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 Cold War in Hungary – Military Collections, Leftovers & More

Many traces of the communist dictatorship can be found in today’s modern and thriving Hungary. The most visited ones, like Memento Park or Terror Haza in capital city Budapest, tell about the inhumane and pervasive aspect of propaganda and political repression. However, the history of this country in the second half of the 20th century is closely bound to the Soviet-backed communist seizure of power, and this has left traces also elsewhere, especially in terms of military leftovers. As a matter of fact, the Soviet Red Army was directly present in Hungary, to keep the status quo and to to be closer to the border with the West in case of an attack – and this of course left traces.

You can find a significant deal of material concerning more urbex-connected destinations in Hungary in another post.

In this one, you will find a mainly pictorial portrait of some of the best known attractions related to the Cold War period in Hungary, as well as some well accessible but less known ones, especially considering the general public visiting from abroad. As usual on this website, a good share of these sites is aviation-themed!

Photographs were taken in August 2020.

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Sights

Iron Curtain Museum, Felsocsatar

The Iron Curtain Museum has been created soon after the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989 on the sight of a former small sector of the state border between communist Hungary and free Austria.

The site is mainly the result of the effort of a man, Sandor Gojak, a former border guard in the 1960s, who dedicated this permanent exhibition to those who attempted escaping the repressive communist regime in Hungary towards Austria and the West – both those who succeeded and those who did not, hence facing arrest or losing their lives due to the minefields prepared along the border line.

The site features three examples of the border line placed in the area over the years. They are look less impenetrable than those created between Eastern and Western Germany (see this post), yet they were similarly deadly in scope and facts.

The first is basically a simple line of barbed wire with wooden poles, and it was put in place soon after WWII. Mines were placed in close vicinity to the line. After wooden poles started to rot around the mid-1950s, mines were removed, a dangerous job which cost the health of some border guards, who were severely injured due to accidental explosions.

For a short while at that time, the border was free of mines, and about 300’000 people managed to leave the ‘paradise of workers’!

Soon after the anti-communist uprising in 1956, suffocated with violence by the Soviets, the border was further fortified with concrete poles, and the mine strip was increased in width.

Only at the end of the 1960s the mines were removed, after multiple accidents involving Austrian citizens, when the mines slipped into a creek near the border due to a flood, injuring many who touched them incautiously. This time the border security system was strongly potentiated, with the adoption of an electrified system for the immediate detection of proximity, linked to signal collection centers dislocated along the line. This system had been implemented by the USSR on the Pakistani border. Something similar can be found also on the border between Czechoslovakia and West Germany (see here).

The exhibition is completed by an example of a wooden turret, as well as a more modern fence – a specimen of the one put in place in 2015 between today’s Hungary and neighbor Serbia and Croatia, when a wave of migrants from the Middle East swept the Balkans.

The museum is full of vivid testimonies, thanks to the many historical pictures and artifacts on display, and to the fact that the founder is actually the man who runs the museum! – he is totally available to answer your questions.

Getting there and visiting

The museum can be reached here: 47.20376801287036, 16.429799972912328, on the border between Hungary and Austria, not far from Szombathely. The coordinates point to a convenient parking. The site is operated as an open-air museum, with opening times and an entrance fee. Moderate climbing is required, as the museum area is on the slope of a nice hill. Only cash accepted. Visiting may take about 45 minutes. Website here.

Military Park, Zanka

This small military park is a nice and cared for exhibition of Soviet-made weapons, located ahead of a resort which used to be an exclusive destination for vacation on the coast of Lake Balaton.

You can find here a couple of Mil helicopters – including the legendary Mil-24 in all its ‘beauty’! – in the colors of the Hungarian Air Force.

There is a MiG-21, also formerly of the Hungarian Air Force, a T-64 tank, a howitzer, a military snow blower, an amphibious truck and more light trailers.

Perhaps the most striking sight in this collection is the surface-to-air missile (SAM) SA-2, aka S-75 Dvina in the Soviet codification. A rather basic but powerful – and successful – missile from the 1950s, sold by the Soviets to many satellite Countries and clients over the world.

A revolving antenna can be seen on top of a truck. This is an example of the target acquisition antenna for the SA-2 system, code-named Spoon Rest by NATO, and known as P18 in Soviet codification. This radar system had a range of approximately 170 miles, and was an improvement of the previous P12 design. The launch site of SA-2 SAMs was always complemented by a set of antennas, including a Spoon Rest system. Actually, P18 could be coupled with the launch system of more advanced SAMs too.

All items in the collection here are pretty well preserved, making the visit an enjoyable stop along the exploration of the Balaton coastline.

Getting there and moving around

The park can be found here: 46.881838498667996, 17.7098619193198. The site can be visited in 10-30 minutes depending on your level of interest. This is an open-air museum, with ticket and opening times. Website (referral) with some information here.

Komarom Monostor Fort & Soviet Weapons Collection

An incredible, perfectly preserved military fort from the years of the Austrian Empire, Monostor Fort in Komarom can be found on the Danube, marking the border with Slovakia. At the time of construction, the two nations were united in the Austrian Empire, and the fort was erected between 1850-71 as a part of a defense line extending also north in today’s Slovakia.

Despite being extremely interesting for its articulated and complex construction – a brilliant example of military engineering from the time – the fort saw no action in its intended purpose. It was used for training for most of its life, then briefly as a prisoner’s camp in the years of Hitler’s administration, and finally as an immense weapons storage during the Cold War years, when it saw tenancy by the Soviets.

Today, the fort is open as a museum, duly centered on the interesting original construction from the 19th century.

One cellar has been left as it was in Soviet times, when weapons of all sorts were stored here, moved by means of a dedicated short-gauge railway.

In a corner of the immense apron, you can find a small collection of Soviet weapons, mainly anti-tank and anti-aircraft cannons. There are also a couple of truck-transported antennas, including a very effective early warning Flat Face radar, aka P19 Danube according to the soviet classification, as well as a PRW-9 Thin Skin target altitude detection radar. Similar platforms are still in use today, and can be coupled with modern SAM launching systems.

Getting there and moving around

The fort is a major attraction in the area. It features a large parking ahead of the entrance, address: 2900 Komárom Duna-part 1. Visiting is on a self-guided basis, with a short paper guide in English distributed at the entrance, and the visit will be extremely interesting for anybody interested in history, military engineering, etc. – not only Cold-War-minded subjects.

Visiting may take 1.5 hours, due to the size of the fort. The place is also used as a venue for theater performances and concerts, so timetables may vary. Some info in English can be found on this website.

Papa Airbase

Papa is today an active base of the Air Force, hence it cannot be accessed. However, with a short adventure drive along an unpaved road, you may reach a part of the former premises of the base – from Soviet times – now lying outside the perimeter.

There you can find a pretty unique array of old abandoned aircraft of Soviet make, in the colors of the Hungarian Air Force.

They are MiG-21 of many types, and also massive Sukhoi Su-22.

The state of conservation is not so bad – you can find airframes in worse condition in some museums – but some aircraft are missing some parts, possibly due to spare recycling, or vandalism, even though the place is really secluded, and the proximity with privately owned land and a military base is not ideal for vandals and idiot spoilers.

Of course, a few more years without any attention to these birds and little will remain of this improvised fleet. Hopefully, at least a share of this mighty force will find a due place in some museum or collection over the next years.

By the way, the former military area where these planes are sitting was perhaps a place for SAMs, put for protection of the base in the Cold War years.

Getting there and moving around

This is the only item on this post which is not a museum. It’s hard to tell whether these aircraft are lying on private land or not. However, to reach this strange flock of aircraft, you can move with a standard city car to this crossroads: 47.33966571405878, 17.550239693088113.

From here, you need to take north, until you reach this other waypoint: 47.35812676567956, 17.530436267329513. At some point along this path, the road turns unpaved, but the condition is generally manageable. On the latter waypoint you need to turn sharp left. You may notice old concrete posts, from the original soviet fence of the base.

You will finally land here: 47.35812676567956, 17.530436267329513, where you find an asphalted road, in the middle of a former peripheral area of the base. Driving towards the base along this road, you will find the aircraft here: 47.3541655146187, 17.514827811942904.

Visiting is not a long business, cause you should not move around the aircraft, as they are likely on the border of a private lot (fenced). Totally recommended for Cold War aircraft enthusiasts however.

Komo-Sky 51 Air Museum, Dunavarsany

This wonderful military exhibition is the based on the collection of a Hungarian military pilot, Zoltán Néhai Komócsi, nicknamed ‘Komo’, from which came the name of the museum. Unfortunately, the man passed away years ago in a crash. The collection was publicly put on display only more recently.

Items on display include military aircraft and helicopters, military trucks, trucks from the firefighting squad, engines, and more! Some of the exhibit can be boarded, and reportedly some vehicles are still operative.

Most of the exhibits are in very good condition, a few are still awaiting light refurbishment. An old Mil-2 helicopter can be boarded, revealing an old-fashioned cockpit, made more exotic by the Russian inscriptions.

Also an attack Mil-8 helicopter in Hungarian colors can be checked inside. A Mil-24 is undergoing restoration (as of 2020).

The ‘MiG alley’ includes MiG-15, 21 – in various versions – and 23, all in very good condition, refurbished for display.