Air Force Museum in Monino, see here), this machine was designed in 1982 in the then-Yugoslav town of Zagreb, today the capital city of Croatia.

A medevac aircraft conceived for easy conversion between floats and wheels, the UTVA 66H can be visited also inside. The indigenous SOKO is represented by a number of models. These include the SOKO G-2 Galeb, a successful trainer/light attack aircraft from the 1950s, built around a single Rolls-Royce Viper turbofan. During its long history it was exported to several international operators, and gave birth to the more recent SOKO J-21 Jastreb. The Galeb was in service with Serbia until 1999.

Another section of the museum features aircraft of foreign make which witness the intricate history of alliances of both the pre-WWII Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the post-WWII communist Yugoslavia. Most remarkably, these include a Messerschmitt Bf-109-G! The history of this particular aircraft is not very clear, some sources stating it was captured from Bulgarian air force. As a matter of fact, Yugoslavia acquired about 70 Bf-109-E from Germany in 1940, which in turn furiously invaded from north in a quick an violent campaign in spring 1941.

Next in line is nothing less than a British Hawker Hurricane! A group of Hurricanes were acquired from Britain in the immediate pre-war years, and even license-built in Belgrade in a small number – Yugoslavia apparently purchased aircraft seamlessly from both opponents at the outbreak of WWII. Later on, Hurricane-equipped squadrons of Yugoslavia fought back on the side of the Allies from bases in southern Italy, finally regaining control over the Balkans.

In a similar fashion, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V witnesses the involvement of British-supplied national air force squadrons in the liberation of Yugoslavia from the German invaders.

In the closing years of WWII, Yugoslavia benefited also from the help of the USSR. This is witnessed by a massive – and pretty rare, out of former soviet republics! – Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik. This big attack aircraft, possibly the most famous Soviet aircraft of WWII, equipped three squadrons in the Yugoslav air force, and helped in the fight on the so-called ‘Srem front’ north of Belgrade. An often overlooked sector of the European front, substantial operations were carried out since late 1944 until April 1945, with the forces of Nazi Germany slowly retreating under the offensive of the Red Army (including Bulgarian divisions) and of Yugoslavia from the south. These operations involved 250’000 troops on either side, thus engaging the Germans and draining resources from mainland defense. At that time, an entire division of the Yugoslav air force were equipped with this aircraft type, kept in service until the 1950s.

Similarly, an elegant WWII Yakovlev Yak-3 fighter of Soviet make can be found nearby in the colors of Yugoslavia.

After the end of WWII, Tito was determined not to surrender his political and economic independence to Stalin. In this high-stake gamble, he made no secret of his thoughts, and sought international recognition from the west. As expected, Stalin showed no sense of humor in that matter, and as the USSR broke relationships with Yugoslavia, this country faced the risk of isolation and of Soviet invasion in the early stage of the Cold War (late 1940s).

Over the years, the good relationship established with the western Allies during WWII were strengthened further, and most incredibly for a communist country, the US provided aircraft and helicopters, in the form of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, Republic F-84G Thunderjet and (much later, in the early 1960s) North American F-86D ‘long-nosed’ Sabre.

The years of Kennedy administration saw a significant improvement of the relationship between Tito and Khrushchev, and this led to a switch to Soviet aircraft in the form of the supersonic MiG-21, which equipped the Yugoslav air force in substantial numbers over the following two decades. An exemplar of this iconic and ubiquitous aircraft, an unquestionably well-performing aircraft in his age, is preserved in the museum. By the way, the early 1960s saw also the widespread adoption of SOKO Galeb trainers and the phase out of older British/US models.

Other peculiar exhibits in the indoor part of the museum are the wrecks resulting from air fight operations during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s. On the national (Yugoslav) side, the tail cone of a SOKO G-4 Super Galeb – a totally different design from the quasi-homonym G-2 – damaged by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile in 1991.

But much more material is from NATO countries, resulting from combat during operation ‘Allied Force’ against Serbia in 1999. Most notably, you can see a substantial part of the wing of a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the famous stealth aircraft downed by a vintage Soviet SA-3 Goa surface-to-air missile in March 1999, as well as a landing gear, ejection seat, pilot’s helmet, Vulcan cannon and some smaller parts of a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon downed the following May, again due to an SA-3 missile. The first stage of the missile which hit the Nighthawk is on display too.

These are basically the only aircraft lost in action over enemy territory during that operation.

An apparently easier prey, General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs were used in great numbers, some twenty of them being downed. One wrecked example is put on display.

More items of the kind include parts of NATO missiles, including HARM anti-radiation missiles and cluster-bombs containers.

On the upper level, you can find a mostly photographic exhibition mainly about the national carrier JAT. Interestingly, not a single Soviet-made model appears in the pictures, whereas you can find Boeing 707s, 727s, 737s, Douglas DC-9s, McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s, Aerospatiale Caravelles and ATR-42/72s – clearly a strong commercial bound with the West, pretty unusual for a communist country!

Another Yugoslav airline started operations to a later date – Aviogenex. This apparently did use aircraft from the USSR, in particular Tupolev Tu-134s, later flanked by Boeing 737s. Aviogenex ceased operations much later than the end of Yugoslavia, and operated as a Serbian company for some years.

One of the most iconic brutalist monstrosities in northern Belgrade is the skyscraper which used to host the headquarters of this airline – it looks like a good setting for some ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Judge Dredd’ movie…

Some more panels include descriptions of airport history and modern operations in the nearby airport of Belgrade. The history line of the national aviation industry is also presented in detail through historical pictures.

Some more aircraft can be found on this level, as well as a SA-3 Goa missile in a non-operative paint scheme, likely for training or telemetry tuning purposes.

Outdoor exhibition

The large area around the building is split between a small outdoor exhibition prepared for the public, and a larger storage area with many more aircraft which can not be neared nor walked around.

The displayed aircraft include an Aerospatiale Caravelle in the colors of JAT. This exemplar was one of three operated by this airline, and was active between 1963 and 1976.

A much elder transport, a German (French license-built) Junkers 52 with P&W engines represents a fleet of four such aircraft operated by the Yugoslav air force, complementing another group of originally German aircraft captured during the war.

An aircraft of historical significance is an Ilyushin Il-14 twin-prop transport. This aircraft was a personal goodwill gift from Khrushchev to marshal Tito, and the founding member of Yugoslav presidential fleet.

A couple of Lisunov Li-2 and some original Douglas C-47 Skytrain, of which the former is a license-built Soviet version, are on display, albeit not all complete. A MiG-21 Fishbed and a Kamov twin-rotor helicopter are also on display.

Another extremely rare item from the post-WWII years, a Short SA.6 Sealand amphibious aircraft of British make has made its way to Belgrade, after years as a transport aircraft in the Yugoslav air force.

The non-visible part of the museum features a rather impressive collection of MiG-21 in several versions, SOKO J-21 Jastreb and SOKO J-20 Kraguj in a large number, a SA-2 Guideline soviet-made SAM launcher with two missiles, and a number of partly assembled aircraft and wrecks.

A mystery item is a part of an allegedly US aircraft, apparently a part of the tail empennage of a bigger transport – any suggestion about this item welcome!