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.

 

Soviet SS-12 Scaleboard Nuclear Missiles in the GDR

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A little known fragment of Cold War history concerns the deployment of ballistic missiles by the Soviet Union outside of its national borders. Considering the case of the GDR, aka DDR in German language, during the Cold War the westernmost communist dictatorship in Europe, this happened in several instances.

History – in brief

Two such episodes took place in the 1950s and early 1960s with strategic missiles – Shyster and Sandal – in the area of Fürstenberg and Vogelsang, located one hour north of Berlin by car (see this post), in the territory of the GDR. This deployments lasted only briefly, cause strategic missiles of much longer range were developed soon, allowing targeting western Europe and the US from within the USSR.

Since then, a nuclear striking force was allegedly present over the territory of the GDR at all times, as testified by a number of now abandoned nuclear warhead bunkers built on the premises of major Soviet airbases (see for instance this post, and links therein). This  force was mainly based on tactical warheads intended to be launched from aircraft.

From the 1960s to the early 1980s the USSR deployed also SCUD-A and SCUD-B short-range nuclear missile systems over the territory of some Soviet-controlled countries. This mobile-launched light weapons were stationed in the GDR in Königsbruck, Bischofswerda and Meissen, close to the border with Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as around Wünsdorf, were the high command of the Soviet forces in Germany was located (see this post). The improved SS-21 Scarab was added to the arsenal in Königsbruck in 1981, with a range similar to that of the SCUD systems.

Nuclear missiles appeared again in the GDR towards the end of the Cold War, in the years between 1984 and 1988. This time the Soviets used intermediate-range theater missiles, in the form of the SS-12 Scaleboard, a 500 kilotons, single-warhead tactical system, with a range of 500 miles and launched directly from a mobile launcher. The reason for this deployment was a kind of retaliation following the choice of the Reagan administration, together with some European NATO Countries including West Germany, Italy and Britain, to deploy intermediate-range missiles provided by the US in Western Europe.

This move by the western allies was part of the complicated and lengthy negotiations which would culminate in the INF treaty in late 1987, between the US and the USSR. In the end, this agreement led to a bilateral dismantlement of intermediate-range nuclear forces (‘INF’), including both the American Pershing II and the Soviet Scaleboard.

Talks aiming at counterbalancing the Soviet nuclear deterrent in Europe represented by the SS-20 Pioneer mobile-launched missiles, with a range of more than 3,000 miles, had been started in the closing phase of the Carter administration, with the USSR still led by Brezhnev. The goal of the operation from a western standpoint was the deactivation of this missile by the Soviets. The deployment of a huge force of hundreds of Pershing II tactical ballistic missiles and Gryphon cruise missiles by the US, ordered in 1983 by the Reagan administration in agreement with some European Countries, should stand as a precaution in case the desired deactivation of the SS-20 would not be obtained (see also this post). The NATO move was perhaps not interpreted as desired, and in response the USSR deployed the Scaleboard in the GDR, close to the border with the West in 1984, putting a halt to the talks.

Following the change in the leadership of the USSR, the INF treaty was later signed in 1987 by President Reagan and Gorbachev. The involved missiles deployed by both the US and the USSR, and not limited to the Gryphon, Pershing II and Scaleboard, were soon withdrawn starting in 1988. They were later decommissioned and physically destroyed.

Sights

Today, a few relics of this late episodes of the Cold War can be found in the former German Democratic Republic. The quick deployment of the Scaleboard meant that an existing Soviet missile brigade (119th) was relocated in mid-1984 from Gombori, in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, to locations in the GDR, namely Königsbruck and Bischofswerda near Dresden, and Warenshof and Wokuhl in Mecklenburg. Thanks to the improved mobility of the Scaleboard system, launched from mobile platforms, not much hardware was necessary for storing and operating the missile. Light shelters were quickly built to store the nuclear warheads and the missiles. These were connected by a network of short service roads made with prefabricated concrete slabs.

Following the withdrawal of the missiles, and later of all Soviet troops from the former GDR, these missile sites were demolished or invaded by nature. Apparently, nothing has survived in Königsbruck and in the bases in Mecklenburg, whereas in Bischofswerda significant remains are to be found, albeit not publicized at all, with a short walk in the trees.

This post provides a map and a few pictures to reach the former Bischofswerda missile base. Photographs were taken in late summer 2018.

Map

The following map highlights the location of the bunkers and the access points to the Bischofswerda site. During my visit I tried three accesses by car, and the northern access road – access point 1 on the map – is the only one where I could find a (small) parking area. The area is today in a forest, and there you cannot get to the bunkers with a car – prohibition signs can be found close to all three pinpointed access points. Some walking will be needed, but the area is nice and you are likely to see some wildlife – that was my case!

I noticed that the Ulmon map on my iPhone had the bunkers accurately pinpointed. In any case, a GPS and an electronic non-satellite map is strongly recommended, for the site is shrouded by high-grown vegetation, and barely visible on a satellite photograph.

Please note that the POIs related to the missile bunkers on the map above have been placed by hand, and may be not very accurate. I noticed the Google base map does not show all the service roads connecting the bunkers. These roads are not maintained any more for vehicles, but they can still be used by hikers. Anyway, I tried to reconstruct the basic network with green lines – please zoom in to see them.

Bischofswerda SS-12 Scaleboard Missile Bunkers

Accessing the site from the northernmost entry point (access point 1 on the map), you will soon meet a former service/administration building for the troops, in pure Soviet style from the Eighties – see the terminal passenger in Sperenberg here, from the same years. It was built in 1983, and today it is used in the warm season as a service building for boy scouts and other forest-related activities. A  placard quickly recalls its history. The Soviets (then Russians) left the place in 1993, and the barracks originally built in the area for servicemen stationed there were completely demolished soon after.

From the service building, the area of the missile shelters can be reached with a quick walk along a broad and almost flat road – you might easily drive to the place, if only it was not forbidden.

The bunkers are grouped around a small square area with concrete slabs on the ground. Despite the short distance from the square to the shelters, these are totally unapparent, and you may have a hard time getting closer to them if you do not have a GPS and some electronic map. Zoom in on the map above for some basic directions concerning this part of the missile site.

While they have not been demolished, all bunkers are abandoned with only one exception, and they are effectively hidden by wild vegetation.

There are bunkers of three types. The majority are hangars for storage of the missiles. There were four launchers with two missiles each, totaling eight missiles on the Bischofswerda site. The nuclear warheads were stored separately from the missiles, and quickly installed only in case an order to attack was issued. Bunker N on the map is the former storage for the nuclear warheads. Access is not possible due to the wild vegetation and the partial sealing of the sliding door with a pile of land. Yet the distinctive polygon-shaped metal access door can still be seen, different from that of all other bunkers.

The storage bunker A can be neared more easily. You can notice the totally different construction with respect to the nuclear warhead bunker N. The door of this bunker is sealed too.

Between bunker A and B there are traces of a construction, possibly another bunker, today completely interred.

The missile bunker B is open, and used as a storage for wood logs. There are also parts of the original ventilation system. The construction components of the shelter are similar to those you can find in other Soviet missile launch bases (see for instance this post). Yet the size of the bunker is rather small compared to similar facilities built for strategic missiles. This highlights the reduced cost of the preparation of a theater missile launch facility, with respect to its strategic missile counterparts.

On the far end of the complex (item Z on the map), you can find another bunker, at a glance similar to the other missile shelters. It was opened when I visited, and as you see from the pics there is an intermediate frame, dividing the hangar in two parts, connected by a passage. Considering the position and structure, I guess this was a command bunker, similar to those you see in other Soviet missile bases (like again this). There is a placard remembering the deployment of the Scaleboard system in this base, and inside somebody recently put a photograph of two former high-ranking staff from the US and Soviet Armies stationed in Germany at the time of the deployment, shaking hands in front of this very bunker. The photo was taken years after the decommissioning of the site.

Two other missile shelters, C and D on the map, close the tour. One of them is open, the other is sealed and barely reachable due to vegetation.

Special Feature – 119th Missile Brigade barracks in Gombori, Georgia

As mentioned above, the Soviet 119th Missile Brigade was tasked with running the theater missile installations hastily prepared in locations in Germany. To this purpose, the 119th was relocated in May 1984 from Gombori, Georgia, then a Soviet Socialist Republic in the realm of the USSR. It left back to Gombori at the end of the German deployment in March 1988. By that time, it converted to another missile platform, following the coincidental phase-out of the SS-12. For the time of the ‘German leave’, the 119th was under the responsibility of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, headquartered in Wünsdorf (see this post).

In the following pictures, taken on another trip (2019), you can see the abandoned barracks of the 119th in Gombori. This site was code-named ‘Tbilisi Army Barracks Gombori AL 12’ by the US, due to the proximity with the Georgian capital city, Tbilisi.

The 119th Missile Brigade moved away from Georgia after the USSR broke apart. It relocated to Elanskiy, Russia.

Getting there and moving around

As already pointed out, getting close to the site is possible by car, but touring the place will require a walk of roughly 1.5-2. I suggest leaving the car at access point 1 on the map. The site missile is not maintained except for the former service building, where you can find picnic tables and related facilities. The building was closed for the season already at the beginning of September, but the area around the building is not abandoned. The former service roads in the trees are maintained as well.

On the other hand, the area of the bunkers is basically abandoned, except for the Z bunker on the map, which is not maintained, but bears a placard on the front façade. Walking around does not pose any particular difficulty, but you should go prepared to face nettles, brambles and wild vegetation around the bunkers. Carefully watch your step, for there are open manholes scattered on the ground, probably part of the original underground electric supply system.

Visiting may take a bit more than 1 hour for the interested subject – something more if you want to take good pictures. A tripod is strongly advised also for external photographs, cause the trees effectively stop sunlight, so the area is mainly dark.

Base Tuono – Cold War Surface-To-Air Missiles in Italy

Just like West Germany, post-WWII Italy found itself on the border with a communist dictatorship, Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia. Even though Tito and the government of the USSR were never close friends, from the viewpoint of the western alliances Yugoslavia represented a potential threat.

This mistrust was also a result of the aggressive policy Yugoslavia had adopted against Italy after WWII, imposing the cession of a piece of traditionally Italian territory in the northeast part of the country as a war compensation. This had triggered a significant migration of the local population, who was trying to escape from communism to mainland Italy and abroad. This added to the bitterness of the Italian-Yugoslavian relationship, to the point that the new border was not formally settled until the 1970s.

Italy was among the founding members of anti-communist NATO in 1949. This meant the chance to take part in a coordinated defense effort against the eastern bloc. Among the tangible results of this cooperation was the adoption of American war material, including aircraft and, as soon as they became a reliable war asset, missiles.

Considering air defense, besides a number of manned aircraft, the airspace of western Europe was protected by two defensive lines of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) extending roughly from the North Sea to the area around Venice on the Mediterranean. This was studied especially to counteract bombing raids carried out by a great number of enemy bombers simultaneously attacking from the east. This huge defense system was based on the US-designed Nike and Hawk missile platforms, and deployment started in the late 1950s.

SAM installations in Italy comprised the low to intermediate altitude Hawks, with a quick reaction capacity against low-level intruders. These were managed by the local Army. High altitude Nike-Ajax and later Nike-Hercules missiles were operated by the Italian Air Force against high-altitude targets, typically bombers. New dedicated groups were established since 1959, trained in the US to work with the new missile platform. At its height, the Nike force in Italy counted on 16 such groups, apparently corresponding to as many launch bases.

Concerning the effectiveness of the Nike defense line, it soon became obsolete, in the sense that a significant part of the strategic deterrent was transferred to ICBMs by both the NATO countries and the USSR. As a result, SAM defensive lines conceived against aircraft intrusion and low-level attacks would turn out more useful than the high-altitude and high-yield Nike-Hercules. As a matter of fact, all Nike platforms were deactivated in Italy and everywhere in Europe by the early 1980s, well before the end of communism in Europe.

Following deactivation, most bases, stripped of all hardware of any value, were simply locked up and abandoned. In Germany very few traces of this extensive system remain to this day (see this post). Together with the US, Italy is possibly the only country where this fragment of military history is documented through the active preservation of one of the former SAM launch bases.

The Nike-Hercules base preserved in Italy is called ‘Base Tuono’ – ‘tuono’ meaning ‘thunder’ in Italian language – and was operated between 1966 and 1977. It is in a gorgeous mountainous setting in the northeastern Alps, about an hour from the little town of Trento. After years of disrepair, a part of it has been refurbished with original material and opened as a beautiful, partly open-air museum, where you can get a lively impression of how the base would have looked like in the years of operations.

The following photographs are from a visit to ‘Base Tuono’ in Autumn 2018.

Sights

Nike batteries were composed of two connected but geographically separated areas, an integrated fire control area (IFC) and a launch control area (LCA). In the first resided the electronic aiming part, comprising all the antennas and electronic gear necessary to collimate the target, compute the expected kill point of the missile, and to track and guide the missile to that point. The launch area was composed of an array of three flat concrete pads, each supplied with a hangar for storing the missiles, gantries for putting typically three missiles at a time (per pad) in launch position, and a concrete shelter to oversee and trigger the launch sequence. An extensive description of the Nike SAM system can be found on this excellent dedicated resource website.

Due to the features of the radar guidance system, the IFC had to stay in line of sight from the LCA, and at a higher – but not excessively higher – elevation. At ‘Base Tuono’, due to the mountainous setting, the two areas are not far, yet they are not easily accessible from one another. Furthermore, what remains today of the former base is all concentrated in the launch area. One of the three original pads – ‘Alpha’ – has been preserved, where the other two – ‘Bravo’ and ‘Charlie’ – and other ancillary buildings as well, have been completely demolished, and a water basin can be found in their place. All installations and housing in the former control area on top of a local peak – Mount Toraro – have been wiped out, but you can get an impression of the original plan of this part of the base walking around on your own.

Launch Control Area

The launch pad ‘Alpha’ is the focus of the museum. Approaching from the parking, which is located close to the site of the former barracks and canteen, you can spot from the distance three Nike-Hercules missiles aligned in vertical launch position. A water basin covers a large part of the former base, as you can see from historical pictures. Launch pads ‘Bravo’ and ‘Charlie’ are totally gone, similarly to the original outer fence delimiting the large perimeter of the installation.

Getting closer to the launch pad ‘Alpha’ you can notice an array of radar antennas, which were originally in the IFC area on top of Mount Toraro. The area of the launch pad features a reconstructed inner fence, which was in place around each pad in the original base.

The pad is basically rectangular in shape, with a hangar on one side, a protection rim and the launch control bunker on two opposing sides and a free side where today you can find the ticket office.

Three missiles are placed on top of their launch gantries. The gantries are part of a sophisticated rail system, designed to allow an easy side motion of the missiles from inside the hangar to their respective launch positions outside. The missiles were stored horizontally in the hangar to the far top of the rail on trolleys. When being readied for launch, the trolleys were pushed along the rail to the launch position, where the trolley was joined to the gantry. The missiles were raised to a vertical attitude together with the trolley with the help of a lift, which was a movable part of the gantry.

While the pavement is covered in asphalt, you can see the gantries and the rail system are staying on hard concrete foundations. These are among the few remains you see in the German Nike site covered in this post.

Inside the hangar you can spot a Nike Hercules missile, with lateral cutouts to expose the inner structure. These reveal the four-canister solid-propellant booster stage, which was ignited first and was separated from the bullet-shaped second stage when exhausted. The latter features the warhead, the electromechanical rigs of the guidance system, and a single solid-propellant sustainer rocket engine. The rocket had a range of about 25 miles, and a top speed over Mach 3, making it a really remarkable piece of technology especially compared to the soviet counterparts of the time.

All around the missile in the hangar you can see inner parts of the missile itself and of the ground fire control system as well. There are also panels with the history of the base, and original warning signs and instructions painted on the inner walls of the hangar – and similarly on other walls of the base. These writings are in double language, both in Italian and English. While the base was managed by the Italian Air Force, such installations were integrated in the NATO defense line, so many procedures of the Italian Air Force were in English. Furthermore, US military staff was required on site ‘by design’ in case of operations with nuclear warheads, which the Hercules could optionally carry. Nuclear warheads were never deployed to this base though.

Further items on display around the three missiles on the open apron include an old Nike-Ajax missile, a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter – the Italian Air Force was the last in the world to retire this model from service, as late as 2004 – and two trailers aligned in a row. The trailers are the battery control trailer, or BCT, and the radar control trailer, or RCT. Both trailers were originally in the IFC area of the base, and were operated by the staff responsible for offensive operations. In the days of operation, there was always somebody on duty in the trailers.

The BCT is, roughly speaking, where targets were designated, the kill point computed and the launch sequence triggered. The most notable feature are the two computerized plotting boards used to identify the target and to define the flight trajectory of the missile. The LOPAR detection radar and the identification friend-or-foe (IFF) radar reported information to this trailer, which coordinated the attack.

In the RCT stood the operators of the TTR and TRR radars, which were responsible for keeping trace of the target and for monitoring the missile during the flight towards the designated kill point.

To the back of the two trailers, it is possible to spot the rectangular shapes of the LOPAR radar and of the smaller IFF radar. The two round-shaped antennas are the TTR and TRR radars. In many pictures they are portrayed inside a bulbous cover, conferring them a distinctive spherical shape.

The concrete bunker to the opposite side of the launch pad with respect to the trailers is a protected room for the launch section panel, which is a kind of control panel for triggering the launch sequence of the missiles. The bunker served as a shelter for the operators of the launch section, for remaining on the outside in the vicinity of the missiles during launch operations was extremely dangerous.

During the guided visit, you are given a demonstration of the launch sequence from inside the control room, which is insulated from the outside with double tight doors. The firing procedure was quite complicated. Actually, it was a direct signal traveling along a cable connection from the battery trailer that gave the go to the missiles. Yet there were redundancies for increased safety, and it was possible to trigger the entire launch sequence from within the firing section, in case communication with the BCT was lost. During normal operations, the OK from the operator of the control panel in the bunker had the function of a further go/no go safety layer for the launch.

A trailer with a panel similar to that in the bunker can be found outside. This likely represented a further redundancy, or like the F-104 it is a piece coming from somewhere else.