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?

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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.

Former Soviet and East German Military Bases in the GDR – Pictures from Above

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Soviet Ghosts in Germany

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At the end of WWII, the territory of conquered Germany was split in four sectors by the then-Allies – the US, Great Britain, France and the USSR. A substantial part to the north-east of the country fell in Stalin’s hands. A few years later, following a re-organization of all territories occupied by the Red Army during WWII, the Soviet part of Germany was turned into a communist-led state known as German Democratic Republic (‘GDR’, or ‘DDR’ in German language).

Especially from a military standpoint, similar to Poland, and later Hungary and Czechoslovakia, this produced a kind of cohabitation. As a matter of fact, besides clearly backing the communist dictatorship in occupied countries, the Soviets did not quit at all from newly acquired western territories. On the contrary, thanks to the position on a potential war front had the Cold War turned hot, the westernmost Soviet-controlled countries – with the GDR on top – were stuffed with Soviet military bases, and hundreds of thousands troops. These shared the map with the national military, which in the GDR were known as NVA (an acronym standing for the German equivalent of ‘National People’s Army’).

The national and Soviet forces often took control of separated military facilities, and while operating in a coordinated fashion, they were substantially different entities. As said, this was typical to many Soviet-controlled countries. Yet especially on the relatively small East German territory, of high strategic value thanks to the shared border with the West, the total number of tank bases, training academies, air bases, missile bases, nuclear depots, shooting ranges, etc., reached an unrivaled world’s peak, when compared to the population or the size of the country.

Following the crisis leading to the end of the GDR in 1989, and the collapse of the USSR roughly two years later, all these military assets turned surplus. The German reunification, and the disappearance of a significant military opponent in the close vicinity of the border, triggered a rationalization of military resources in Germany. Most of the NVA bases were closed. The Soviet-controlled installations were evacuated more slowly – it took until 1994 to bring back to their Russian homeland the thousands of troops and tonnes of material stationed in Germany. Once returned to Germany, also most of these bases were deactivated and closed.

Since then, the fate of these former military facilities in Germany has been in the hands of local governments or national initiatives. As a matter of fact, following a few decades spent as ghost bases – a real paradise for urbex explorers! – most air bases have been converted into solar power plants. Some of them have retained an airport status, either with a very reduced runway, or in some cases being turned into full-scale commercial airports. There are exceptions too, as some are still at least partly abandoned, and while invaded by vegetation, they are still totally recognizable especially from above. Other bases, like tank bases or nuclear depots, while mostly earmarked for demolition, have been comparatively better ‘preserved’ – at least, they have been attacked by the state more slowly, so there is still much to see there.

You can find on this website several reports about quite a few of these military bases in the former GDR – especially airbases – from a ‘ground perspective’. Sometimes, it is difficult to appreciate the size, shape, as well as their concentration over the former GDR territory. In order to better show these aspects, now here you have a portrait of many of these bases from the air!

The photographs in the present post are from a single, two-hours flight on a Cessna 172 single-prop aircraft. The flight took place in July 2019. As you can see from the locations pinpointed on the map below, on our route we met not less than 15 former (or still active) military items. And this is just a short trip mostly in southern Brandenburg – i.e. the region immediately south of Berlin.

This report is a complement to other chapters on this site, yet it is especially interesting on its own, as a comprehensive bundle of aerial pics on this subject is not easy to find!

Sights

Points of interest are listed following the flight plan, which was flown roughly as on the map, in a counter-clockwise direction, starting from Reinsdorf Airfield.

Soviet Nuclear Bunker Stolzenhain

This one-of-a-kind facility – there were actually two such depots, but one is today demolished and inaccessible – used to be a major storage for nuclear weapons for the Soviet Western Group of Forces, which included all Soviet troops stationed in the GDR.

The bunker is today closed, but it apparently lies on private land, hence sparing it from being turned into something else (or simply flattened) by the local government. You can see a dedicated report in this chapter.

Vegetation has grown wild in the area, but from above you can clearly spot the rectangular perimeter of the external concrete wall. From north to south, an internal road crossed the rectangle in the middle.

The bunkers are half-interred, hence from above you can barely spot the entrances. These are aligned along a service road arranged in a hexagonal shape.

To the south of the bunker area, you can spot a former group of barracks and an access road heading west. Construction and demolition works are taking place in this area.

Control and Reporting Center Schönewalde

This is an active military installation, and actually quite an advanced one. It is tasked with monitoring the air operations over a large part of the airspace over Germany.

The origin of this half-interred technical installation can be traced to the 1970s, when the site was activated under responsibility of the NVA. Following the end of communist rule and after German reunification, unlike many others this site was not demolished, but instead it was developed further, and pressed into the defense chain of NATO since the mid-1990s.

You can see many half-interred warehouses, garages for trucks, a smaller radar antenna to the west of the complex, close to a helipad.

There is also a larger antenna to the northeastern corner of the CRC.

Holzdorf Air Base

This large airport used to be an airbase of the NVA. It is one of the few airports from the Cold War in the GDR which were turned into a full-scale modern airport. Today it is a base of the Bundeswehr, i.e. the German military.

As we approached from north, you can spot first typical large communist buildings, forming a citadel which is likely still today hosting troops and their families. There is also reportedly a flight academy for helicopters in this complex, north of the airport.

The airport features large hangars for military helicopters to the northwest of the runway.

A rather old-styled control tower can be seen to the south of the runway.

Falkenberg Air Base

We reached the southernmost point on our flight with the former Soviet base in Falkenberg. This old base dating to the 1930s went on to be developed into a Soviet base home to fighter aircraft, MiG-23 and later MiG-29. Close to the airfield, there used to be a SAM missile battery (to the west of the runway).

Approaching from the north-west, you can notice a small ghost town and a large technical area, with what appear to be big unreinforced maintenance hangars, today used for something else by local companies.

The airport is today dedicated to light aviation activities. The runway has been shortened, and sadly large portions of the original airfield have been covered with solar cells.

Most interestingly, in the trees to the northwest of the runway, you can spot four unfinished aircraft shelters – possibly of the type AU-16, which could host both the MiG-23 and MiG-29. They look like short concrete tunnels. They should have been covered with land, but works were interrupted in 1990.

More aircraft shelters – completed – can be found to the east of the field, today used for storage, as it is often the case.

Finsterwalde Air Base

This installation was operative since WWII, when the large hangars and control tower still in place to the south of the apron were built. The base went on serving as a Soviet base, hosting fighters and fighter-bombers of many kinds along its illustrious history. A visit to this site, with its nuclear depot, can be found in this chapter.

Approaching from the southwest, we flew over the nuclear storage bunker, made for nuclear warheads to supply aircraft operating from here. The columns once holding the crane to lift the warheads can be clearly spotted.

There is also a group of Soviet-style houses for the families of the troops. Apparently somebody is still living there!

The base was enlarged with reinforced shelters to the north and southwest of the runway. The large hangars to the south are still in use with local companies, some of course connected with flight operations – this airport is still active for general aviation operations.

Enroute to the next waypoint, we flew over a natural preserve, which offered some quite spectacular sights.

Alteno-Luckwalde Air Base

This airfield north of Finsterwalde was a reserve airport of the East German NVA. While never developed to the extent of primary airfields, it was among the few reserve air bases to receive an asphalt runway.

Today, the view is rather desolating – the airfield has been totally covered with solar cells.

Brand-Briesen Air Base

This WWII base was selected for quick and substantial improvement since the early Cold War years, and went on to be one of the most developed Soviet air bases in the former GDR. In the beginning it hosted Ilyushin Il-28 bombers, but in the jet age it was home to a number of different squadrons and aircraft types. You can find the results of the exploration of a part of this base in this chapter.

Approaching from the south, you first spot an immense hangar, conceived at the turning of the century for commercial airships, and later turned into a water park – Tropical Island.

 

But more interestingly, to the south of the airfield – unusually far from it, actually – you can find a depot for nuclear weapons, to supply the aircraft operating from the base. Similar to Finsterwalde, the pillars once holding the crane for lifting the warheads can be clearly seen.

Still to the south of the airfield, the local citadel for the troops is today an interesting ghost town.

As you may notice, the airfield is today closed, and has been largely converted into a recreation park. Incredibly, they decided to build an array of small houses on the former premises of the airport, and in close proximity to the monster airship hangar.

Yet some relics from the past function of the air base are to be found scattered around. These include aircraft shelters, and more rare engine testing facilities – V-shaped concrete walls emerging from the grass nearby some of the shelters.

Kleinköris Air Base

This airbase was activated in the late 1960s as a reserve airfield for the East German NVA. It was used for exercises, and as a home base for helicopters of the Volkspolizei, i.e. the police of the GDR. After deactivation, it was used as a military storage for a while, and finally closed.

The appearance, perfectly evident from the air, is rather unusual – it features a long grassy runway, with concrete taxiways at the ends. To the reports from the time, this is the original configuration of the airbase. Luckily, it is basically still intact.

Wünsdorf

The name of this small town will be forever linked to the two military high commands which were headquartered on its premises – Hitler’s OKW first, and the command of the Soviet Western Group of Forces for the full span of the Cold War. You can find a dedicated chapter here.

From above, you can get a nice view of the extension and shape of this military town, as well as good portraits of some of the highlights in it. Approaching from the southeast, you first meet the most famous building in Wünsdorf, the officers’ house. This majestic building dates from the early 20th century. It knew an extensive renovation during the Cold War years, as an officers’ club for the Soviet Red Army.

This huge building features a statue of Lenin on one side. In the wings to the back, you can find a swimming pool and a theater. The round building with a mural is a late Soviet addition, and once hosted a circular panorama painting.

The high command occupied the buildings north of the officers’ club, today converted into something else.

Another highlight of Wünsdorf are the many bunkers. These include the Maybach bunkers from Hitler’s era, once hosting the OKW. These were designed for deception as living houses, but could withstand aerial bombardment. They were blown by the Soviet, with only partial success. The Zeppelin bunkers, like cusped concrete towers, were designed to resist bombardment, by deviating air-dropped bombs falling from above along the sidewalls and down to the ground nearby.