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.

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.

In some of them, a few signs in Russian can still be found.

Open air as well as indoor platforms for truck servicing are also there in a number.

Going even further towards the runway – and very close to it – you may find a light, partly wooden construction, with extensive remains of writings in Hungarian, including boards and stuff related to air operations. Here you see also some ‘modern’ writing in English. This is probably a kind o clubhouse of a local flying school from more recent years, likely the 1990s or later.

Looking at the satellite map of Veszprem airbase, you will notice a number of buildings put like spokes on a wheel. These were probably part of the original flight academy. These are today in a very bad shape, totally emptied and waiting for demolition. You can still appreciate the sober, yet stylish construction typical of the late 1930s, with some elements in common with Berlin Tempelhof (see this post).

‘Pravda’ paper was used for gluing the wallpaper in most Soviet bases, and Veszprem is no exception!

Farther away from the runway, you can easily spot massive buildings from Soviet times, like those you could find in Pripyat (see this post), and almost in every larger city of the former USSR.

Further buildings feature a rather peculiar style, with stone decoration you would not expect in military buildings. The fantasy of such decoration is not in support of a Soviet make, so these buildings might be from an older era too.

Getting there & Moving around

As said, this former airbase is technically an active airport, so the area of the runway is likely not safe to go. Yet the level of security is close to null, and you would likely be able to invade the air side before being stopped. However, no aircraft was spotted for the whole length of a multiple hour visit.

The older buildings, including the hangars, as well as the more modern housing from Soviet times, are in a really bad shape, and mostly dilapidated by looters and spoiled by writers. The more modern truck garages and the buildings closer to the runway are in a better shape.

Access by car from the south-western corner is not prohibited, so this may be a good way to get close to the buildings. Large parking opportunities, as the place is mostly unguarded and uninhabited. Just be sure not to interfere with local businesses. Even when spotting your car, the locals will not care about you (this was my case at least), so the place can be visited without much tension. However, for historians this place has not much left in store, and it may be visited mostly for the massive ensemble than for specific highlights.

Tokol Airbase

The former airbase in Tokol is today an active airport. The base used to be a major Soviet asset in the Cold War years, and home to a number of squadrons from the Soviet Air Force and the Soviet Army as well, operating everything ranging from helicopters up in size to transport aircraft. Its extensive premises have been divided, and the state is basically renting most of the hardware – including the former aircraft shelters and aprons – and land to a number of private enterprises, either connected with aviation or not.

The runway is still active for smaller general aviation aircraft, as you can see from the pictures. The place is really a suggestive scenario for pleasure flights, especially for history-fond pilots!

During our visit we had the chance to access some of the largest air shelters, built in the 1980s for aircraft the size of a MiG-29. There are at least five of them, along with more common and smaller ones.

Designed for the case of a scramble, these shelters allowed an aircraft to start its engines inside.

To this aim, the back of the shelter is not closed, but it features a large exhaust deflector tunnel, bent towards the side of the hangar, with a metal door closing it when not in use.

The front gate of the shelter is blast proof, an its thickness is actually really amazing!

The hangar we accesses shelters a couple of nice historic aircraft today. Traces of writings in Russian are a testimony of the previous owners.

Several abandoned buildings, including a rather large one