Missiles in Germany – The Live Exhibition of the Society of Military History in Demen

Heading to Berlin or the former GDR? Looking for traces of the Cold War open for a visit?

A Travel Guide to COLD WAR SITES in EAST GERMANY

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The armed forces of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), named NVA (‘Nationalen Volksarmee’, or National People’s Army), and the Western Group of Forces of the USSR coexisted on the territory of the communist-led GDR for the entire duration of the Cold War. They were basically independent from one another at least in terms of organization. The NVA was sized according to the interests of a highly militarized, but relatively small country in the core of Europe, and its vocation was mainly tactical. Nonetheless, the NVA boasted several branches, and in particular a land army, an air force and a navy.

Actually, the attack plan of the USSR in Europe – constantly updated over the years – foresaw a total, ‘one-shot’ massive attack aimed at reaching the North Sea coast in the shortest time possible, starting from the border with the West, thus primarily from the GDR, and making use of tactical nuclear weapons on key-targets in Western Europe. An involvement of all Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact – beside the Soviet Red Army – was part of the plan, and as a result especially the good level of the military supply of the GDR was always a concern in the eyes of war planners in the Eastern Bloc.

When thinking of missiles and the Cold War, images of the parades on the Red Square in Moscow typically come to one’s mind. However, local national Armies of nations in the Warsaw Pact indeed had armed forces on their own, and usually also missile brigades incorporated in them.

This is the case of the NVA, which was fed by the USSR with the most advanced rocket technology, as soon as missiles grew in size and reliability to become significant warfare items. An excellence of Soviet rocket warfare has been the great care for the advanced deployment and ease of transportation of any assets, partly dictated by the infrastructural difficulties of a country so huge and so extreme in terms of terrain conditions and seasonal changes as the USSR. Actually, Soviet transport vehicles for missiles since the early 1960s matched missiles of virtually any sizes, of course including those for theater operations, which are intermediately compact and lightweight, especially when compared to larger, heavier and longer-range strategic missiles.

The arsenal of the NVA in terms of missiles was kept up to date between the early 1960s – as said, the beginning of serious rocket-based warfare and correspondingly war action plans, also in the West – and the end of the Cold War. Following bilateral Soviet-US disarmament treaties in the late 1980s, a transition period was started, obviously influenced by the 1989 anti-communist revolution and the starting of the German reunification process. The NVA was dissolved and its assets incorporated in the armed forces of Federal Germany in 1990. Due to the changed global relationships following the collapse of the USSR, most rocket forces in Europe, originally intended to fight a war on the continent, were significantly reduced or totally disbanded.

In its heyday, the missile forces of the NVA totaled two regular Brigades, incorporated in the land forces of the NVA, and eleven independent Brigades. They were supplied over the years with SCUD-A/B, Luna and Oka missile and corresponding transport/launch vehicles in various versions. The warheads supplied to the NVA were usually conventional. However provision was made for nuclear warheads, which were always kept under the direct control of the Soviets in two purpose-built nuclear depots (see this post).

An excerpt of the rich history of the rocket forces of the NVA can be reviewed visiting the nice exhibition of the ‘Militärhistorischer Verein Demen’, which translates into ‘Society of Military History of Demen’, located in the homonym village in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the northernmost district of the former GDR. It is easily reachable less than one hour driving inland from Lübeck or Rostock on the Baltic Coast. The display of this society of enthusiasts reaches even further, documenting the presence of missile forces of the US and within the Bundeswehr of Federal Germany, supplied with American material during the Cold War.

This post covers this very nice and lively collection, really special both in terms of items on display, and for the fact that most vehicles there are still in working order – when visiting, you will have good chances to see them moving around!

Photographs were taken in 2021.

Sights

The base in Demen became active between 1975 and 1977, when the 5th Mobile Rocket Technical Base (BRTB-5) and later the 5th Rocket Brigade (5. RBr) of the NVA moved in with all their assets. The 5. RBr had been originally formed in 1962 with another name (Autonomous Artillery Brigade sABr-2), and supplied with SCUD-A missiles. In 1964 it converted to SCUD-B theater missiles. It was re-founded as the 5. RBr only in 1967.

In 1985 it was resupplied with the SS-23 Spider (aka Oka, or 9M714 in Soviet coding). The INF treaty signed in 1987 by President Reagan and Secretary Gorbachev targeted that type of missile, which was therefore short-lived, and disposed of as soon as 1990 in the NVA (later Bundeswehr).

The exhibition in Demen offers an insight in the missile types in use by the NVA. They have been placed inside a building of the former NVA military base on site, which following disbandment of the NVA has been converted into a multi-functional facility, with local companies and diverse businesses taking over the hangars, warehouses and residential buildings.

A complete 9P113 Soviet-made launcher for the old Luna (NATO: Frog) missile is on display, with the missile on top of it.

Right besides is a cutaway exemplar of the highly-successful Soviet BTR-60 armored personnel transport vehicle. The twin-engined propulsion system is clearly visible.

The collection in Demen is unique in having some fully working vehicles on display.

The bulkiest and most impressive is surely the movable launcher 9P71 for the Oka missile. This eight-wheeled truck can be seen in the pictures sheltered in a hangar, or moving around the premises of the former NVA base!

In this video you can see the vehicle displaying the movable crane – still perfectly operative – for maneuvering the missile.

In this other video you can see the launcher carefully coming back into the hangar, following a live display.

Another vehicle from the Eastern Bloc and still in fully working condition is this technical van UAZ-452. Not only it can move on its wheels and engine, but it looks still perfectly equipped!

The collection in Demen is not exclusively devoted to the Eastern Bloc or the GDR either. Instead, you can find both static and ‘live’ items on display from the NATO side of the Iron Curtain. The latter include a M752 amphibious vehicle for transporting the Lance missile.

This vehicle with tracks was highly popular in the US and many NATO countries, including Federal Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Another unusual living exemplar is that of a Swedish Hägglunds Bandvagn BV-206, aka SUSV in the US Army. A very versatile tracked vehicle with a trailer made for the snowy terrains of Scandinavia and the Polar continents as well, today running around the former NVA base in Demen!

Three warheads from US missiles deployed on the territory of the FRG are on static display, allowing for a nice size and shape comparison. They are a Pershing, Honest John and Sergeant warheads, all theater missiles from different stages of the Cold War. On the outside, a fully assembled Honest John is similarly on display.

The Soviet-made missiles on display are a Luna, an Oka and a SCUD. The Luna, painted in gray, is partly cut to show the inside mechanisms and arrangement. Also the corresponding warhead has been cut to show the inside structure.

The pretty rare Oka missile has not been cut – a true icon from the Cold War in the mid-1980s!

The SCUD has been separated from its warhead, and partly cut and cleverly lighted to show the inside plants and arrangement.

Besides the SCUD also some original parts of the guidance system have been put on display, together with some technical testing/monitoring material of Soviet or East-German make – note the writing in Cyrillic.

Display cases all around host original technical material, many fantastic models mainly from the arsenal of the NVA and Red Army during the Cold War, as well as exceptionally detailed and informative panels concerning the history of the missile forces of the NVA (as well as specifically on some of the missile systems on display).

Many evocative photographs and videos from the days of operation complete the display in the hangar.

Some very rare artifacts are from the early stage of rocketry, and include components of von Braun’s first works – most notably the V2 – from the Third Reich era.

A second branch of the exhibition, physically hosted in another building of the complex, is composed of the two rooms packed with memorabilia items mainly from the history of the 5. RBr

These include books, photographs, and beautiful memorial crests, especially from joint exercises carried out with the Red Army with live firing of the missiles in a dedicated polygon in Kapustin Yar. People taking part to these exercises – held back in the 1980s – are now volunteering in the Society, and you may be so lucky to meet them for a nice talk and for getting a more lively insight on the history of the NVA rocket Brigades. Staff from the 5. RBr deployed to the polygon by land, and the original map retracing their movements across the USSR is on display.

Also on display are original technical boards displaying some operating concepts for the Oka missile – in Russian, a one-of-a-kind relic of the Cold War years!

Getting there & Visiting

The small village of Demen is located in the northeastern quarter of Germany, about 25 miles from the Baltic shoreline, 45 miles from Rostock and 55 miles from Lübeck, both port towns on the Baltic sea. You can reach the display by car here. Access to the former NVA complex, now called Evita complex, is via the road L091, to the west of Demen.

One of the many hangars in the Evita complex hosts the collection, and the memorabilia rooms are in an adjoining building. Opening times are very limited (basically in the weekends), but this is due to the fact that they coincide with volunteers’ gatherings. On the plus side, you are likely to see at some vehicles running.

For interested subjects a time of 1 hour may be the minimum for a visit to the static display, if no vehicles are moving around. If there are live displays, or volunteers to interview, you may spend there 2 hours or more.

German is obviously the main language spoken (and often times the only option in this part of Germany), but English is nonetheless understood and spoken by some of the volunteers. Website here.

The Atlantic Wall in Denmark

A pleasant country in northern Europe, Denmark is geographically surrounded by the North and Baltic seas, and shares its only land border with Germany. In the late 1930s, this meant having a very dangerous dictatorship as the only neighbor, and no possible direct help coming by land from other allies. Without natural defenses against and attack from the south, the Kingdom of Denmark was militarily occupied basically in one day, on April 9th, 1940. This happened through a joint operation carried out by the land, air and naval forces of Nazi Germany.

A quick historical overview

The interest of Germany in controlling Danish territory was mainly strategic. It served as a springboard to attack Norway further north. The latter was in itself more interesting to the economy of the Third Reich, as it was rich of natural resources, including raw materials not available in Germany. These were so needed by the Führer, who was dreaming of making Germany independent from international supply trade.

Furthermore, controlling both Denmark and Norway meant control over the eastern coast of the North Sea, and a chance to control the only access to the Baltic Sea. The USSR was not a declared enemy before 1941, but withdrawing from the mutual cooperation pact with Stalin – signed in a hurry just days before the invasion of Poland in September 1939 – at some point, and openly attacking Russia, had been in the mind of the Führer since he first put on paper his worrying geopolitical thoughts. By controlling the Baltic, Hitler could control sea trade to non-freezing ports of the USSR, which in 1940 had already taken over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in agreement with Germany.

As a matter of fact, the conquer of Norway was not without significant losses for Germany. This was also the result of Britain starting to militarily oppose Germany. The two countries had been already at war since September 1939, but without any serious confrontation having taken place for months.

Since then, the British – and later also the American – threat from the west had to be faced through the fortification of the western coast of the Third Reich, which by the end of the summer of 1940 extended roughly from the Pyrenees in southern France to Kirkenes in northern Norway. This highly visionary task was taken up very seriously by the German military-economic machine, and produced the ‘Atlantikwall’ – which translates pretty obviously into the ‘Atlantic Wall’. This long defensive line had to be built all along the coast, and was mainly based on a catalog of standardized reinforced concrete constructions, to be reproduced in great numbers. Construction was coordinated by the main contractor, the German ‘Organization Todt’, which made extensive use of subcontracted local companies in the various occupied states where construction had to take place.

Despite the majority of the elements in the line were reinforced barracks for troops watching the coastline, ammo and supply storages, command and communication bunkers, canteens, and other service buildings, there were of course also a number of heavier constructions. These included coastal gun batteries, to counter attacking ships, lighter gun batteries, to stop troops attempting a beach landing, aiming stations, to adjust the line of fire of gun batteries, anti-aircraft guns to defend the line from air attacks, and some technical buildings serving as bases for advanced radar systems. The latter were among the most useful and widespread items along the line, as German technology developed fast during the war, to produce powerful detection systems against air and sea menaces.

Needless to remember, similar to many pharaonic works conceived by the Führer and his entourage, the Atlantic Wall was never completed, and it failed to spare the Third Reich from total annihilation. The once-modern military installations along the western coast of Europe soon became obsolete, as war changed face at a quick pace following WWII, with new weapons and techniques. Furthermore, the front line of the new Cold War shifted geographically to the middle of Europe. A tangible sign of enemy occupation, the massive bunkers of the Atlantic Wall met different destinies depending on the country. However, albeit only rarely preserved, thanks to their bulkiness and sturdy make, they are in most cases still visible.

About this post

Being the first land along the western coast to fall under German control, work on the Atlantic Wall started in Denmark earlier than anywhere else. Today extensive traces of the line are still pointing the shores of the North Sea.

A few focal points are preserved as first-class museums. These include the strongholds of Hirtsthals and the huge battery at Hanstholm, in Northern Jutland. The latter had been designed around a cluster of four monster coastal guns, to the aim of controlling the passage through the Skagerrak channel, providing access to the Baltic Sea. A twin battery – Vara – was built to the north of the strait in Norway.

Closer to the German border, the area of Blavand – featuring also the famous ‘Tirpitz battery’ in its arsenal – is another example of a partly preserved portion of the line. Bangsbo fort in Frederikshaven has been partly refurbished and opened as a museum, after being used by the Danish military for a while. There you can find one of the few remaining examples of an Atlantic Wall installation with its original guns still in place.

Smaller strongholds, opened as smaller scale museums or left to more adventurous explorers, often feature unique special constructions, which justify a detour at least for more committed war historians. These include the Skagen battery, the disguised bunkers in Thyboron, and the complicated Stauning battery, built on two opposite coasts of a closed firth.

All these sites – and a few more – are covered in this post, which is based on photographs taken in August 2019. Denmark is officially protecting the installations of the Atlantic Wall as historical buildings – unlike France, for instance – so visiting even abandoned sites maybe rewarding, especially if they are out of the mainstream touristic routes. Unfortunately, many bunkers now closer to crowded touristic areas have been damaged by vandals.

Sights

Map

The sites covered in this post are listed on the following map. Sites opened as museums are pinpointed in red, wild sites are marked in blue.

The sites are listed in the post following the coastline of Jutland from its southwestern end.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Blavand – Shore Battery & Military Area

Located about 50 miles north of the German border along the coast of the North Sea, the small town of Blavand sits on a promontory protruding towards the sea, and protecting the access to the port town of Esbjerg – still today a major commercial port of Denmark.

The area of Blavand saw the construction of an incredible number of Atlantic Wall elements, which grew up in more instances during the war years.

Close by the parking ahead of the lighthouse on the very tip of the promontory, you can find trailheads leading to the southern and western shores of the promontory.

The southern shore makes for a typical North Sea landscape – an endless sand beach. What makes it different from others is the number of light bunkers placed along the shoreline. Despite little imposing, this model – type ‘F’ – was purpose built for the wide shores of Denmark in 1944, in view of a potential enemy beach landing. These firing positions were armed with machine guns, and placed at pre-determined intervals – about 1’500 ft – matching their accuracy range.

Many bunkers are slowly sinking in the sand, and only small parts of them can be seen emerging from the ground.

Others have been turned into strange sculptures, adding a horse head and tail.

Under favorable tide conditions, you may enter some of the bunkers. There you can appreciate their simple structure, with a defensive embrasure by the entrance (looking towards the coast) and loopholes to the sides of the firing chamber.

On the beach close to the lighthouse you can find a very big bunker with a wide hollow cave on the inland side, which used to support a searchlight.

Along the western shore you can find more massive bunkers. These include four former coastal gun batteries. These heavier constructions have assumed strange attitudes, after sinking in the sand somewhat irregularly over the years.

Looking towards the inland from the beach, you can spot an aiming/fire control positions, with a distinctive bulbous roof and a long curved slot on the facade.

Your walk along the northern shore may be interrupted by safety warnings concerning mine threat. As a complement to the defensive potential of the Atlantic Wall, extensive minefields were set up on most of the Danish beaches. This turned into a big issue soon after WWII, when an extensive demining action had to be carried out.

Furthermore, part of the Blavand promontory is occupied by a military firing range. When training exercises are taking place, special warning lights are lit and flags are raised, to delimit the territory where you should not venture.

In the dunes slightly inland from the shoreline, it is possible to find another big number of bunkers. They are not always visible from the distance, and entrance is in most cases from one side only – the only side emerging from the sand.

A very distinctive item is the colossal platform for a ‘Mammut’ type long-range anti-aircraft radar. This used to be operated by the Luftwaffe, whereas other bunkers in Blavand – like elsewhere along the Atlantic Wall – used to be run by other branches of the Germany military.

The base for the radar is in itself a rather complex bunker, with several cavities and extensive piping, once needed for power cables feeding the antenna, as well as other wiring.

Close by, a smaller radar base bunker used to be operated by the German Navy. Also here, holes and passages for cables can be found in the walls and roof.

It is noteworthy how many bunkers feature traces of original decorations, like painted walls, fake wallpaper, frescoes and small frieze lines. This is typical to many other installations of the Atlantic Wall.

Metal hardware can be found in the form of a bulky aiming turret emerging from a bunker.

In another instance, a mortar mouth pops out from the ground.

The underground bunker underneath the latter can be explored with some difficulty – there are also quite annoying bats inside -, but it reveals an aiming wheel with original markings in a reinforced concrete dome!

An interesting sight nearby the lighthouse is the tower once supporting a ‘See Riese’ radar. The protruding arms once sustained a wooden platform for military operators.

Getting there and moving around

The area of Blavand is rather extensive and rich of diverse installations, so notwithstanding the general bad shape of most of the bunkers, visiting may easily take 3-4 hours for a committed tourist, getting inside most of the items. A good starting point is the free parking by the lighthouse, provided you come early especially in summer, cause it tends to get more and more crowded along the day.

Blavand – ‘Tirpitz’ Coastal Guns

Despite at least some of the bunkers on the shores of Blavand being in a relatively good shape, there is a part of the Atlantic Wall which is officially preserved as a museum. This is one of the two unfinished bunkers intended to support a set of massive 38 cm coastal guns.

These guns – four, two for each bunker – were originally intended to be put on board battleship Gneisenau. The latter got damaged in port, and the guns were diverted to coastal use. The decision to build the Tirpitz battery to protect the port of Esbjerg came relatively late during the war, in 1944. As a result, construction of the battery supporting structures was not completed when the war ended, and the four never installed guns were scrapped – except one, which can be admired in Hanstholm (see below).

The name ‘Tirpitz’ attributed to this battery is of uncertain origin, and sometimes this installation is also referred to as ‘Vogelnest’.

The museum has been built only in the southernmost bunker. The installation is very modern (and crowded), and it has been designed as a thematic museum in five sections. Two of the most interesting are about the Atlantic Wall and its impact on local life, and on the extensive mining and demining operations on the shores of Denmark.

Other sections are related to amber trade and local seamen activities.

Finally, you can get access to the base of the gun turret. Photographs are bad here, due to very poor lighting and limitations on camera use.

You can see a central round dome, surrounded by an external corridor. Traces of a post-war explosion can be noticed looking at the metal part of the construction.

Outside of the museum you can find a cannon cut in pieces, plus rigs used for construction. The bulky concrete arms protruding from the roof were meant to support the crane for mounting the cannons.

With a five minutes walk from this bunker, you can get to the northern battery. This is not preserved, and the entrances have been bricked up. Yet you may better appreciate the size of the bunker from this exemplar than from the one turned into a museum.