Berlin Airlift 70th Anniversary Celebrations in Schleswig-Jagel

The blockade imposed by Stalin on the jointly administrated city of Berlin in the spring of 1948 dissipated any doubts on the post-WWII attitude of the Soviet Union towards their former allies in the west. The ensuing joint effort to support the trapped population of Berlin resulted in one of the major airlift operations in history – the Berlin Airlift, or Luftbrücke in German language. In June 2019, 70 years after the end of the blockade, Germany hosted a great celebration for the anniversary of this vital operation.

History – in Brief

The blockade started slowly, with trains crossing the Soviet occupied territory – soon to become administrated as a new state, the communist German Democratic Republic – between Berlin and western Germany forced to stop and go back, truck routes closed, increased controls at border checkpoints. In early summer, the city was completely isolated from the west.

The Soviets tried to motivate the move with treaty violations by the western forces, but this did not receive much credit by the administration of President Truman in the US, nor in Britain, France, or the occupied territories of western Germany. To mitigate the lack of coal, food, drugs and other goods of primary use for the local population, the joint forces of the United States, Britain, France, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand set up a massive airlift under the coordination of the US military.

Over roughly a year more than 275’000 flights were carried out, mainly between three airfields in the territory of western Germany – Jagel, Fassberg and Wiesbaden – occupied by the western Allies, to Berlin Tempelhof downtown airport (see this post), as well as other land and water bases in the cut-off urban area. These were operated with a variety of transport aircraft, including Douglas C-47 and C-54 twin and four-propeller cargo planes manufactured in the US, as well as several British models, including some Shorts seaplanes.

Stalin opted to avoid an escalation. The blockade was finally lifted by the Soviets on May 12, 1949. The situation was stabilized with the birth of the Federal Republic of Germany in the west, and of the opposing German Democratic Republic in the east, later the same year. The western sectors of Berlin were to remain an enclave of the free world deep in the communist bloc for slightly more than another 40 years, when the GDR – aka DDR in German language – finally ceased to exist, and the re-unification started.

A great museum tracing the history of the presence of the western Allies in Berlin, telling the history of the Airlift in great detail, is the Allied Museum (website here) in the former US sector of Berlin-Zehlendorf.

70th Anniversary Celebrations in Germany

In 2019 the 70th year since the end of the blockade, lifted as a result of the airlift effectively sustaining the population of Berlin for an entire year, was celebrated with the patronage of the German government with a series of unique aircraft-related events. The most prominent were a few formation flights of an incredible group of historical aircraft, between the airfields formerly used as supply bases for the airlift.

One of these, the still-active military airfield of Jagel, in Schleswig-Holstein some 60 miles north of Hamburg, hosted a ‘spotter day’ on June 13th, 2019, when a few hundreds photographers were admitted for the whole day on the premises of the airbase, to assist to the landing, departure and flypast of a fleet of nine Douglas C-47, a major workhorse in the days of the airlift.

This marked possibly the largest grouping of such historic aircraft in Europe since many years. But what made the event even more unique – besides the weather, incredibly mild for the region… – was the origin of the aircraft, which except for one are all based in the US. They crossed the Atlantic once more to parade in the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day in Normandy, attended also by President Trump and Charles, Prince of Wales. A few days after, they toured Germany for the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

Besides the commemoration flight, normal flying activity was carried out during the spotter day around the airbase, so this was a good chance to assist to flight operations by Tornados and Typhoons of the German Air Force, as well as other military aircraft.

Historical Flight – Fly-in

A single C-47 arrived earlier than all others, anticipating the massive fly-in of the full wing of Douglas C-47 twin-prop liners. Later on, a flypast all Skytrains to take part in the event started from the east of the field. The aircraft then landed one by one, taxied ahead of the photographers and after a stop of a few hours, took off in a row for another location in Germany.

US Air Force C-47A/DC-3C ‘Miss Virginia’

The first aircraft to come was ex-USAAF 43-30655, built in 1943 as a military C-47A. The aircraft fell in private hands in the 1970s, after yeast stored in Arizona, when it was converted into an DC-3C, an energized version of the original 1930s design. It spent the 1980s in Colombia, then returned to the US as a utility aircraft. It was finally acquired for restoration and given the nice US Air Mobility Command colors it bears today. It flies with the civilian registration N47E.

Golden Age Tours C-41A

This incredible aircraft, now in civilian hands since long, is a unique example of an executive version of the original 1935 DC-3. Built in 1938, it entered military service soon after as a private flight for Maj. General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold – an instrumental figure in the reorganization of the US military forces upon the early 1940s. It went on keeping its original executive configuration, and today it is lent out for special flights and for filming purposes from its base near San Francisco, CA. It bears the civilian registration N341A.

USAAF C-47A 43-30647 ‘Virginia Ann’

This aircraft was in service with the USAAF since 1943. It took part to the D-Day operations with the name ‘Virginia Ann’, but was put on storage soon after WWII. It later went to private owners and was based in many domestic locations, including being part of the famous Planes of Fame collection in Chino, CA (see this post). Today it is still based on the West Coast, with the registration N62CC.

Chalair C-47B

This C-47B was built among the latest in May 1945. It was surplus for the USAAF soon after WWII, so it joined the Royal Air Force inventory, and from there it left for Canada, where it enjoyed many years of service as a VIP transport in the Royal Canadian Air Force until the 1970s. It reportedly served as a Royal Flight for the Queen of England during a visit to Canada. After withdrawal from active service and changing hands several times in Canada, it was finally acquired in France and totally restored in the late 2000s. It flies with the registration F-AZOX.

Johnson Flying Service, Inc. C-47 ‘Miss Montana’

This incredible aircraft was built soon after the WWII, and as many other surplus C-47, it moved to the civilian market. This aircraft was used in firefighting operations over the Northern Rockies, and was even involved in a tragic accident, crashing in the water causing fatalities. It was drawn back to a second life through the effort of the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula, Montana, where it is based now, with the registration N24320.

Legend Airways C-47D/DC-3C ‘Liberty’

A true combat veteran of WWII, this aircraft was pressed into service with the USAAF in mid-1943, and took part in operations in Algeria and the Mediterranean, as well as the D-Day in Normandy, where it sustained direct hits from German anti-aircraft guns. Soon after the turbulent war years, after returning to the US it fell into private hands in the south as a corporate transport. It kept the role, undergoing several upgrades, until it was finally acquired for a lavish restoration and cabin refurbishment, which gave it its current appearance. It is based in Colorado, where it is being operated for pleasure flights and filming, with the registration N25641.

Pan American Airways System C-47B/DC-3

This aircraft had an adventurous history between its entry into service in 1944 and the early 1950s. It was originally allocated to the Chinese National Aviation Corporation, which in the war years carried out covert flights over a route known as the ‘hump’. These allowed resupply of Chinese forces from the British Empire in India, through resupply flights over the high peaks of western Tibet. This aircraft flew on that very dangerous route, until the breakdown of the Japanese forces and the end of WWII. As the Chinese National Aviation Corporation reverted back to normal operations, this aircraft was turned into a commuter between Hong-Kong and Canton. In the meanwhile, Mao Tse-Tung communist revolution subjugated China overturning the government. The new dictatorship tried to grab as many aircraft as possible, which in the meanwhile tried to escape from the country, assisted by western powers. This very aircraft, after some years on ground in China, was finally allowed to leave for the US, where it arrived in 1953. Since then it was refurbished as a corporate aircraft, and enjoyed a long career, being finally restored with a VIP internal layout and carefully reconstructed 1953 on-board systems. It is registered as N877MG.

USAAF C-47DL 43-15087

The aircraft you see flying is indeed a WWII veteran, but not with the colors you see today. The number 43-15087 on the tail refers to a C-47 which actually took part to the operations over Normandy on June 6th, 1944. But the airframe you actually see entered service with the USAAF as a personnel transport in North Africa and the Middle East in 1943. It then went to the Armee de l’Air in France, then to civilian operators in France and back in the US after the 1960s. There it was later restored and changed livery several times for special occasions, like the 75th anniversary of the D-Day – the ‘9X-P’ designation you see now. It is based in Texas, with the US registration N150D.

USAAF C-47 42-26044 ‘Placid Lassie’

Pressed into service in the summer of 1943, this aircraft is a true combat veteran, having flown on June 6th, 1944 over Normandy, and in September 1944 for several times over Flanders during the ill-fated operation ‘Market Garden’. It then went on as a civilian transport in the continental US. After years spent in disrepair, it was drawn back to life in the 2000s, and is now flown by a foundation dedicated to the crew of ‘1D-N’ during WWII.

German Air Force Aircraft

As the historical flight performed basically a fly-in and fly-out, in the few hours between them the aircraft of the German Air Force – the Luftwaffe – and of the Navy – the Marine – based at Jagel flew for the public. There were also German aircraft taken there in preparation for the day of the Armed Forces – Tag des Bundeswehr – to be celebrated the following week-end with an open day of the base.

Jagel is the home base for the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 51 ‘Immelmann’, which currently operates the Panavia Tornado. These massive swing-wing aircraft flew in several time slots during the spotter day.

Small formations demonstrated refueling abilities.

Some passages were performed at high speed, with maximum sweep.

One of the aircraft has been painted in a flamboyant celebration livery, with the portrait of Max Immelman, a German WWI ace, on the vertical tail.

Another impressive performance was given by a Eurofighter Typhoon, a massive delta-winged twin-jet with a tail-less, all-moving canard configuration. This compares well in size with the Super Hornet – a pretty massive attack aircraft.

This very aircraft is from the Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 31 ‘Boelcke’, based in Nörvenich.

At some point in the day, there was a flypast of a single Lockheed P-3 Orion, on strength to the German Navy – Marine. On its double passage it was possible to see the large racks for sonobuoys under the belly of this four-propeller aircraft.

There were also exhibitions by some rotorcrafts, including a huge Sikorsky CH-53G, an Airbus H145 and a larger NH-90, the most modern of the three. The very dark camo livery made them pretty difficult to photograph, despite a rather wide zoom lens I was using for the task.

Finally, a pretty rare aircraft, albeit possibly not so eye-catching, a single Dornier Do-28 military light transport landed in the evening.

Visiting Aircraft from Other Countries

Other aircraft landed and departed from the base, some possibly in preparation for the Tag des Bundeswehr to be held a couple of days later. These aircraft were not from Germany.

First, two more Tornadoes of the Italian Air Force landed at some point, and posed for photographers. They belong to the 6° Stormo ‘Diavoli Rossi’, based at Ghedi. A small devil’s face is painted on the vertical tail of these aircraft.

A SAAB JAS-39 Gripen of the Hungarian Air Force, in a twin-seat configuration, landed soon after.

A single Aero L-159 Alca of the Czech Air Force appeared at some point.

An Antonov An-26 of the Hungarian Air Force landed and later departed. An iconic Soviet-made transport, this sturdy workhorse is still flying in many Countries, both for the Armed Forces and for civilian operators as well.

A single Pilatus PC-9 of the private company Qinetiq made an appearance.

Finally, two pretty rare Douglas A4 belonging to the Canadian private training company Jet Aces landed and taxied for the photographers, one of them in a rather eye-catching NATO anniversary commemoration livery.

Final Note

The Marine base of Schleswig-Jagel where this event took place was originally a Luftwaffe airfield, operated by the British military during the Berlin Airlift and until the early Sixties, and later handed over to the Federal Republic of Germany. It is still today an active airbase. There is no public access except on special occasions.

Soviet SS-12 Scaleboard Nuclear Missiles in the GDR

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR

Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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A little known fragment of Cold War history concerns the deployment of ballistic missiles by the Soviet Union outside of its national borders. Considering the case of the GDR, aka DDR in German language, during the Cold War the westernmost communist dictatorship in Europe, this happened in several instances.

History – in brief

Two such episodes took place in the 1950s and early 1960s with strategic missiles – Shyster and Sandal – in the area of Fürstenberg and Vogelsang, located one hour north of Berlin by car (see this post), in the territory of the GDR. This deployments lasted only briefly, cause strategic missiles of much longer range were developed soon, allowing targeting western Europe and the US from within the USSR.

Since then, a nuclear striking force was allegedly present over the territory of the GDR at all times, as testified by a number of now abandoned nuclear warhead bunkers built on the premises of major Soviet airbases (see for instance this post, and links therein). This  force was mainly based on tactical warheads intended to be launched from aircraft.

From the 1960s to the early 1980s the USSR deployed also SCUD-A and SCUD-B short-range nuclear missile systems over the territory of some Soviet-controlled countries. This mobile-launched light weapons were stationed in the GDR in Königsbruck, Bischofswerda and Meissen, close to the border with Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as around Wünsdorf, were the high command of the Soviet forces in Germany was located (see this post). The improved SS-21 Scarab was added to the arsenal in Königsbruck in 1981, with a range similar to that of the SCUD systems.

Nuclear missiles appeared again in the GDR towards the end of the Cold War, in the years between 1984 and 1988. This time the Soviets used intermediate-range theater missiles, in the form of the SS-12 Scaleboard, a 500 kilotons, single-warhead tactical system, with a range of 500 miles and launched directly from a mobile launcher. The reason for this deployment was a kind of retaliation following the choice of the Reagan administration, together with some European NATO Countries including West Germany, Italy and Britain, to deploy intermediate-range missiles provided by the US in Western Europe.

This move by the western allies was part of the complicated and lengthy negotiations which would culminate in the INF treaty in late 1987, between the US and the USSR. In the end, this agreement led to a bilateral dismantlement of intermediate-range nuclear forces (‘INF’), including both the American Pershing II and the Soviet Scaleboard.

Talks aiming at counterbalancing the Soviet nuclear deterrent in Europe represented by the SS-20 Pioneer mobile-launched missiles, with a range of more than 3,000 miles, had been started in the closing phase of the Carter administration, with the USSR still led by Brezhnev. The goal of the operation from a western standpoint was the deactivation of this missile by the Soviets. The deployment of a huge force of hundreds of Pershing II tactical ballistic missiles and Gryphon cruise missiles by the US, ordered in 1983 by the Reagan administration in agreement with some European Countries, should stand as a precaution in case the desired deactivation of the SS-20 would not be obtained (see also this post). The NATO move was perhaps not interpreted as desired, and in response the USSR deployed the Scaleboard in the GDR, close to the border with the West in 1984, putting a halt to the talks.

Following the change in the leadership of the USSR, the INF treaty was later signed in 1987 by President Reagan and Gorbachev. The involved missiles deployed by both the US and the USSR, and not limited to the Gryphon, Pershing II and Scaleboard, were soon withdrawn starting in 1988. They were later decommissioned and physically destroyed.


Today, a few relics of this late episodes of the Cold War can be found in the former German Democratic Republic. The quick deployment of the Scaleboard meant that an existing Soviet missile brigade (119th) was relocated in mid-1984 from Gombori, in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, to locations in the GDR, namely Königsbruck and Bischofswerda near Dresden, and Warenshof and Wokuhl in Mecklenburg. Thanks to the improved mobility of the Scaleboard system, launched from mobile platforms, not much hardware was necessary for storing and operating the missile. Light shelters were quickly built to store the nuclear warheads and the missiles. These were connected by a network of short service roads made with prefabricated concrete slabs.

Following the withdrawal of the missiles, and later of all Soviet troops from the former GDR, these missile sites were demolished or invaded by nature. Apparently, nothing has survived in Königsbruck and in the bases in Mecklenburg, whereas in Bischofswerda significant remains are to be found, albeit not publicized at all, with a short walk in the trees.

This post provides a map and a few pictures to reach the former Bischofswerda missile base. Photographs were taken in late summer 2018.


The following map highlights the location of the bunkers and the access points to the Bischofswerda site. During my visit I tried three accesses by car, and the northern access road – access point 1 on the map – is the only one where I could find a (small) parking area. The area is today in a forest, and there you cannot get to the bunkers with a car – prohibition signs can be found close to all three pinpointed access points. Some walking will be needed, but the area is nice and you are likely to see some wildlife – that was my case!

I noticed that the Ulmon map on my iPhone had the bunkers accurately pinpointed. In any case, a GPS and an electronic non-satellite map is strongly recommended, for the site is shrouded by high-grown vegetation, and barely visible on a satellite photograph.

Please note that the POIs related to the missile bunkers on the map above have been placed by hand, and may be not very accurate. I noticed the Google base map does not show all the service roads connecting the bunkers. These roads are not maintained any more for vehicles, but they can still be used by hikers. Anyway, I tried to reconstruct the basic network with green lines – please zoom in to see them.

Bischofswerda SS-12 Scaleboard Missile Bunkers

Accessing the site from the northernmost entry point (access point 1 on the map), you will soon meet a former service/administration building for the troops, in pure Soviet style from the Eighties – see the terminal passenger in Sperenberg here, from the same years. It was built in 1983, and today it is used in the warm season as a service building for boy scouts and other forest-related activities. A  placard quickly recalls its history. The Soviets (then Russians) left the place in 1993, and the barracks originally built in the area for servicemen stationed there were completely demolished soon after.

From the service building, the area of the missile shelters can be reached with a quick walk along a broad and almost flat road – you might easily drive to the place, if only it was not forbidden.

The bunkers are grouped around a small square area with concrete slabs on the ground. Despite the short distance from the square to the shelters, these are totally unapparent, and you may have a hard time getting closer to them if you do not have a GPS and some electronic map. Zoom in on the map above for some basic directions concerning this part of the missile site.

While they have not been demolished, all bunkers are abandoned with only one exception, and they are effectively hidden by wild vegetation.

There are bunkers of three types. The majority are hangars for storage of the missiles. There were four launchers with two missiles each, totaling eight missiles on the Bischofswerda site. The nuclear warheads were stored separately from the missiles, and quickly installed only in case an order to attack was issued. Bunker N on the map is the former storage for the nuclear warheads. Access is not possible due to the wild vegetation and the partial sealing of the sliding door with a pile of land. Yet the distinctive polygon-shaped metal access door can still be seen, different from that of all other bunkers.

The storage bunker A can be neared more easily. You can notice the totally different construction with respect to the nuclear warhead bunker N. The door of this bunker is sealed too.

Between bunker A and B there are traces of a construction, possibly another bunker, today completely interred.

The missile bunker B is open, and used as a storage for wood logs. There are also parts of the original ventilation system. The construction components of the shelter are similar to those you can find in other Soviet missile launch bases (see for instance this post). Yet the size of the bunker is rather small compared to similar facilities built for strategic missiles. This highlights the reduced cost of the preparation of a theater missile launch facility, with respect to its strategic missile counterparts.

On the far end of the complex (item Z on the map), you can find another bunker, at a glance similar to the other missile shelters. It was opened when I visited, and as you see from the pics there is an intermediate frame, dividing the hangar in two parts, connected by a passage. Considering the position and structure, I guess this was a command bunker, similar to those you see in other Soviet missile bases (like again this). There is a placard remembering the deployment of the Scaleboard system in this base, and inside somebody recently put a photograph of two former high-ranking staff from the US and Soviet Armies stationed in Germany at the time of the deployment, shaking hands in front of this very bunker. The photo was taken years after the decommissioning of the site.

Two other missile shelters, C and D on the map, close the tour. One of them is open, the other is sealed and barely reachable due to vegetation.

Special Feature – 119th Missile Brigade barracks in Gombori, Georgia

As mentioned above, the Soviet 119th Missile Brigade was tasked with running the theater missile installations hastily prepared in locations in Germany. To this purpose, the 119th was relocated in May 1984 from Gombori, Georgia, then a Soviet Socialist Republic in the realm of the USSR. It left back to Gombori at the end of the German deployment in March 1988. By that time, it converted to another missile platform, following the coincidental phase-out of the SS-12. For the time of the ‘German leave’, the 119th was under the responsibility of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, headquartered in Wünsdorf (see this post).

In the following pictures, taken on another trip (2019), you can see the abandoned barracks of the 119th in Gombori. This site was code-named ‘Tbilisi Army Barracks Gombori AL 12’ by the US, due to the proximity with the Georgian capital city, Tbilisi.

The 119th Missile Brigade moved away from Georgia after the USSR broke apart. It relocated to Elanskiy, Russia.

Getting there and moving around

As already pointed out, getting close to the site is possible by car, but touring the place will require a walk of roughly 1.5-2. I suggest leaving the car at access point 1 on the map. The site missile is not maintained except for the former service building, where you can find picnic tables and related facilities. The building was closed for the season already at the beginning of September, but the area around the building is not abandoned. The former service roads in the trees are maintained as well.

On the other hand, the area of the bunkers is basically abandoned, except for the Z bunker on the map, which is not maintained, but bears a placard on the front façade. Walking around does not pose any particular difficulty, but you should go prepared to face nettles, brambles and wild vegetation around the bunkers. Carefully watch your step, for there are open manholes scattered on the ground, probably part of the original underground electric supply system.

Visiting may take a bit more than 1 hour for the interested subject – something more if you want to take good pictures. A tripod is strongly advised also for external photographs, cause the trees effectively stop sunlight, so the area is mainly dark.

Secret Soviet Missile Bases in the GDR

The BEST pictures from Soviet bases in the GDR

Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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Driving less than one hour north from Berlin, Germany to the beautiful region of the Oberhavel, you can find some largely forgotten relics of an untold chapter of the Cold War, when Khrushchev secretly deployed nuclear missiles to hit European targets, for the first time outside of the Soviet Union – years before the Cuban missile crisis.

History – in brief

Germany held an undisputed lead on missile technology at the end of WWII. Similarly to the US, the missile program of the USSR started soon after Hitler’s army was defeated, and benefited from the capture and transfer of hundreds of German rocket scientists. These German engineers started by reproducing the German A-4 – also known as the in-famous V-2 -, the worlds first surface-to-surface missile to reach mass production. The corresponding Soviet design was named R-1, and similarly to the original A-4 it had a very short-range – less than 200 miles – and a payload too low for carrying a nuclear warhead, hence it could not be used to pose a strategic threat to the western enemies even in Europe from within the borders of the Communist bloc.

After long and intensive research efforts towards the increase in range, payload and accuracy of rockets, and aimed at improving yield, mass efficiency and miniaturization on the side of nuclear weapons, the Soviets finally could deploy the first intermediate range strategic missile, in the form of the R-5M – or SS-3 Shyster in the western databases – by mid-1956. With a range of 800 miles and a payload of 2800 lbs, this 60 ft-long missile could carry a single 300 kilotons nuclear warhead with basically autonomous inertial guidance, and radio correction to increase accuracy. Similarly to the A-4, propulsion was based on alcohol as fuel and highly volatile liquid-oxygen as oxidizer. Operation and maintenance of this high-technology surface-launched system was a very complicated task, requiring well-trained, specialized staff in large numbers. Several Engineering Brigades were established during the Fifties for this purpose, and their numbers and relevance went on increasing with time, as the range, yield and number of strategic missiles was rising with no pause in the following years.

For the USSR, already led by Khrushchev at that time, the commissioning of the R-5M platform meant that for the first time targets in the enemy Countries of Western Europe could be placed under the menace of a nuclear attack, carried out by means of missiles traveling at a speed so high that made them virtually undetectable and unstoppable. The Soviet Union now owned a strategic missile force, but the problem of range was still hard to tackle.

It was at this point that, after years of cogitation and secret papers, the deployment of the R-5M to the ‘border Countries’ of the communist empire started to take a tangible form. The reason was simple – while the range of the Shyster was not enough to reach any target from within the USSR, it could hit at least Britain, Northern France, Belgium and the US bases in the western half of Germany from some ‘satellite Country’, namely from the territory of the German Democratic Republic.

After inspection, the area between the small towns of Fürstenberg and Vogelsang – isolated in a pretty large, wild and unpopulated area, deep in the countryside about 35 miles north of Berlin and 12 miles from each other, but linked to the railway system – were selected by the higher ranks of the Soviet Army in 1957 for the deployment of missile launch facilities for the R-5M.

Construction works were started in total secrecy, enlarging and modifying Soviet military installations where some tank divisions were quartered. Even the top levels of the government and military staff of the GDR were unaware of the operation – codenamed ‘Atom’ by the Soviet high command. The Soviets carried out much of the work themselves, but they could not avoid to involve local civil workers for ‘unclassified tasks’, and they eventually came to suspect that something unusual was going on. Agents of – at least, but probably not only – the secret service of Federal Germany transmitted the news to their headquarters beyond the Iron Curtain. Yet documents become available decades after, following the end of the Cold War, show that not much detailed information existed in the archives of the intelligence of Western Countries about this deployment – further highlighting the ‘top secret’ level of the operation. This was actually the first deployment of Soviet strategic weapons outside the USSR ever, years before the more famous operation ‘Anadyr’ causing the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 – a scenario very similar to operation ‘Atom’, but with the US instead of western Europe directly within range of Soviet missiles.

Barracks, recreation and service buildings, concrete launch ramps, connection roads, bunkers for atomic warheads, and everything that was needed both for storing all subsystems and for supporting launch operations was built during 1958 both in Vogelsang and Fürstenberg. Two artillery units and two specialized accompanying technical units arrived in January 1959, together with 12 missiles transported by train, as reported again by secret agents. At the same time, upon reaching completion of the construction works all civil workers were dismissed, and today we know that the nuclear warheads arrived under heavy escort in May 1959 by train.

As typical in the chess game between the two superpowers in the years of Khrushchev, Eisenhower and Kennedy, after years of preparation operation ‘Atom’ was suddenly interrupted only three months after the Shyster had become operative in the GDR, in August 1959. An order to withdraw immediately was issued, and all missiles and related units were temporarily relocated in Kaliningrad, Russia, from where they were short of range and not any more a threat for the West.

But this is not the end of the story. In March 1959 the new R-12 missile, also known as SS-4 Sandal and later deployed to Cuba, became operative with a range of 1300 miles and a single high-yield, 2.3 megaton nuclear warhead. In September 1961 the Khrushchev administration issued an order to deploy a missile regiment constituted anew for the purpose with R-12 missiles to the GDR – an operation codenamed ‘Tuman’ (‘fog’ in English).

The high-ranking staff responsible for the operation inspected the bases of Vogelsang and Fürstenberg the same month, and issued orders for some preparation work to be carried out for making these facilities suitable for the new R-12 missile. As a result, two launch pads were set up in the trees between the two military bases. Each of them comprised light service buildings, concrete platforms for the launch gantries and support vehicles, fuel storages, guard bunkers. Gravel roads were prepared to connect the launch platforms with the two main bases, where Sandal missiles could be hidden and sheltered in the bunkers already manufactured for the Shyster.

The staff of the new regiment was engaged in intensive training activities and launch simulations in the USSR until the end of 1961, and all material and troops were kept ready for moving by train at the railway station of Zhitovichi, Belarus, at that time inside the Soviet Union, to the now ready bases in the GDR.

Again, after all preparations the order to deploy was never issued, and by mid 1962 ‘Tuman’ was halted and the special regiment disbanded. This second attempt to place Soviet missiles out of the USSR was canceled just months before the deployment to Cuba, and soon after the R-14 missile had become operative in April 1961. This missile, known as SS-5 Skean, had the same warhead but roughly twice the range of the SS-4 Sandal, mainly thanks to a different propellant. With this system all western Europe could now be targeted from behind the border of the USSR, making deployment to satellite Countries in Europe unnecessary.

Similarly to operation ‘Atom’, even though preparation works probably did not go unnoticed by the few people in the area, this story remained basically undisclosed until at least the mid 1990s, after the – by then – Russian armed forces left the territory of the former GDR, and both Vogelsang and Fürstenberg, which after the early Sixties had continued to work as military bases for some Soviet tank divisions, were finally shut down and abandoned.


As argued in other chapters on this website dealing with former Soviet installations over the territory of the former GDR, todays Germany – comprehensibly – does not seem interested in preserving any legacy of this inconvenient past. For the case of Vogelsang and Fürstenberg, the remoteness and amenity of the area has facilitated a new birth of these two as well as other nearby centers, which are today lovely destinations for local tourism especially from Berlin, with nice lakes, cycleways, many canals and hiking trails in the trees. As these two military bases with their weird stories have been a well kept secret since their inception, there is probably no reason for the local communities to publicize them now.

As a result, both bases are being strongly reclaimed by nature, and little remains today of these once prominent – albeit secret – installations.

Yet from a historical perspective the missile installations in Vogelsang and Fürstenberg make for a proof of the seriously dangerous and determined attitude of Khrushchev and the Soviet Union towards increasing the power of the USSR on the international scene by means of military actions. Especially in 1959 with the deployment of the Shyster, the stage for a crisis with an unpredictable outcome was prepared in Europe, but for some reason luckily this was not exploited. Furthermore, this happened some years before the Cuban missile crisis, incorrectly accepted as the first such experiment in Soviet history.

Both bases in Vogelsang and Fürstenberg present some traces of the activity of the missile units. While most of the buildings connected with the missile operations have been demolished, including unreinforced hangars for storing the missiles, bunkers for nuclear warheads can be found on both sites – these are much stronger, and demolition work would be very difficult, so these hangars have been simply closed and left there. Vogelsang is covered in a dedicated chapter, while the scant remains of the Fürstenberg barracks and the nuclear storage there will be shown in this post.

Possibly more intriguing – for more dedicated explorers – and difficult to find are the rocket launch pads. Two launch pads for the R-5M exist, on the premises of Vogelsang and Fürstenberg bases. Eight further pads are placed in two groups of four, in the large territory extending between the two military bases. These are totally abandoned, forgotten deep in the trees, possibly the only tangible testimony of the planned deployment of the SS-4 Sandal in the GDR. These are also covered in this post.

Photographs were taken in August 2017.


Due to the wild vegetation and to the shape of the launching pads – which are concrete slabs today mostly covered by a thin layer of mud, moss and lichens – spotting these ‘archeological findings’ is getting more and more challenging. To ease the search I created a Google map of the launch pads. No coverage of what remains of the nearby bases of Vogelsang and Fürstenberg is provided on the map, as whether those places are interdicted to the public or free to visit is a matter of discussion.

Besides the position of the pads themselves, you can find what are car-accessible roads to get near to pinpointed POIs and suggested trail/trail-heads.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

R-5M/SS-3 Shyster Missile Launch Pad and Nuclear Bunker, Fürstenberg

There is one missile launch pad in Fürstenberg, built for the Shyster missile. The local road along the western border of the military base divides its premises from the launch pad, which today can be neared with walking on an easy trail which was probably a Soviet gravel road in its origin, wide enough to allow moving the missile on a trolley.

Like all other launch pads in the area, the central piece is a narrow rectangular concrete slab about 30 ft long, with a prominent metal crown set in it, with a diameter of about 5-6 ft. The crown is a piece of technology, even though today it is covered in rust and with an unattractive brownish color. It was used to anchor the small gantry put under the missile to keep it in the launch position. The missile was transported on a trolley in a horizontal position, and lifted to a vertical attitude before launch.

The most visible difference between the launch pads for the SS-3 Shyster and for the SS-4 Sandal – the latter being a couple of years younger, as shown above – lies in the metal crown. The crown of the Shyster is smaller and more like a polygon, where that for the Sandal – see later – is more round shaped, mostly resembling a watch bezel.

The concrete slabs had to withstand the intense thrust and heat of the missile without breaking into pieces. I guess – but I am not sure – some of the piping leading to these slabs – not visible here but next to other launch pads – may have been installed for a water cooling system.

The launch pad is the most visible item of a more complex system, comprising fuel and oxidizer storages, an electric generator, a control cabin and other gear. All this was placed in partly interred dugouts, which in Fürstenberg are today basically all gone.

On the premises of the Fürstenberg base and very close to the launch site there are two bunkers, possibly for the missile and nuclear warheads. The size and construction of the larger bunker, which has two doors on the two faces, suggests a use as a missile storage bunker, possibly suitable both for the Shyster and the Sandal, which despite the totally different performance were not so different in shape and size.

Today both bunkers are totally closed and inaccessible, the smaller one – possibly for warheads – has been turned into a shelter for bats. You can see the inside of the batbunker through the batslot!

Conspicuous traces of the barbed wire fences and prefabricated concrete wall marking the perimeter of the area are still in place.

Housing at Fürstenberg Military Base

Similarly to Vogelsang (see here), in Fürstenberg there are traces of what was once a large Soviet base, with housing for many people and service buildings. There are buildings in at least two styles, suggesting construction works were carried out in different stages. Multi-storey buildings are more recent, and similar to those you can find in the former airbase of Brand (see here) – among others.