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 Red Army in Hungary – Airbases, Bunkers and Ghost Towns

Similar to other satellite countries like Poland, Czechoslovakia and the former German Democratic Republic, for decades after WWII Hungary was under the strong influence and de facto military control of the Soviet Union. As a result of the anti-communist revolution of 1956, when the Soviet nearly lost control of the country for a while, a massive Soviet force was stationed in Hungary to prevent further turmoil – the so-called Southern Group of Forces – acting in parallel with the local Hungarian Army, although in a coordinated fashion.

This was reflected by the turning of several existing airfields and training grounds from older times into modern Soviet bases. Their premises, and the territories around them, were completely severed from the rest of the Country, leaving the Soviet forces with a great freedom of action concerning the deployment of unspecified numbers of troops, tanks, aircraft, communication gear, and even nuclear warheads. Furthermore, the families of the Soviet troops stationed in the Country were hosted in dedicated purpose built – or purpose converted, pre-existing – villages.

All this left traces of course, and after the end of communism in Europe, and later the collapse of the USSR, the majority of these installations were either abandoned or converted to some other use. Abandoned – i.e. not converted – Soviet bases and installations in Hungary were pretty many. Today, many of them are being demolished, or are still standing, but severely damaged after years of disrepair. Actually, the best preserved installations are those waiting for conversion or for some yet-to-be-defined destiny, and currently under custody of private owners or the state.

This post is about some of these installations, and it focuses especially – but not exclusively – on storage bunkers for nuclear warheads. Besides being especially appealing to mystery-hunters and urbex explorers, such places are an interesting testimony of the serious attitude of the Soviets towards a war in the European theater. This was considered a likely event in many instances over the decades of the Cold War, from the 1950s to the years of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. The money spent over the years by the Soviet Union to build up a dedicated military infrastructure, and the deployment of tactical warheads close to the designated targets in western Europe to prepare for such scenario, show that the USSR did not think of fighting a nuclear-based final battle just as a mere theoretical exercise.

Photographs were taken in August 2020.

Sights

Based on a CIA report dating from 1979 (‘Warsaw Pact Forces Opposite NATO’, Vol.I-II, CREST record number 0005517771, declassified and released in 2010, check it out here), there used to be a small yet significant number of bunkers for the storage of the Soviet nuclear stockpile in Hungary. The following map, taken from this report, shows their approximate location and type.

Despite a clear correspondence of each symbol with a Soviet bunker construction type is not readily available, it is possible to reconstruct the information as follows.

The only solid triangle corresponds to a Monolith-type storage bunker, the largest and most sophisticated type of storage in the Soviet standard inventory, made for long-term storage of nuclear warheads. This site is located close to the village of Urkut, in the middle of an extended region, once the largest part of Hungary managed exclusively by the Soviet military. In this area you can find also the headquarters of the Soviet forces in Hungary, the Southern Group of Forces, located in the small village of Hajmasker, as well as the airbase of Veszprem, with an annexed village with housing for military staff and their families.

Monolith-type bunkers were seldom built on the premises of airbases or other military bases. They were prepared mostly in secluded area, shrouded in the vegetation, so as to avoid any unwanted attention as much as possible. They would store high-yield warheads for theater missiles (e.g. SCUD missiles). Urkut is no exception, as there are no airfields close to it. It is shrouded in the vegetation, and far from any village of significant size.

Back to the map, round dots represent Basalt-type storage bunkers, which are most commonly to be found close to airfields. This type of bunker is significantly large, and capable to store air-dropped/launched tactical weapons with nuclear warheads. Two sites are shown on the map, of which only the one on the premises of the former airbase of Kunmadaras could be located.

Finally, the squares correspond to Granit-type storage bunkers. These were of much lighter construction with respect to Monolith and Bazalt, and their purpose could be that of hiding either missile launchers of various size, or command/communication posts. Much has to be guessed about the actual function they had in all places where they were built. In Hungary, three such bunkers are reported on the map, of which the easternmost is on the still active airport of Debrecen, the westernmost is on the small local airport of Heviz (formerly Sarmellek), and the latter is presumably on Tokol, a major airbase in the outskirts of Budapest, Hungary capital city.

In the following you can find some pictures from the storage sites of Urkut, Kunmadaras and Sarmellek, plus pictures from the Soviet bases of Veszprem, Tokol and Kalocsa, and from the former Soviet headquarters in Hajmasker.

Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll

Urkut Monolith-Type Nuclear Storage Site

The Urkut site is also familiarly known as ‘little Moscow’, due to the fact that this site hosted also a very small, perfectly Soviet-style quarter for the troops working on the base, or being trained in the local training center. The site is in a wide and pleasant valley with a north-south alignment. There used to be two access roads which today take from the main (and only) road running along the mostly uninhabited valley, connecting Urkut (to the north) and Nagyvazsony (to the south). The two access roads take you to the main gates, placed to the north and south ends of the complex.

Similar to other nuclear sites based on the Monolith-type bunker model (see for instance this post for an accurate pictorial description of another one), security was clearly a major concern. Still today, walking in the trees and approaching the base without going the official access roads, you will meet four external fences.

The outer one is made of concrete posts and barbed wire, but today this is mostly gone – which makes it practically more dangerous, as the few remnants of suspended barbed wire are barely visible, and much leftovers are partly hidden by the abundant low-growing vegetation.

Next you will come to a concrete wall made of prefabricated slabs, with traces of barbed wire on top. This is still today basically impenetrable.

Once in, you will find two further lines of barbed wire, suspended on concrete posts. This double fence of barbed wire is still in very good shape, and creates a watch corridor.

Inside the perimeter, you can spot a network of trenches and foxholes.

In Urkut, the training grounds and bunkers are close to the northern gate, whereas to the south you can find the former living quarters for the troops. A prominent training hangar can be found in the northern part of the base.

Inside, a perfectly conserved mural with the heads of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and Moscow’s Kremlin in the background, is still hanging on top of the main gate.

Along the hangar, a corridor with classrooms clearly shows the intended function of the building.

Not far north from this major attraction, you soon meet a smaller technical building, and the southern Monolith bunker close by. Bases centered on the Monolith type typically had two independent twin bunkers built onsite, usually with their axes tilted by 90 degrees, so as to minimize the chance of a single bomb effectively striking both bunkers. This is not the case in Urkut though, as both bunkers are built along an East-West direction. Urkut is different from other Monolith sites also for having been built on the slope of a hill, so connection roads are never flat.

The warheads reached the bunker by truck. A covered loading/unloading platform can be found on both opposite entrances to the bunker. For the southern bunker, you can see in the pictures the platform is still in very good conditions, with colored signs on the pavement for facilitating movements. Even the lamps are still there!

The main access to the bunker was via an airlock, with two gigantic square-shaped blast-proof doors on each side. In this pictures you are seeing the western access to the southern bunker.

The innermost part of the Urkut bunkers is inaccessible, as the inner doors of the airlocks are shut. Yet it is possible to get access to the airlocks. For the southern bunker, going to the eastern access you find a covered platform similar to the western one, yet here the roof has partly collapsed.

You may open the outer door of the airlock, and get access. Here you can see writing in Russian. The state of conservation is generally speaking extremely good.

On one side of the eastern loading platform, you can see a standard Soviet military transportable trailer, maybe a local operation control center.

In order to get to the northern bunker you need to climb uphill, crossing some further inner fences – it was typical to Soviet bases having multiple fences inside military bases, separating parts with different functions and levels of security.

While loading platforms of the southern bunker are tilted by 90 degrees with respect to the axis of the bunker, for the northern bunker they are aligned along the same direction.

The eastern access to the northern bunker features is fairly well conserved. Also here, it is possible to access the airlock, but the inner gate is sealed.

On top of the northern bunker, you can find the ‘pedestrian access’ to the underground cellar. The gates used to carry the warheads in and out were usually kept closed, and the troops or technicians staying inside the bunker, which had provision for a few men overlooking the sensitive ordnance 24/7 in shifts, could enter and leave the bunker via a more modestly sized hatch. This could be reached from the top of the bunker, descending very steep stairs to the level of the bottom of the internal chamber. There you had an airlock, with tight doors the size of a man. These are closed in Urkut, but you can see the external tight door in its original yellow coating with conspicuous writing in Russian.

The soft construction protecting the access to the stairs is today severely damaged.

Finally, the western entrance to the northern bunker is very similar in shape to the eastern one. The northern gate of the complex is not far from here.

Also here, the airlock can be accessed, but the bunker cannot be entered.

All in all, the Urkut site is in an exceptionally good condition in the panorama of Soviet remains. A conversion into a museum would be highly desirable, and would require a very little effort. The fact that the bunkers are closed clearly suggests the inside was not touched, so maybe only basic renovation would be required to make the place a top-notch attraction for Cold War history enthusiasts.

Getting there & Moving around

The site is either on private land or state-owned. In any case, it is not officially accessible. The access roads are guarded, with people (and watchdogs) living on site. Car access on the access road is not allowed either. Walking on the site you may find several vibration sensors with cable connections likely to the booths close to the main access. For these reasons, further indications on access will not be provided.

Soviet Headquarters at Hajmasker Castle

Similar to Wünsdorf in Germany (see this post), Hajmasker Castle was built just before WWI, the focal point of a large military settlement of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During WWII, it was used as a military command center, and as a local headquarter of the German Army in the latest stages of WWII, when the willingness of a part of the Hungarian establishment to put a quick end to the war by negotiating a peace treaty with the Western Allies caused the Germans to take direct control of that war theater.

After the defeat in WWII and the Soviet invasion, since 1945 the castle hosted the headquarters of the Soviet military in Hungary – just like Wünsdorf in the German Democratic Republic. Again in a totally similar fashion, the symbolic end of Soviet dominance in Hungary was marked by the last train for the Soviet staff leaving Hajmasker for the USSR in 1990.

As said, the castle is what remains of a larger military village. The building is really sizable, with a characteristic prominent tower on the front facade.

Walking around the castle you can find a theater hall opposite the tower.

The walls are pierced, so you can see inside, without getting access to the hall, which appears really one step away from collapse. To the back of the castle you can find traces of a large apron for military use, and direct access to the railway nearby.

Back to the tower, the original gate is not made for large vehicles, and the gracious artistic style of the construction clearly suggests a pre-Soviet design.

Climbing upstairs, you meet long corridors with traces of the offices of the top-ranking men from the Soviet military. Hajmasker is strategically located close to the region where the Urkut site is (see above), and where the former base of Veszprem is also located. The place is less than one hour from Budapest.

The view from the top floors of the building further reveals the size of the castle, together with the poor state of conservation.

Ahead of the entrance, a Soviet-style apartment block can be found, still inhabited today. Smaller buildings are all around the castle, both modern or from the age of the castle. You can find also the flat building of a former canteen, clearly Soviet-designed and today abandoned.

Getting there & Moving around

The place is located at the following GPS coordinates: 47.148319, 18.026145. The castle is formally off-limits, but it is totally abandoned and accessed by writers, creepy-ambience-lovers, as well as by the local population. You may park right ahead of the gate among the cars of those living in the local neighborhood. You will be spotted for sure when accessing, but nobody will likely interfere, as access is totally easy (no fences, no barbed wire,…), despite being formally prohibited. Enter at your own risk, as the building looks really rotting, with the roof partly collapsed, exposing wood and bricks as construction materials – considering their age, the high rise of the building and total disrepair over the last decades, this means high risk.

Veszprem Abandoned Airbase & Ghost Town

The old airfield in Veszprem acted as a major helicopter base during the Cold War, but style of the some of the older buildings betrays its 1930s origin as an airbase with annexed training academy. Of course, the Soviets enlarged its structure, and possibly as late as the 1980s they built massive housing in their typical poorly original style.

In the 1990s, with the change in the global strategic situation following the Soviet demise, the Hungarian government got rid of many military infrastructures, and Veszprem was on the list. Since then, the airport was turned into a short-lived base for commercial transport run by a private company, and as of 2020 it is at the center of a dispute, where the local municipalities are trying to get the land for other uses.

What you can see now reflects this state of things – trucks coming and going everywhere between the old buildings of the former airbase, with some demolition work being carried out and some gigantic commercial storage being built close by. The air-side of the airport appears basically dead, with no flights coming or going, not even small private aircraft operating around it. However, a control tower is still on site, so technically speaking the airport appears to be open for operations.

The place deserves a visit especially for getting a glimpse of the large structure of the maintenance hangars. From the outside, they can be spotted from a distance thanks to their tall curved rooftops.

The hangars have been divided internally in smaller spaces at some point. Getting access is possible in some of them, by the sight is rather desolating since the roof has mostly collapsed, and vegetation is taking over wildly inside.

Towards the airport you can spot more technical buildings, surrounding a wide apron. These technical buildings are apparently from a later era. The metal doors of the big curved hangars are such that getting larger helicopters in and out would not be possible. Maybe they were actually sized for the smaller aircraft of WWII, and their use was somewhat changed in a later time.

Between the hangars and the runway, you can find an impressive number of smaller maintenance buildings and garages, likely for trucks.