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

DON'T LEAVE IT AT HOME! AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK or KINDLE from your national Amazon store!
amazon.com | amazon.de | amazon.co.uk
amazon.it | amazon.fr | amazon.co.jp

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.

 

War Museums in Moscow

People visiting Moscow from abroad usually spend much of the time in the Kremlin and the nearby districts, where they can find many cultural attractions, as well as fashion stores, great hotels and restaurants. Among the features of Russia’s capital city less known to the average tourist are the many monuments and museums dedicated to war history, which in some cases host extremely interesting exhibitions and artifacts from various ages, which would tell the visitor as much as the most prominent attractions in town.

Three I could visit in person are cited in this post, all of them easily reachable with the usual metro rail in a few minutes from the downtown.

The following photographs were taken during a visit to Moscow in September 2015.

Central Museum of the Armed Forces

This is a purely Soviet installation Cold War buffs will definitely like very much… Despite the old-fashioned website – which after all contributes to the picture of a Soviet-state-owned company… – the building was built following WWII, better known in Russia as the Great Patriotic war of  1941-1945. On the outside, besides the entrance there are a missile and a tank. Once inside you immediately find yourself in a large two-levels hall, dominated by a sculpture of Lenin and a huge mosaic wall, plus paintings of battles and other war-themed scenes all around.

From soon after your arrival, you get to grips with the only real ‘problem’ of this installation, where – just like many others touristic sights in Russia – everything – including the escape plan in the event of fire… – is written in Russian only. So, from the viewpoint of history, you’d better go prepared if you want to get the most from this exhibition, for you won’t find any understandable written information, unless obviously you understand some Russian.

There are several halls in the museum, related to historical moments from WWI up to the present day. A first notable room presents a lively reconstruction of a WWI trench fight, with lights and sounds.

The path through the museum follows the course of history, including the revolution, which put an end to WWI for Russia. Then follows WWII. I have to say I never found a collection of Nazi artifacts so rich as the one preserved here in any other place I visited. Literally hundreds of items, from propaganda posters to flags and banners, weapons, medals, papers,… Also present in due quantity are flags and banners of the Soviet Union, as well as Soviet uniforms, weapons and medals from the age of WWII.

Probably the most notable items from the time are the red banner raised on the Reichstag in Berlin – the corresponding b/w photograph is today one of the symbols of the end of WWII – and an original metal eagle with a swastika, probably taken from the Reichstag or the Reichkanzlei. The flag and the eagle are put together in a kind of monumental installation in a large central hall, celebrating the victory of the Soviet Union in the Patriotic War.

An old coat and a hat belonging to Stalin are also part of the exhibition.

Moving on to the Cold War period, a first focus is on the early history of the Soviet atomic program, leading to the detonation of the first nuclear asset in 1949, and to the testing by the Soviets of the largest thermonuclear device ever. Many models and some documentation are available – I could not understand the details, in that occasion I really regretted having no knowledge of Russian! The development of strategic missiles is covered next, including the much connected race to space.

The highlight of this part of the exhibition – at least for western visitors – may be the wreck of Francis Gary Powers’ aircraft, downed in 1959 by a SAM, basically a Soviet invention, during an illegal flight over the territory of the USSR ordered by the CIA. A large part of the fuselage and of the wings can be seen, with technical labels in English. Also part of the ejectable seat and other parts of this Lockheed U-2 are packed together somewhat inelegantly. Some original papers and maps the pilot had with him at the time of the accident are exhibited, together with many photographs. Extremely interesting.

Approaching the last stage of the Soviet Union, scale models, mockups and parts of larger nuclear missiles are presented. Also the war in Afghanistan is mentioned and the more contemporary war actions in Chechnya and other theaters following the collapse of the USSR are outlined and artifacts and photographs showcased. A window from the relic of the ill-fated Kursk submarine remembers this more recent tragedy – together with a monument on the outside to the right of the entrance.

Finally, the backyard is full of interesting items like missiles, gantries, heavy vehicles, tanks and so on. Unfortunately, it started raining heavily at the time of my visit, so photographs were not possible.

All in all, I would say one of the best museums in Europe on the topic of 20th century war history, and probably the best on Russian/Soviet operations in the 20th century. The presentation may be perceived as antiquated for todays standards, nonetheless this may be appreciated by people who are not totally new to this piece of history and who are more interested in seeing valuable and unusual ‘hardware’. I would recommend at least a full hour for the interested visitor, extendable to 1.5 hours rather easily including a detailed visit to the outside exhibition.

Getting there and moving around

The museum is not far north from downtown Moscow, less than .2 miles from Dostoyevskaya metro stop (line 10). The building can be approached walking along ul. Sovetskoy Armii, on the side of the park. The neighborhood is decent and safe, I had no bad feelings visiting alone.

Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Moscow is scattered with monuments remembering the Soviet effort and the victorious outcome of WWII, but the focal point of the celebration is the park at Poklonnaya Hill with the museum of the Great Patriotic War. The park is an extensive area, built around a perspective leading to the top of the hill, where the museum can be found (website here). This is hosted in the curved building behind the very tall spine which can be seen from the distance.

Approaching from the east, from the famous Kutuzovski Prospekt where many important political players of the USSR used to live, including Brezhnev, it is possible to spot first a huge arch, just in the middle of the road, and departing from it the perspective leading to the hill, just to the left of the Prospekt. To the left of the hill as well as beyond the spine there is a park with several smaller installations remembering war actions involving the USSR and more recently Russia, and following WWII. It is also possible to find there an exhibition with cannons, armored vehicles and other warcrafts.

The museum, accessible from the front of the circular building, is intended basically to celebrate the heroism of the Red Army in the war against Germany. It acts as a place of remembrance for the many who never came back, and during my visit there I coincidentally could assist to a ceremony with high ranking military staff celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

Inside the most notable items are huge and very vivid dioramas – I must say, very well made, especially for the age – reconstructing some scenes from some especially dramatic battles of the war against Nazi Germany.

In the crypt it is possible to find the very interesting ‘Hall of sorrow’, a more modern monument to the fallen soldiers, with many crystal drops hanging from the ceiling, representing the tears of Mother Russia. These should be really many, with a proportion to the number of soldiers actually lost in the conflict.

The exhibition of artifacts includes a selection of items from various moments and fronts of the war. I could not tour this part freely because of the above mentioned ceremony, but what I could see was interesting. Unfortunately, I could not see the Hall of fame.

Above all, the plan of the whole installation and the Soviet style adopted, not so bombastic in this case, are extremely interesting. Touring the museum may take less than 45 minutes. If you are interested in moving in the park, you may need more. Distances here follow monumental proportions, so monuments are not really close to each other as they might seem on a map.

Getting there and moving around

The area can be reached easily from Park Pobedy metro stop on line 3. The perspective leading to the museum starting from the arch (and from the metro station) is about .6 miles long.

Museum-Panorama ‘The battle of Borodino’

You can find this museum very close to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War described above. The theme of the exhibition is here the battle of Borodino during the war against Napoleon and the French Army.

Borodino is located about 80 miles west of Moscow. There the advancing French Army faced the full power of the Russian Army. Napoleon himself was present and led war operations, while Kutuzov and Bagration, the top-ranking generals of the Tsar, were among the strategists on the Russian side. The battle was a prototypical battle of the time, with wild fire from cannons, infantry and cavalry, all in the arena. It turned out very cruel, taking a huge death toll on both parts. As a matter of fact, the Russian Army, which had constantly retreated avoiding the contact with the French until that great battle, continued back towards Moscow, which was finally abandoned and set on fire as Napoleon’s Army was reaching it. On one side, the Russians failed to stop the French at Borodino, on the other they set for the French a deadly trap – the French did not quit chasing the Russians until the winter of 1812 finally struck when they were infinitely far from home with no active supply lines, nor food nor resupply storages at hand. The season killed basically 9 out of 10 on the French side, triggering the end of Napoleon’s dreams of power.

The museum was recently refurbished in a modern key, with a detailed description of some moments of the battle on wide screens and interactive panels – again, unfortunately all in Russian. Uniforms, weapons and artifacts add to the visit, but the highlight here is the beautiful panorama painting. This is similar to the cyclorama in Gettysburg, PA, and it is a more than 300 ft long circular painting vividly depicting some important moments in the battle of Borodino. As you can learn from the website, the painting was made in 1912 (before the Soviets) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the battle. The building was renovated in 1962.

The visit may not take much, especially if you are not interested in the war against Napoleon, but I would suggest going there even only for the uniqueness of the installation as well as  for its artistic significance. In any case, the visit may not take more than 45 minutes, especially if you don’t understand Russian.

Right behind the museum it is possible to see the wooden hut where Kutuzov and his staff discussed and decided for the destruction of Moscow in order to jeopardize the plans of the French to find a shelter there for the approaching winter season.

Getting there and moving around

The museum can be reached easily from Park Pobedy metro stop on line 3, like the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. From the metro stop you can walk west on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, and you will soon find the museum on the left (northern) side of the road, about .2 miles from the station.

World War I Trenches in the Saint-Mihiel Salient

Not so well-known to the public as the ‘fort city’ of Verdun, the region between that town and the baroque city of Nancy, France, was theatre of fierce fighting in WWI. German troops poured in the area immediately in 1914, and the Fifth Army conquered the region while the advance of the Kaiser’s forces was in full swing almost everywhere between Belgium and the Alps. By the time the line of the front was consolidated at the end of 1914, a salient was established between the villages of Les Eparges and Pont-a-Mousson, extending about 12 miles to the west into French-controlled territory, reaching the small town of Saint-Mihiel. This anomaly in the shape of the front line would be hard to clear, and in spite of several brave actions by the French armed forces, it was to last in place until the closing months of WWI in 1918.

Coincidentally, the United States had started deploying their forces to help those of France, the British Commonwealth and their Allies on the German western front. The silencing of the Saint-Mihiel salient was part of the final assault to the German lines, leading quickly to the end of the conflict, and the first campaign the American Expeditionary Forces of General Pershing were in charge of. The attack was launched on September 12th, 1918 and lasted one week. It involved both ground artillery and troops and the US Army Air Service, and it turned out highly succesful, the salient being totally taken over.

Today the place represents a less-known, highly interesting field of exploration for war historians. This section of the front was the stage of a prototypical static war of attrition, lasting the full duration of the war. French and German trenches faced each other at a distance of a few yards, and they were consolidated and fortified to last for long. Today some of these trenches are still visible, and the region is pointed with memorials erected after the war, just like the theatre of the Somme and that around Ypres (Jeper), north of Verdun (see this post). The difference is the very much lower number of people visiting, which allows a more ‘concentrated’, less ‘touristic’ visit.

A distinctive sight in the region is the imposing memorial to the US forces, commemorating the succesful action against the German army in the salient, and those who died in the operation.

The following photographs were taken during a visit to the area in August 2016.

Getting there and moving around

The area of the former salient is extensive and located in a nice, relaxing countryside, making for a good destination for a bike tour. If you like to concentrate on war relics, I would suggest moving by car from site to site, accessing each site by foot – this was my choice. The war sites are all freely accessible with no restrictions, and none of them requires special physical ability for touring. The only danger to be noted is that of unexploded shells and explosives, which albeit remote is always real in this and all other former WWI theatres of operations. It will suffice avoiding touching any suspect item you may come across. Local explanatory panels and maps can be found in many of these sites, but directions for reaching them only appear very close to the sites themselves.

I listed the sites I’ve explored in this area on the map below. I spent more than half day exploring these sites. I approached from Toul and drove directly to Flirey, which I suggest adopting as a starting point. Then I moved westward via Montsec to Saint-Mihiel. Finally I left north, following the trench of the Calonne and the old service road reaching Verdun (see map).

Your exploration may take less or more than mine depending on your level of interest. There is not a great ‘hardware difference’ between the various trenches, so if you get bored after the first one don’t expect to regain interest from the others… If you – like me – have an interest in retracing the history of the salient and the attacks in its different sectors, then you will likely enjoy your stay in the region.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Sights

Flirey – destroyed village

Most people know of the air bombing of Europe during WWII and of the destruction it caused to many cities on both sides. What is less known is that WWI brought a sometimes deeper and more complete destruction to villages and non-military buildings. Of course, differently from WWII, this was mainly the result of artillery shelling, and this happened only relatively close to the front, as a ‘side effect’ of firing against enemy troops. The village of Flirey ended up on the border between the invading German forces and the retreating French troops. When the line of the front was consolidated, the village was caught in a kind of ‘nobody’s land’, hence suffered the fate of many towns and villages in similar conditions, being rapidly reduced to ruins.

Today a small part of the planform of some of the original buildings is preserved in a dedicated small park. There you will find also informative panels about the history of the salient.

‘Sentier historique 1914-1918’ – historical walkway with preserved trenches

A local society of enthusiasts made a precious preservation work on a portion of the French and German trenches just a few minutes from northwest of Flirey, with the support of local institutions. Here you can walk in the original trenches, getting explanations from some panels placed along the trail. The German trenches are notable for the very advanced design with a serious use of concrete – making their trenches really durable and ‘fresh-looking’ even today.

In some points the French and German trenches are placed at a distance of a few yards from each other.

There is a map at the trailhead (see map above for the position of trailhead). I suggest taking a pic of it with your phone for moving around without difficulty.

Butte de Montsec – Memorial of the American Expeditionary Forces

The American Battle Monument Commission had this monument erected on top of  a hill, with a scenic view over Lac de Madine, a local lake, and the hills around it. This is an open air memorial, accessible all day. There is a local office offering explanatory leaflets, but it was closed when I passed by. Anyway, a placard with detailed explanations about the history of both the actions in the salient and the monument is placed at the base of the site. The memorial can be spotted also from quite far away, due to its size and location.

Bois brulé – German and French trenches

This is one of three sections of well-preserved trenches closer to the village of Saint Mihiel. Fighting in this area was particularly deadly on the French side from the first days of the war in September 1914 up to June 1915. A refurbished part of French trenches provides an idea of the harsh conditions soldiers had to withstand, especially if you go on a rainy day…

Also here the enemy trenches are located extremely close to each other. The ground is pocked with craters from artillery shelling.

Trench of the Bavarians and Roffignac

This site is next to the previous one, and you can walk from one to the other following the old trenches. A more heavily fortified section of the German trench lines can be seen here, with engraved German words over the entry to some underground deposits. This section of the trenches, despite being fairly well-kept, was very lonely when I visited, and I came across some wildlife.