Herdla Torpedo Battery – Defending Bergen in WWII and the Cold War

Despite overshadowed by the natural beauties of Norway, the heritage of the rich war history of this Country would really deserve a dedicated trip. Thanks to its geographical location, this Scandinavian Nation had a primary strategic role both in WWII and the Cold War.

Hitler’s Third Reich military forces conquered Norway early in WWII (Spring 1940), gaining an effective stronghold for launching sea and air patrolling missions over the Norwegian Sea and the northern Atlantic. The long coastline stretching from the Skagerrak strait up to North Cape was made impenetrable to enemy invasion, building anew a capillary network of fortifications – the Atlantic Wall. This masterpiece of military engineering was based on an extensive catalog of reinforced concrete standard elements (Regelbau in German), ranging from fortified casemates to radar towers, to observation and target range finding stations, to bunkerized gun batteries, etc. These elements were assembled in larger fortified compounds, placed in key strategic locations along the coast or in the narrow firths reaching to major ports and towns, like Bergen or Trondheim.

Typically run by the Kriegsmarine (Navy) or Luftwaffe (Air Force), these forts may comprise measuring stations, anti-shipping guns, anti-aircraft cannons, plus barracks, services, ammo storages, and even airfields in some cases. They were built not only in Norway, but having been originally planned by the Third Reich to protect the entire coast of conquered continental Europe, they were erected along the shoreline also from Denmark down to France.

As a matter of fact, many of the Norwegian fortresses of the Atlantic Wall rank today among the most massive and well-preserved of the entire line (see here for some highlights).

But the war history of Norway, and of its mighty military infrastructure, didn’t stop with the end of WWII. With the start of the Cold War, Norway became a NATO founding member, and once again of great strategic value. It found itself in close proximity to the USSR, and with a long coastline facing the sea corridor taking from the highly-militarized Murmansk and Kola Peninsula (see here) to the northern Atlantic.

Most of the Atlantic Wall forts, especially anti-shipping and anti-aircraft gun batteries, were obsolete by the 1950s, and were soon deactivated. Some were abandoned or, when retained by the Norwegian military, they were modified to cover new functions.

In a few cases, the original mission of the site by the Third Reich was retained by NATO forces in the Cold War. This is the case of the torpedo battery in Herdla.

The fortress of Herdla was a major strategic fort in the Atlantic Wall, allowing to keep a watch on the entry point to the inner waters leading to the large industrial and military port of Bergen. Thanks to the morphology of the area, featuring a rare spot of flat land nearby a steep and rocky cliff, an airfield was installed by the Third Reich besides a set of bunkers, effectively hidden in the rocks. A land-based torpedo battery, consisting of a range-finding and aiming station and torpedo-firing tubes, was part of the fort.

During the Cold War, it was decided that the torpedo battery could be still a valuable asset, and Herdla was retained by the Norwegian military – by comparison, the airfield, too short for the requirements of the jet-era, was not. Over the years, the torpedo battery was potentiated to keep up-to-date against the technological offensive capabilities of the Eastern Bloc, and to exploit the most modern identification and surveillance techniques.

The torpedo battery was part of a larger naval fort, which controlled also the barrier of sea mines implemented to stop a sea-based intrusion towards Bergen.

As a matter of fact, the area control functions and the offensive capability of Herdla were retained until the early-2000s, when the fortress was deactivated following the end of the Cold War and defense budget cuts.

Luckily however, the often neglected Cold War chapter of warfare history has in Herdla a valuable asset – an accurately preserved fortress regularly open for a visit. A modern visitor center welcomes the more curious travelers, leaving Bergen towards the remoteness of the coast. It retraces the WWII heritage of the Herdla site, thanks to an exhibition centered around an original Focke-Wulf FW190, recently salvaged from the bottom of the sea, and with a special history to tell. Then a visit to the battery, looking like it had just been left by the military staff, is a unique emotion for both the specialized war technology enthusiasts and the general public as well.

The following report and photos is from a visit taken in Summer 2022.

Sights

As outlined in the overview, the Herdla site today is centered on two major highlights. One is the visitor center, with the preserved relic of a unique Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf FW190. The other is the former torpedo battery and Navy area command bunker, Norwegian facilities installed during the Cold War in bunkers dating to the Third Reich era.

Visitor center & Focke-Wulf FW190 exhibition

The relic of a Focke-Wulf FW190 A-3 German fighter from WWII is hosted in a dedicated room, where a scenic lighting makes this impressive exhibit literally shine.

This exemplar of the iconic Third Reich fighter, produced in some thousands examples, and now almost impossible to find especially in Europe, is ‘Gelbe 16’ (which can be translated in ‘Yellow 16’) of 12./JG5, and its history is deeply related to Herdla.

It took off on December 15th, 1943, from the airfield the Luftwaffe had established on the flat area now lying ahead of the visitor center, at the time a very active German airbase.

Following troubles with the engine, it ditched in the cold inner water near the island of Misje, some ten miles south of Herdla, the pilot being able to abandon the doomed aircraft, and being saved by local fishermen – and returned to the Luftwaffe, who had a Norwegian resistance prisoner released in acknowledgment.

The aircraft sank to the bottom of the sea, but its memory was not lost by some of the locals, who clearly remembered the events. The Focke-Wulf remained there for 63 years, but it was finally located and pinpointed by the Norwegian Navy, instigated by local interest, in 2005. After preparatory work – including exploration dives, to assess the condition and to set-up recovery operations – the fairly well-preserved wreck was lifted to the surface on November 1st, 2006, and loaded on a tug. Conservative restoration work then took place in Bergen.

Instrumentation and the machine guns were all recovered, together with many further fragments of equipment. Interestingly, evidence of repaint was found during conservation, retracing some previous assignments. Yet the history of this very exemplar remains difficult to write in its entirety.

Finally, following completion of conservation works, a new home for the aircraft was prepared in Herdla, where a hangar was built anew – and this is where you can see it today.

The aircraft is in an exceptional state of conservation, considering it spent 63 years in sea water. The fuselage, wings and tail are not significantly damaged, with just some paneling having disappeared on tail control surfaces, due to corrosion. The swastika on the vertical stabilizer is still perfectly evident, like other painted details.

The propeller blades are all bent downstream, as typical for an emergency landing carried out without the landing gear and the engine still running. The tail wheel is there with its original tire, the emblem of the German brand ‘Continental’, still in business today, being clearly noticeable.

The instrumentation from the pilot’s control panel has been put on display separately. Also a gyroscope has been found. Everything is only slightly damaged. Similarly, the two machine guns, dismounted prior to lifting the aircraft from the sea, are little damaged, and displayed with some ammo.

Complementing the exhibition are a few other pieces from other wrecks, as well as some quality scale models and dioramas portraying Herdla in the days of Third Reich tenancy.

Torpedo Battery

Access to the torpedo battery, which was built in WWII just above sea level, is from a gate on the land side. From outside, the bunkers in the fortress of Herdla appear especially well-deceived in the rocks of the cliff.

What is seen today inside, however, dates to the years of Norwegian tenancy. The facility was updated in several instances during the Cold War, the last in the 1990s. Immediately past the gate, you get access to a modern and neat mechanics shop, where a partly dismounted torpedo allows to have a suggestive look inside this marvelous weapon.

Interestingly, Norway inherited and went on operating a significant number of German G7a (TI) torpedoes. This was the standard torpedo employed by the Kriegsmarine since 1934, and with some modifications (‘TI’ standing for ‘first variant’, the later variants bearing other codes), for the full span of WWII.

Propulsion power for this torpedo was from a piston engine, fed by high-pressure vapor obtained by the combustion of Decaline with compressed air stored onboard, mixed in a heater (i.e. a combustion chamber) with fresh water, similarly stored in a tank. The resulting mixture fed a 4-cylinder radial piston engine, driving two counter-rotating propellers. The exhaust in the water produced a distinctive contrail of bubbles, and the presence of a high-frequency moving mechanism had the side-effect of a significant noise emission. The head of the cylinders can be clearly seen in the dismounted exemplar.

Guidance was provided by rudder steering controlled with the help of gyros, whereas depth was controlled via a mechanical depth sensor. The torpedo could stay close to the surface or keep an assigned depth. In WWII the torpedo had no homing device – i.e. it was ‘blind’, thus requiring carefully putting it on a target-intercept trajectory. It could however cover pre-determined trajectories of some sophistication. The set-point selection for guidance and the yaw regulation gyro assembly have been taken out of the torpedo, and can be checked out in detail.

The range could be selected before launching, and was traded off with speed. It could be between 5.500 and 13.200 yards, and the speed ranged between 44 kn and 30 kn correspondingly. The German origin of the torpedo on display is betrayed by the writings in German on some parts.

Leaving the workshop through a gate towards the inner part of the bunker, a roomy supply storage area can be found, with some interesting material including torpedo parts, as well as a torpedo launching cannon.

This item represents the primary way of launching torpedoes in the early Cold War from land-based batteries or ship decks. This was a technology inherited from WWII, when coastal batteries of the Atlantic Wall ejected torpedoes from slots in the bunker wall, shortly above the surface of the water, employing cannons similar to this one (which dates from the Cold War period), thanks to a burst of compressed air. This cheaper, but less ‘stealthy’ and accurate launching procedure, was replaced by underwater launching tubes only over the years of the Cold War, featuring an increase in the level of sophistication of warfare. Correspondingly, the slots in the side of the torpedo battery bunker facing the water were bricked up, and torpedo cannons were retained mostly for use from the deck of warships.

From the storage room you get access to the core area of the battery. This is through a decontamination lock, with gear for anti-contamination testing, including paper strips for checking contamination from poisonous gas.

The battery features two diesel generators for electric power, employed in case of disconnection from the regional grid.

Less usual – for a military facility – is the presence of two air compressors. Compressed air is relevant for torpedo operation, being employed for the launch burst from the torpedo tube, as well as for propulsion and gyros in the G7a torpedo. The air compressors in Herdla are made by Junkers, solid German technology from 1961!

A few bunkerized resting rooms for the staff manning the battery can be found in the same area, besides the power/compressed air supply room and the torpedo room. The resting rooms are minimal as usual, with suspended berths, and much personal military equipment on display – coats, blankets, medical kits, and more technical material.

Finally, the core of the battery is the torpedo room. This is much longer than wider, access is via the short side. In the Third Reich years, the launching slot was on the short side to the opposite end of the room, right above the water. Today, this slot has been bricked up, and there is no window at all.

The torpedoes are aligned on racks along the long sides of the room. The launching system is via two underwater tubes, which are accessed via obliquely mounted hatches, one to each side of the room at the level of the floor. The section of the racks closer to the entrance door is actually a pivoting slide. The slide could be pitched down, thus allowing the torpedo to slip through the hatch in the firing tube. The original launch control console can be found to the right of the access door – in a mint condition, it looks really like it had just been put in standby following a drill!

Over the years, the stockpile of G7a TI torpedoes was upgraded especially in terms of guidance. The major modification was the adoption of wired control. This is based on a thin electric cable unwinding as the torpedo proceeds along its trajectory, keeping it linked with the launching battery. This upgraded model is called G7a TI mod 1. Control via a steering joystick and trajectory monitoring system could provide manual guidance to the torpedo, thus sharply increasing the chance of target interception. This technology is still in use today. Wire tubes can be found on top of the rudder of torpedoes.

Besides the G7a, Herdla battery received the TP613 torpedo, a weapon developed in Sweden in the early 1980s from previous designs. Exemplars of this torpedo, still in use, are visible in the torpedo room. In terms of mechanics, the piston engine of this torpedo is powered by the reaction of alcohol and Hydrogen-peroxide. In terms of guidance, this torpedo features improved wired communication for guidance and power setting (i.e. changing torpedo speed during the run), as well as passive sonar homing. A dismounted section exposing the engine can be found on display.

The wire tube installation on top of the rudder is featured also on this model, and examples of the wire are on display.

The original guidance console, made by Decca, with a prominent joystick on it, is on display as well!

Training and proficiency checks are typically carried out without a warhead, but with an instructional head. Distinctively painted in shocking red, and with powerful lights in them – to show their position to simulated targets during training exercises, when needed – these are on display in a number. Since the torpedoes, just like missiles, are very expensive, a way of recovering them after instructional use has been envisioned, in the form of inflating bags coming out of the head, increasing the buoyancy of the emptied torpedo and forcing it to surface when reactants tanks are empty and power is off.

Offensive warheads can be exchanged with dummy ones for training, bolting them to the body of the torpedo, which remains totally unchanged. A warhead with a 600 lbs explosive load, triggered by a proximity pistol, was typically put on G7a torpedoes. The proximity pistol was made of four petals, which on contact with the target were bent towards a conductive metal ring around the nose cone of the torpedo, closing an electric circuit and triggering the explosion.

Leaving the torpedo room and the bunker is via the same way you came in.

Sea Mines & Area Control Center

But your visit is not over. As mentioned, the Herdla coastal battery hosts an area control center, with provision to manage target detection facilities and the minefields in the waters around Bergen.

This part was built in a facility strongly potentiated with tight doors, typical to the shockwave-proof military construction syllabus of the Cold War. A sequence of roomy vaults carved in the rock hides a number of containerized modules, together with an exhibition of sea mines and related apparatus.

Most notably, an L-type Mk 2 moored mine and a Mk 51 bottom mine are on display, with a understated control panel. The latter is actually a portable controller for triggering the mines. Already before WWII, sea mines were often put on the bottom of the sea in shallow waters, or moored in deeper waters, to control access inner waters, firths, ports, etc. The Germans made extensive use of this technique in Norway, and following WWII this strategy was inherited by Norway to protect its waters from (primarily) Soviet intrusion.

Despite contact mines were still popular in WWII, they have been surpassed and gradually replaced already in that age by proximity mines, based on noise and – especially – magnetic sensors. Today, proximity fuses activated by the magnetic field of ships or submarines passing nearby are standard technology. Onboard electronics allows to distinguish between the magnetic signature (i.e. fingerprint) of different ships, thus avoiding any issue for civilian or friendly traffic, and activating only against enemy shipping. Degaussing techniques – i.e. the ability of military ships to hide their signature – have forced to improve detection technology, which is today extremely sophisticated.

Furthermore, for the protection of ports and friendly waters, sea mines are typically controlled and triggered by hand, upon detection and localization of enemy shipping, by means of dedicated detection facilities on land or water. This improves precision and allows more flexible defensive-offensive tactics, since a human chain of command has control on the minefield, instead of a pre-determined computer program.

To trigger the mines, consoles like that on display are employed, where a trigger for each mine allows precise control over the minefield.

The first containerized control center hosts a similar, yet much more modern, dedicated console. Everything in this movable control center is very neat, and really looking like reactivation might take place in just moments! Of interest is also the situation map, covering the area around Herdla and the water inlet to Bergen.

A nearby container reveals berths and a small living area for stationing staff.

Yet another container hosts a complete situation room covering the area. Similar to the coastal battery in Stevnsfort, Denmark (see here), a careful eye was constantly overlooking the shipping in the area.

In the same container, a console for steering torpedoes, more modern than that previously seen in the torpedo battery, is on display.

All in all, Herdla is a one-of-a-kind destination, of primary interest for those interested in Cold War military history, enjoyable and easy to visit. Totally recommended for everybody with an interest in history, with much to see and learn for the kids as well.

Getting there & Visiting

Herdla fortress features an official visitor center with a large parking area, and amenities including a small restaurant and a shop. The official website is here. It can be reached about 27 miles north of central Bergen, roughly 45 minutes by car. The address is Herdla Museum, Herdla Fort, 5315 Herdla.

The torpedo battery and control bunker can be visited only on a guided tour. Visiting from abroad, we scheduled an appointment, and were shown around by the very knowledgeable guide Lars Ågren, a retired officer of the Royal Norwegian Navy. He joined the Navy in the late 1970s, in time to gain a substantial, hands-on Cold War experience during the final, high-tech part of that confrontation. He was promoted to tasks in the NATO headquarters in Belgium, later returning to Norway, and totaling more than 37 years in service. He is strongly involved in the management of the Herdla site. Chance is for you to embark on a visit with this guide, or other very competent guides who will satisfy the appetites of more committed war technicians and engineers, being capable of entertaining also the younger public as well.

A visit to the torpedo battery and control center may last about 1 hour. Seasonal changes to opening times may apply, as common in Northern Countries, therefore carefully check the website.

JFK’s Last Trip to Fort Worth and Dallas

The murder of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 is possibly one of the most well-known news stories from the 20th century. Since then, most theories put forward by both the official prosecutors and wannabe investigators after the crime never appeared completely acceptable.

The main defendant, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot dead by likely-mafia-affiliated Jack Ruby, two days after Kennedy had been shot. This happened before any court hearing of Oswald, who always protested his complete innocence.

But Oswald was spotted on the crime scene, and his life before that fatal day had not been normal in any respect. Grown up a very poor man from the New Orleans, he enlisted in the USMC, spent years in Japan, changed home at a high pace in the continental US, between New York and Louisiana, learned Russian, applied for Soviet citizenship, established himself in an fantastic flat in Minsk, Belarus (see this account about Minsk), at the height of the Cold War, married a lady from the USSR, moved back to the US with his wife and their baby, collaborated with  communist movements in America while living of nothing in the south of the Nation, appeared in Cuba and Mexico in the years of the Kennedy administration, and finally decided it was time to kill President Kennedy, accused by a part of the military and political establishment of being excessively left-leaning during his years at the White House.

Maybe this man materially acted alone on the day of the shooting – something strongly adversed by many eyewitnesses and even scientists and analysts, based on ballistics – but with a curriculum so pointed of oddities, especially for the geopolitical situation of the 1950s and early 1960s, it is hard to imagine he was not part of something bigger.

An excessive number of pretended coincidences in the reconstruction by the investigators have largely discredited the official theories, in turn creating a mystery around the actual crime.

As time is passing and people involved are disappearing, chance to find the truth about the intricate plot behind the assassination are waning. Yet this unsolved crime has fueled decades of controversy, with tens if not hundreds of books written, as well as TV series and blockbuster movies produced – and it is still an intriguing topic for many, who come to see the famous Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where the shooting took place, making the local museum in the Texas School Book Repository one of Texas’ five all-time most visited attractions.

Being in the exact place where the famous Zapruder movie was recorded produces of course a strong impression. Yet there are more places in Dallas and Fort Worth related to the famous last visit of JFK to this major industrial focus of the nation, which albeit less impressive than the actual crime scene, may be interesting to find and visit for the most committed visitors.

This post portrays some of the most famous and of the least known places connected with Kennedy fateful 1963 trip to Texas. Photographs were taken in summer 2018.

Map

This map reports the focal points of President Kennedy’s visit to Texas on November 21st-22nd, 1963.

Kennedy flew in and out Fort Worth from Carswell AFB (now NAS Fort Worth reserve base), arriving on November 21st, and departing in the morning of November 22nd to Dallas Love Field – a very short hop for Air Force One.

You can see places in Fort Worth and Dallas connected with both the actual and scheduled route of Kennedy’s visit (blue placeholders), plus the route of the motorcade from Love Field to Dealey Plaza and back (blue line), with a stop at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where JFK was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm, November 22nd.

Orange placeholders are locations connected with the shooting – where JFK was (surely) hit, famous spots on the crime scene, etc.

The movements of L.H. Oswald have been partly reconstructed by the prosecutors, where some have been ascertained based on sightings by witnesses. These are shown in yellow and red respectively on the map. Red placeholders show the location of Oswald sightings or places connected with his story.

Green placeholders show the positions of notable monuments connected with the assassination of President Kennedy.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

Sights

Sights are listed going along the time-line of the days of JFK’s visit.

Hotel Texas (now Hilton) & JFK Tribute, Fort Worth

President Kennedy spent the night between November 21st and 22nd in the Texas Hotel, located on Main Street in central Fort Worth. Today this nice, early 1920s building is still there, listed among historic landmarks. It has changed hands more times in the last decades, and is now run by Hilton, with the name Hilton Fort Worth. Built on the opposite side of the square where the convention center is located, it is still today a primary business hotel in town.

In the square ahead of the hotel is a monument dedicated to JFK, with a statue and citations. This was the location of the last public speech the President gave, before breakfast on November 22nd.

Later on that day, he held a scheduled speech in a hall of Hotel Texas, before going to Carswell AFB (now NAS Fort Worth), west of downtown, to board Air Force One to Dallas Love Field. Air Force Two soon followed.

Dealey Plaza, Dallas

Monuments in Dealey Plaza

The curious composition of white colonnades and pergola-shaped monuments in Dealey Plaza is the result of an architectural master plan for the area, completed in 1940.

Despite the weird aura that will enshroud the square for many years to come, the composition is actually very nice, with two opposing fountains ahead of the colonnades welcoming you when entering the square from Main Street. This is exactly what the motorcade did, turning right on Houston Street and first left on Elm street, where JFK was hit (see map).

The pergola on the ‘grassy knoll’

The northernmost part of the composition in Dealey Plaza is a curved white pergola, placed on top of a knoll, at an elevation of roughly 10 ft above the road. This is a vantage point for watching Elm street, which starts descending gently from Houston Street towards the railway triple underpass. It was here that Zapruder was standing, together with many eyewitnesses, shooting his now super-famous video (see map).

You can get a 360° view from close where Zapruder was standing from this video.

Here you see an example photo sequence of a car passing by along Elm Street, following the same route of the presidential motorcade.

A crowd was standing also on the southern side of Elm Street, at the level of the road, from where the pergola and the wooden fence on top of the grassy knoll can be seen very clearly. Looking uphill towards Houston Street, you can see the Texas School Book Repository, and the half-open window from were somebody fired at the motorcade.

‘X-marks’ on Elm Street

Two white X-marks have been painted on the ground where, based on official investigation and findings, President Kennedy was hit, while his motorcade was driving along Elm Street.

The first is located immediately after the crossing with Houston Street, where the motorcade turned left. The pictures below shows the window on the sixth floor of the book repository from the spot of the hit (actually behind a tree), and the wooden fence under the trees on top of the grassy knoll. The wooden fence has been indicated by many as the position of a second shooter, and some have sustained they saw shots coming from there.

Taking into account the elevation from the ground of the window on the sixth floor of the book repository, the total distance to this first X-mark is similar to that from the fence. Yet the trajectory of a shot from the fence would have come dangerously close to Zapruder and all folks between the knoll and the sidewalk.

The second X-mark, that of the fatal shot to the President’s head, is located further west. Looking from here again to the window on the sixth floor and to the fence, it is apparent that the latter spot would be a far easier point for shooting – very close -, while on the other hand recording a hit from the former would be a real challenge.

Close by the X-mark corresponding to the fatal shot, the National Historic Landmark placard of Dealey Plaza has been placed on the sidewalk.

You can get a clear impression of how fast everything must have happened watching this video of my car running along the route of the motorcade, from Main Street down to under the triple underpass.

The wooden fence on top of the ‘grassy knoll’

The fence on top of the grassy knoll divides the grass on the northern end of Dealey Plaza from a parking area on the side of the book repository. The elevation over Elm Street and the little distance from it, makes this place a good spot for targeting a car passing on the position of the second X-mark – that corresponding to the fatal shot.

To the back of the fence, the old railway switching tower from the 1910s played a part in the mystery. On the morning of the assassination, Lee Bowers was on service in the tower. He reported to the prosecutors that about 15 minutes before the shooting he had noticed a car slowly circling in the parking. At the time of the shooting two figures were standing by the fence, and he saw fire and smoke coming from their position. He provided details about the cars and an these men.

Lee Bowers died in a car crash without witnesses in summer 1966, when he gently launched his car out of the road while driving alone in the countryside somewhere near Midlothian, south of Dallas.

The triple underpass

This Art Deco railway bridge, dating from older times than the monuments in Dealey Plaza, is another good vantage point for a comprehensive sight of the stage of the assassination.

It has been supported that a witness standing on the grass south of Elm Street and close to the underpass was wounded by a fragment of the curb, produced by a bullet hit. This might have been a missed shot.

Texas School Book Repository & Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas

The building of the book repository, located on the northern side of the crossing between Houston and Elm, has been taken over by the city government for administrative functions. A museum has been opened on the sixth floor, from where shots were allegedly fired against the motorcade.

The museum is very modern. After paying by the entrance, you are given an audio-guide and you are directed to an elevator going up to the sixth floor.

You can walk along a nice exhibition mostly based on tons of photographs and reproductions of original documents, papers, agencies, documents, dossiers, and so on. Before showing the chronicle of events during the last trip of JFK and the events of the assassination, you are told about the general political and social situation in the years of Kennedy administration, so as to reconstruct the big picture and the meaning of this trip. There was much criticism about it, and you can see some unwelcoming headlines from newspapers, telling about a tense political situation in Texas. There are several videos playing loop.

Of course, an accurate reconstruction of the shooting is the main topic of the exhibition. Frames from the many videos recorded by the witnesses allow to have an almost second-by-second account of the last minute in the life of JFK.

Far less known than others are some pictures of the motorcade taken seconds after the shooting, when the cars accelerated under the triple underpass, with men of the secret service bent over the wounded President. Witnesses on the opposite side of the underpass had not noticed the shooting, and they were probably stunned watching the motorcade rushing away.

There is a dinner set from the scheduled luncheon Kennedy was heading to, prepared in the Dallas Trade Mart. A picture of the announcement of the assassination to the attendees of the luncheon waiting for the President is particularly striking. Detailed maps are displayed of the motorcade route, of the movements of L.H. Oswald, and of the emergency rooms of the Parkland Memorial Hospital where JFK, Vice President Johnson and Governor Connelly were given medical assistance.

A highlight of the museum is the area around the corner window from where shots were fired. An accurate reconstruction of the exact position of the boxes around the shooter’s position has been set up, based on photographs from the time.

Access to the window is interdicted, but you can get an idea of the view enjoyed from there from the third window from the corner.

Further items of interest include cameras and video recorders used by the witnesses, and a detailed map of the standpoints of most witnesses who made a video recording, or did take pictures.

An area of the exhibition is dedicated to Oswald, his arrest and his murder in the Police headquarters, which took place on November 24th, 2 days after JFK was killed. You can see copies of official documents, a ring belonging to L.H.Oswald, and the suit worn by Detective Jim Leavelle – the man portrayed in the video of the assassination of L.H. Oswald by Jack Ruby, leading Oswald out. At the time of writing, Texas-borne Jim Leavelle, borne 1920, is one of the few living primary witnesses of that dramatic episode.

Finally, the place where the old rifle used to fire at the motorcade from the window was found soon after the shooting, with Oswald fingerprints, has been reconstructed with the same accuracy of the firing position.

Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas

After the shooting, the motorcade accelerated keeping on the scheduled route (see map). It is noteworthy that the Trade Mart, where JFK should have had lunch, is not far from the Parkland Memorial Hospital, which is between the Trade Mart building and Love Field (see map).

President Kennedy and Governor Connelly were quickly drawn into emergency rooms, whereas soon-to-be-president Lyndon B. Johnson received medical attention in another area.

Officer Tippit’s Murder Scene, Dallas

Soon after he was spotted in the Texas School Book Repository minutes after the shooting, L.H. Oswald left for home. Initially caught in the traffic after taking a bus, he moved around pointlessly not far from Dealey Plaza, finally taking a cab to go home. He got off some blocks past his house, where he returned by foot (see map). He soon left, and at about 1:15 pm, 45 minutes after the assassination of JFK, he reportedly killed police officer Tippit in a quiet residential area. The place is marked by a placard (see map).

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested less than an hour later, on account of Tippit’s murder. Only hours after his arrest, during the night of November 22nd, he was accused of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Texas Theater, Dallas

After shooting officer Tippit, Oswald left along Jefferson Boulevard, presumably walking to the Texas Theater. This movie theater, with a flamboyant front facade, used to be owned by Howard Hughes, and it was the first in Texas with air conditioning.

L.H. Oswald was arrested at about 1:50 pm, about ten minutes after he had entered the theater, 1 hour and 20 minutes after the murder of JFK.

JFK Memorial Plaza, Dallas

A monument to President Kennedy, designed by Philip Johnson, was erected in 1970 one block east of Dealey Plaza (see map). The monument, made of concrete, resembles an empty tomb.

Getting There and Moving Around

The JFK monument in Fort Worth is in a public park, as well as the JFK memorial in Dallas. They can be neared at all times.

Dealey Plaza is regularly open to car traffic, as you can see from the videos above. Parking is possible in the many public parkings around the area. Once there, you can move around freely at all times.

I drove along all the route of Kennedy’s motorcade, which except for a few closed roads can be done still today. Very nice indeed, as you will cross beautiful downtown Dallas. Of course, you can follow the route of Kennedy’s car in Dealey Plaza, as shown in the videos above.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is a world-class, up-to-date museum, and one of the most visited attractions in Texas. Website here.

The German Inner Border – GDR vs. FRG

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 Berlin Wall is widely known as one of the most emblematic symbols of the Cold War – a materialization of the ‘Iron Curtain’. The Wall – at least in its preliminary stage – was erected almost overnight in August 1961 by the Government of the GDR (‘German Democratic Republic’, or ‘DDR’ in German), and later developed into a complex and virtually impenetrable dividing barrier with fortifications, multiple fences, barbed wire, watchtowers, watchdogs, mines, truck stopping bars and other devices, isolating the part of Berlin attributed to the US, Britain and France from the Soviet occupation zone.

This monster, which caused many people to lose their lives, or forced them to risk everything – and leave everything behind – in the pursue of freedom, remained in place and was steadily updated until its triumphal demolition in November 1989.

What is less known is that the reason for building the Wall was the urge of the GDR to stop emigration towards West Germany (‘FRG’, Federal Republic of Germany, or ‘BRD’ in German) and the free world. Actually, the Wall was built following a massive emigration wave from the harsh living conditions of the GDR, taking place during the Fifties and mounting until the Wall was built. Literally millions of people fled the regions occupied by the Soviets from the end of WWII in 1945 until 1961.

Consequently, blocking the border only in the city of Berlin would have been nonsense. As a matter of fact, at the same time as the construction of the Wall begun, the government of the GDR started one of the most gigantic ‘border-armoring’ operations in history, by ordering fortification of the whole border line between East and West Germany. The Berlin Wall was actually only the tip of the iceberg, as all the more than 800 miles long border line between East and West Germany, extending from the Baltic Sea to Bavaria and the Czech border, was blocked with the same level of restraining techniques deployed in Berlin, to the explicit aim of preventing people from crossing the fence and going East to West. For the Communist government, East Germany had to be reconfigured basically as a nationwide prison.

This incredible operation, which engaged thousands border troops and tons of equipment, plus required continuous updates of the patrolling technologies, was reportedly so expensive that it contributed effectively to the collapse of the economy of the GDR. It crystallized the so-called ‘Inner Border’ between the two German republics, which had existed since 1945, but had never been so deadly. After the introduction of this strict border patrolling policy the number of people killed or wounded, and of those arrested because trying to cross the border, increased steadily until the re-opening of the border, following rapidly after the demolition of the Wall in Berlin in 1989.

Berlin is today an enjoyable city, full of interesting places to visit and things to do, and its urban configuration, so strikingly bound to the Wall and its history – unlike all other capital cities in Europe, Berlin is lacking a true ‘city center’ – with the passing of time is becoming more uniform. Differences between the two sides, once obvious, now tend to vanish, at least in the most seen parts of the city, with new buildings, fashionable shops and malls, stately hotels and governmental buildings rising where once the Wall had created barren flat areas, not restored for long from the ruins of WWII. Obviously, nothing bad in this process, which also makes Berlin one of the most lively places in Europe in terms of architecture.

The grim atmosphere of the Cold War years can still be breathed in many places in town especially in the former East Berlin, but even close to the few memorials of the Wall scattered over the urban territory it’s hard to imagine how it really felt like being there when the border could not be crossed. If you want more evocative places, you should look somewhere else.

In this sense, the preserved border checkpoints and portions of the fortified Inner Border are much more evocative, and constitute a very vivid, albeit little known, fragment of memory, inviting you to think about the monstrous effects of ideology and dictatorship. All along the former border, especially in the southern regions of the former GDR, you can still spot large areas spoiled of trees, where once the border fences run. Scattered watchtowers are not an unusual sight in these areas, even though many have been demolished immediately after dismantling the border. In some focal places, often corresponding to former checkpoints where important roads crossed the border, the fences have been totally preserved or just slightly altered, for keeping historical memory.

The following photographs were taken during an exploration of some of these sites in summer 2015, winter 2016 and summer 2021. The exposition follows a southern-northern direction along the former Inner Border.

Map

The following map shows the location of the sites described below. For some sites you can zoom in close to the pinpointed positions on the map to see more detailed labels. Directions to reach all the sites listed are provided section by section. The list is not complete, but refers to the sites I have personally visited. Border sites in Berlin are not included.

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Mödlareuth

Getting there

Mödlareuth is actually the name of a small village placed along the former Inner Border between Bavaria and Thuringia. The site is not difficult to reach by car, a 4 miles detour from highway N.9, going from Munich to Berlin. Just proceed to the village of Modlareuth, which is dominated by the ‘Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Mödlareuth’ (website here). This encompasses an open-air exhibition of the former border area, plus an indoor exhibition with patrolling vehicles, artifacts, videos and temporary exhibitions. Large free parking on site.

For photographing purposes, I would suggest approaching from the south, from the village of Parchim via H02. Mödlareuth is located in a natural basin surrounded by low hills, and the H02 proceeds downhill to the site, allowing for a perfect view of the former border area.

Sights

Most of the Inner Border once run in rural areas. In that case, ‘only’ double fences, dogs, watchtowers, truck-stopping grooves and mines were ok. In the less common cases when the border crossed or passed close to villages, something similar to what had happened in Berlin was replicated on a smaller scale, and a further fortification layer in the form of a tall concrete wall, was put in place.

This happened also in Mödlareuth, where the small village was split in two parts by a wall, gaining to this town the nickname of ‘Little Berlin’. The place was rather famous in the West before 1989, and it was visited also by vice-president Bush in the years of the Reagan administration.

As here one of the relatively few local roads not cut by the Inner Border was left, the village was also place for a border checkpoint for cars.

The open air exhibition showcases what remains of the wall – the most of it was demolished restoring the original, pre-war geography of the town -, as well as a full section of the border protection system and checkpoint. Looking from the West, you had first the real geographical border, coinciding with a creek as it was typical. Beyond it, poles with warning signs and distinctive concrete posts painted in black, red and yellow stripes (the colors of the German flag) with a metal placard bearing the emblem of the GDR. These signs had existed since the inception of the inner border to mark it, and date from older times than the other border devices. Then followed the wall. Behind it, a corridor for walking/motorized patrols and a fence. Then you had a groove in the ground, reinforced with concrete, capable of stopping a truck or a car pointing westwards from the GDR. An area of flattened sand followed next, to mark the footsteps of people approaching the border area. In different times, mines were placed in a much alike sand strip. Then followed a final fence.

Except for the wall, the above description applies with slight variants to all the length of the Inner Border.

The net used for the fences was very stiff and conceived to avoid fingers passing through, this way making climbing very difficult.

A peculiar aspect of the wall in Modlareuth is a small door in it. That was a service door for border patrols, used to access the area between the border line in the middle of the creek and the wall itself, for servicing or arresting Westerners. This happened more than once, not only here – as a matter of fact, walking past the border from the West was as easy as walking past the little creek where the border line passed. This was in all respects entering the GDR, even though the fortification line was about 30 feet further into the East. When this happened you could expect to be rapidly arrested and kept for interrogation before eventually being released in most cases. Servicing, like cutting trees and so on, in the strip between the wall and the real border was reportedly a task for very enthusiastic Communist troops, as escaping to the West from there was again as easy as a leaping past a narrow creek…

The road crossing the border in Mödlareuth is not active any more and is part of the open air exhibition. Actually the former customs house hosts the ticket office. Along the former road it is possible to observe an example of car stopping devices and original ‘stop’ and ‘no-trespassing’ signs.

The area was dominated by watchtowers. There are two in Mödlareuth, one original and inaccessible, the other probably cut in height. Both are of a relatively recent model, with a distinctive round section.