Between the end of WWII and the collapse of the USSR in the early Nineties, Germany was caught in the middle of the confrontation between the West and the Soviet bloc. An unnatural and heavily guarded new border was established between the two adversaries, which crossed the extensive territory of todays Germany. Thanks to the presence of American, British and French military forces over the western territory of the Country, and of the Red Army to the east, with the start of the Cold War the German ‘inner border’ became a modern line of the front for this new type of confrontation (see this post).
All armies stationed there benefited from substantial resources poured by the respective governments in the setup of permanent military detachments and infrastructures. The aim for the nations involved was that of having on the spot a credible force, capable of effectively fighting an enemy army – as well as hitting the populations of neighbor Countries – in case a new war was started in Europe. In the end, an open war was never fought, yet for decades it was deemed possible, and in some crisis moments even likely (see this post).
This chapter presents pictures from five Cold-War-themed sites in southwest Germany. Photographs were taken in April 2018, and in the summer of 2020 and 2021.
Navigate this post – click on links to scroll
- Nike Missile Battery, Wurmberg
- Pershing Warhead Storage Bunker, Waldstetten
- Internationales Luftfahrt-Museum, Villingen-Schwenningen
- Military History Museum, Stammheim am Main
- Former US Airbase, Giebelstadt
With the end of the game for the communist empire and following German reunification, Russian forces withdrew from all bases in Germany – as well as from many other Countries in Europe – and so did the foreign NATO allies, with a very few exceptions. Most former military bases and military infrastructures fell in a state of disrepair, and by the years the majority were either completely wiped out or converted into something else. Nonetheless, especially in the less crowded territories of the former communist East Germany, visible traces remain from the period, in the form of – sometimes immense – abandoned airports and military bases (see this post and links therein).
Comparatively less traces of the once substantial presence of NATO forces are to be found in todays western ‘Länder’ – i.e. administrative regions – which used to be part of West Germany. Yet something of interest for Cold War ‘archaeologists’ can be found also here.
A long chain of anti-aircraft missile batteries was implemented based on the Nike missile system designed in the US, and implemented by the US Army as well as other NATO armies in West Germany. The defensive line was established in the 1950s and updated over the years, running almost parallel to the border with the communist DDR, but located pretty far from it and well within the territory of West Germany. It stretched from the North Sea to the Bodensee, on the border with Switzerland. There are some very extensive references on the web providing a complete description of the Nike defensive barrier both in the US and abroad, a very rich one here (the link should point directly to the German section).
In this chapter you can find some pictures from an exploration of an abandoned Nike Hercules site next to the town of Wurmberg, just out of Pforzheim, between Stuttgart and the French border. It used to be run directly by the US Army.
Intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) were part of the tactical plans of both the US and the Soviets in Europe. The Pershing platform, based on the homonym theater-level nuclear missile, was deployed in Germany, and placed in the inventory of both the US Army and the West German Luftwaffe. The missile was updated in several instances in the decades of the Cold War, until it was banned by the INF treaty in 1988, agreed upon by the administrations of Gorbachev and Reagan.
Among the strongpoints of the Pershing missile deployment in Europe, a huge warhead deposit was built close to the town of Waldstetten, next to Schwäbisch Gmund in southern Germany. In this chapter you will find photographs from an exploration of this mysterious site.
Furthermore, a nice collection of aircraft from both sides of the Iron Curtain can be found in the southwestern corner of the Country, next to the town of Villingen-Schwenningen – one of the few air museums in this part of Germany. Similarly, the large collections of the military museum in Stammheim, next to the town of Schweinfurt in northwestern Bavaria, and once close to the ‘Inner Border’ with the GDR, has on display substantial specimens from the Cold War era.
Finally, a special feature presented in this chapter is a group of pictures from the former airbase in Giebelstadt, south of Würzburg, Bavaria. Today a privately owned general aviation airport, this former military airbase gained a special historical significance when it was selected for the departure of secret overflights of the communist territory beyond the Iron Curtain, performed with the Lockheed U-2 in the late Fifties, by decision of president Eisenhower.
The site in Wurmberg, east of Pforzheim, was actually Battery ‘Delta’ – i.e. the fourth – of the four missile forces managed by the the 3rd Battalion of the 71st Air Defense Artillery (ADA) regiment.
Typical Nike missile batteries were composed of two geographically separated areas. The largest was the ‘Launch area’, with missile storage facilities – sometimes reinforced underground bunkers, sometimes more usual ‘soft’ hangars – and launch pads. The other was the ‘Integrated Fire Control area’ or ‘IFC’, where all antennas and electronic equipment for target detection and missile guidance were placed. Due to the limited speed of motion of the missile guidance antennas, the distance between the launch site and the IFC had to be greater than a threshold, while the elevation of the IFC had to be somewhat above the the launch pads. These technological constraints led the choice of the sites suitable for the installation of the Nike batteries.
The site was deactivated in the Eighties, and both areas were sanitized in more instances, basically demolishing any buildings. The ‘final stage’ of the operation is likely to be underway at the time of my visit, as you can see from the pictures, where piles of gravel and moved land can be spotted all around the launch site.
Surprisingly, a feature that has come to our days virtually without any alteration is the external fence of the launch site, which runs all around the launch area and is still particularly impenetrable. Also the rounds of barbed wire on top are still there.
The exploration of the launch area is pretty straightforward. It is rectangular, basically flat and aligned along an east-western direction. Close to the eastern end, you meet a flat area with a concrete pavement – now partly demolished – and a curved road nearby. This is where the missiles and warheads were assembled. Nike missiles could mount nuclear warheads, but apparently this was a rarely adopted option.
The next notable item to the west is a water basin, still in a very good shape. There used to be a water system all around the base. Remains of demolished buildings can be spotted around here too.
A mystery electric cable comes out of the ground on a spot. It is noteworthy that the launch area and IFC were connected by an underground cable, but I don’t think this is the one you see in the pics.
This battery had three launch sectors, bearing the little imaginative names of ‘Alpha’, ‘Bravo’ and ‘Charlie’. You can find them in a sequence, walking towards the west end of the site.
The pads of the Alpha sector, while now greatly damaged by the demolition work, are still in place with their metal covers.
There were three launch pads on each sector. The area of each sector appears unnecessarily large, but actually the missile storage hangar used to stay beyond the launch pads, occupying about half the area of each sector. Today these soft constructions have disappeared.
To the west of each sector there is a small bunker, intended for the protection of the troops working around the launch pads, in case of an attack to the battery. These bunkers are not very damaged, so they constitute a very interesting part of the site today.
The protection bunkers have two exits on the two opposite sides – so the Alpha bunker connects the Alpha and Bravo sectors, the Bravo bunker the Bravo and Charlie sectors, while the Charlie bunker connects the Charlie sector to the logistic storage area to the west end of the launch site.
The Alpha bunker is well conserved – except for some spoiling by some idiot writer. There is no camouflage paint coat outside, just some plain green paint, and the walls inside are painted in a bright crimson color. The bunker has two opposite entrances, and two corresponding corridors leading to two massive tight doors, which give access to a central protected room, insulated from the outside.
Writings in English are still there in the central room of bunker Alpha.
The launch sectors Bravo and Charlie are more damaged than Alpha.
The Bravo bunker is camouflaged, and differently from Alpha the walls inside are painted in water green. It is possible to notice how the central room was separated from the rest of the structure for blast insulation, similar to other missile sites (see this post). There is a wide slot at the level of the doors.
Further writings in English and some original linoleum pavement are still perfectly visible.
The Charlie bunker is different from the other two. The facade is wider, it is coated in a camo paint, and bears the name ‘Charlie’ above the eastern door. Inside it is very dark, possibly as a result of a fire. In the insulated room it is possible to see an original air conditioning system.
The three launch sectors are connected to the south by a wide road, from where you can appreciate the extension and state of conservation of the original fence.
The IFC area is located just north of the small town of Wurmberg, on top of a hill. Unfortunately, the former military site has been wiped out and a nothing less than a waste disposal facility has taken its place! Anyway, from this vantage point you can clearly see the launch area, roughly two miles to the west.
Getting there and moving around
Getting to the launch area is very easy. Leave the highway N.8 close to Pforzheim (the exit is 45b Pforzheim-Süd) and take for Pforzheim on Wurmberger Strasse. Take the very first road to the right and park your car there. You will see a gate open since ages and an almost unmaintained road taking straight north and climbing gently uphill. This road will take you to the official gate of the launch area in 0.4 miles. Getting in is probably prohibited, but the area is pretty remote and secluded, and I didn’t see a person around during all my stay.
The site is geographically compact, so touring may take about 2 to 2.5 hours taking all pictures, if you have planned your movements in advance. A tripod is strictly necessary for taking decent pictures inside the very dark bunkers.
The IFC area can be reached going to Wurmberg, leaving the same exit but taking the direction opposite to Pforzheim. You will soon reach central Wurmberg. Cimb along Gollmerstrasse, then along Oschelbronnerstrasse. Where the village ends and the road stops climbing you will see a field to your left and a waste disposal facility to your right – this used to be the area occupied by the IFC area. Looking west you can see the launch area and the taller buildings of Pforzheim further in the distance.
The site in Waldstetten is basically an array of warhead storage bunkers, built between 1954 and 1958 by the US Army. In 1972 these bunkers became a part of a Quick Reaction Alert site, managed by the 1st Battalion of the 41st Field Artillery Regiment, tasked with supplying the nearby storage site of the Pershing missile in Mutlangen, just north of Schwäbisch Gmund. The site saw major action in 1982, when 36 Pershing II missiles were installed in Mutlangen as an answer to the deployment by the USSR of an updated version of the excellent SS-20 Saber IRBM system.
During the Eighties the 1st Bn 41st FA was reformed more than once, until it became 2nd Bn 9th FA in 1986, only to be disbanded in 1991, following the dismantlement of the Pershing system as a consequence of the INF Treaty between the US and USSR.
It should be mentioned that whether the nuclear warheads of the Pershing missile ever made their way to this storage site is a matter of discussion. As a matter of fact, the missiles were in the nearby Mutlangen site, and their installation triggered well documented protests by the usual pacifist folks, who encountered difficulties in understanding the moves of the Reagan administration, which helped with successfully putting an end to the Cold War and to many communist dictatorships in Europe. What the bunkers in the Waldstetten site were used for is not totally evident, and it should be recalled they were built in the Fifties, before the deployment of the Pershing system.
Of the 28 bunkers originally built, 25 exist today while three have been demolished in a landslide. The site is located in the trees along two broad circular roads, once service roads. Today it is in the heart of a natural preserve, and the roads are used by MTBs and hikers, whereas the Mutlangen site has been converted into a solar power plant.
The local administration has prepared a placard with a map and a short history of the place (in German only), which I spotted only by the first bunker you meet climbing uphill along the road approaching the site from north. You can see the placard in the pics below, with the corresponding map. The position indicated with ‘Standort’ on the map is where the placard is. I suggest starting you exploration from there.
About half of the bunkers can be accessed. Except a few, they are basically indistinguishable.
Inside they are empty and very basic in shape, with just one large storage room. Other bunkers are inaccessible, and some have been converted into bat shelters.
A notable bunker is 870 (see the map in the pic), which bears on the front facade graffiti from US troops, probably veterans visiting the place in recent times after it was closed up. Today it is a bat shelter.
In 869 you can find some naive paintings, including one portraying a truck probably dating from the years of operation.
A mystery bunker is 856, which is very different from all others. It has two small entrances, apparently for humans only, and a group of small chambers ahead of the larger storage area. This has no wide entrances, suggesting it was not used for warheads nor anything similar, and a blind room to the back. Unfortunately, this bunker is also covered in indecent graffiti.
Another interesting sight, especially visible to the west of the bunker area, is the original fence of the storage site, with a number of aligned concrete posts and traces of barbed wire. The line of the fence is shown also on the map.