Hitler’s Mystery Mega-Structures in Central Europe

During the last two years of WWII, the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany was slowly retreating from the eastern front, pushed back by the mighty blows of the Red Army. The bombing runs carried out by the western Allies from airfields in Britain were systematically hitting most urban centers in mainland Germany and over the territory occupied by the Nazis. It is hard to imagine, but it was in the year 1944, when the destiny of Germany was almost sealed, that industrial production in Hitler’s Third Reich reached an all-time record.

At that time the Germans were desperately short of fuel, raw materials and troops, and their production efforts would not spare them from a complete defeat in 1945. Yet it was in the last stages of the war that some of the most ambitious industrial facilities were designed, built and in some cases made operative before the end of the war.

The driver of the design was in most cases the need to move production lines to secluded and well protected areas, difficult to spot and to destroy through air bombing. As a result, these sites were placed far from urban centers. They were also designed to withstand bombing, by putting them underground, or building them with substantial reinforcement, making large use of one of Nazi Germany’s favorite materials – reinforced concrete.

In this chapter two major sites of this kind are described. One is in southwestern Poland, a region which had been part of the German Empire for long before WWII. The second is in eastern Bayern, today one of Federal Germany’s most prosperous states, close to the border with the Czech Republic. Photographs were taken in late summer 2018.

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Sights

Project ‘Riese’, Poland

Construction around this cluster of underground sites started in late 1943, and reportedly lasted until the closing stages of WWII, just days before the Soviets entered the region. The name ‘Riese’ means ‘giant’ in German, and it is surely well suited for this complex, which while far from finished is really striking in size. It was actually composed of at least six major construction sites, which in the intention of their designers should have been developed deeper in the mountains, until a link could be established between them forming a formidable network of tunnels and large halls.

Besides the size and historical meaning of these sites, what makes project ‘Riese’ so fascinating is also the actual purpose of this incredible complex is far from established. Three major theories exist in this respect. The complex might have been intended to be an underground industrial city, a kind of Noah’s Ark for the ‘superior race’ embodied by the top-ranking military and governmental staff of the Reich, or a gigantic secret laboratory for innovative technologies.

What is sure is that the construction was carried out by forced labor, mainly by prisoners of Gross-Rosen concentration camp, just a few miles north of the complex. For the scope, the Nazis created a number of satellite camps next to the entrance of the  construction sites. Rather incredibly, only very scant traces of the project remain in the written records of key figures of Nazi Germany – Albert Speer’s personal diary notably reports some millions marks allocated for project ‘Riese’, and at some point after the war he cited the item resulting from the completion of the construction works, whatever its purpose, as sized to be capable of hosting some tens of thousands people.

Today, six construction sites have been discovered, of which two – Osowka and Rzeczka, the most conspicuous – have been opened to the public, whereas the other are visitable basically for speleologists only.

Osowka

The first visitable site is in the town of Osowka. This site is composed of two parts, one underground with access from the side of a hill, the other close to the top of the same hill.

The underground part can be visited only with a guide. The plant of the completed construction features two accesses, and you will be driven in using the first and out using the other. Between the entrances, the site is mainly composed of an array of parallel tunnels pointing towards the mountain, connected by long halls.

Close to the entrance you can spot a concrete guardhouse with loopholes for machine guns. Some wooden structures like in a mine have been put in place to give an idea of the appearance of the working technique at the time of construction.

Most tunnels have been dug but not reinforced with concrete walls, whereas others are almost complete, showing a peculiar two-level design. The lower level features a smaller section, and the top one a taller, round shaped section.

A feature of the ‘Riese’ complex is a special technique for building the inner concrete coat of the rocky tunnels, producing the distinctive ‘church-ceiling-like’ appearance of some of the halls, with a round shape and frames close to one another.

The Osowka site features also a collection of smaller artifacts, collected from the ground and dating from the construction years, i.e. from late WWII.

Life-size silhouettes of some WWII tanks are on display, to show how the size of these items was totally compatible with the size of the tunnels, in support of a potential use of the site for weapon manufacture.

The outside part, which can be accessed freely, is the most mysterious. At the base of the trail leading uphill you can spot a strange concrete platform, with provision for – possibly – interred pipelines.

Close to the top of the hill you can find a huge concrete platform, with an apparently chaotic ensemble of slots, pipes, handles, stairs and pools. This item has been deemed close in shape to the base of a service building for the valves and pipelines of a power-plant. Theories have flourished in support of the use of this item as a prototype control system for a nuclear power-plant.

The nuclear program of the Nazis, which indeed existed and is even documented to some extent, is shrouded in mystery for what concerns the actual findings obtained during the war. These dark spots are also due to the destruction of most of the hardware connected with the program everywhere in Germany, and with the inherent secret nature of the program itself. No evidence exists of the Osowka site in the public papers about the nuclear studies of the Reich, so the true purpose of this object is likely to remain an unsolved riddle.

Close by this platform, you can find an original concrete building, part of the same construction plan. It is pretty long, with large windows, and likely intended for troops or technical staff.

Rzeczka

Compared to Osowka, this site is more centered on the inside part. Again, there are two entrances, close by a creek on the side of a hill, providing access to a network of tunnels. Similar to Osowka, close by the entrance you can find guard-houses in concrete. These were built soon, possibly for keeping a watch on the forced workers.

The construction works in Rzeczka were less advanced than those in Osowka. Yet thanks to the lack of the concrete coat, you can appreciate the size of the tunnels, some of which are really tall.

There are small collections of artifacts found in the tunnels, and an original concrete room offers a description of all discovered sites of the ‘Riese’ project.

A 1:1 copy of a V-1 German flying bomb has been placed in one of the tunnels, to show the compatibility of the size of this weapon with the tunnel. Such weapons were reportedly assembled in underground facilities elsewhere in Germany.

Visiting is again possible only with a guide. Some multi-media experiences with sounds, lights and voices are included in the tour, but these are not so impressive for those who don’t understand Polish.

On the outside, you can spot some relics from construction years, including trolleys, and concrete slabs watermarked with symbols of the local construction companies tasked with the practical realization of the site. There is also a copy of a V-2 rocket, operative in the last months of WWII but little effective in changing the fate of Nazi Germany.

Getting there and moving around

As pointed out, the sites connected with project ‘Riese’ are many, but most of them are not visitable unless to specialists and with the help of a speleologist. On the other hand, the two sites of Osowka and Rzeczka are professionally operated as primary tourist attractions. The distance from these two sites is about 20 minutes by car, so you can surely arrange the tour of both sites on the same day, with much spare time in your daily schedule.

At Osowka you can find a large parking and a fully equipped visitor center, where you can book a guided tour, or join a departing one – the only way to get inside. Please note that the number of people admitted on each tour is relatively small, so I would suggest booking at least one day in advance through their website (partly also in English) to be sure to get a place at the time you like. They offer several different tours. The most complete include a visit to a part of the underground site which can only be accessed by boat. This is given only on some days by reservation, and only for groups. The standard tour of the inside is offered several times a day.

The guided may turn out really boring, cause you are provided an audio-guide in English with explanations lasting a couple of minutes for each of the circa ten stops, in face of the Polish-speaking guide talking about 5 minutes per site. You may try to spend your spare time taking good pictures, but even though groups are relatively small, they tend to obstruct the view inside, leaving poor chances for acceptable shots. Furthermore, lighting is not very good, so a tripod would be recommended, except you don’t have the time and chance for undisturbed long poses. Therefore, if you are interested in top-level pictures, you would better arrange a dedicated tour out of the normal touristic offer. Otherwise, you’d better go prepared to a difficult visit.

The outside part of the site is less frequented and more rewarding. It can be reached in about ten minutes following a pretty steep, unpaved trail in the trees. This part is unfenced and unguarded.

The Rzeczka site has only an inside part, which can be visited only on a guided tour. You can join one of the frequent tours they provide even without reservation. There is a small visitor center and plenty of parking space. Similar to Osowka, the guide will speak in Polish, and you are provided an audio-guide in English. The visit lasts less than in the case of Osowka, and the audio-guide explanations are more proportionate to the speech of the Polish-speaking guide, making for a more enjoyable visit. The multi-media experiences are of little relevance for non Polish-speaking people. Outside you can find also some panels with explanations on the history of the site in both Polish and English. Website with some info in English here.

The tunnels in Rzeczka are poorly lighted too, so photographing will be difficult unless with a tripod, but the conditions are not very favorable for operating with a tripod – many people around and short times between stops along the tour.

‘Weingut I’ Aviation Industry Complex, Germany

The giant complex known as ‘Weingut I’, the original codename attributed by the Nazi staff at the time of its design and construction, is the direct result of a plan to relocate all major industrial production lines of the Reich to protected areas, far from the line of the front and from any major urban center. In this particular case, the new factory was intended to shelter the production line of the new Junkers Jumo 004 jet engines for the ‘Schwalbe’ – also known as Messerschmitt Me-262, this was the first jet fighter in the world to be pushed into service, back in 1944.

The huge factory was designed based on a basic module made of a reinforced concrete arch, some 250 ft open, 100 ft tall and 10 to 15 ft thick. This item was to be built on site and partly buried under ground level. Twelve such modules were needed for the complete hangar, with a total intended length of the factory of around 1.200 ft. Of the planned twelve sections, seven were actually built between mid-1944 and the end of the war.

Despite the intended scope was that of hiding the factory to protect it from aerial reconnaissance, due to the size of the construction works the object was reportedly spotted by US aircraft, but not attacked. Actually, the special construction was tested against explosives by the US Army after the war, resulting in the collapse of all modules except one, which is still standing today besides the pretty sizable relics of the others.

The site is not actively guarded, but it is located in a regional nature preserve, so access is through a nice walk in the trees. Once next to the hangar you can find multiple access points.

Close to the main arch, the only one still standing, it is possible to find an explanatory panel in German only. It commemorates also the forced laborers from the nearby concentration camps, who had to take part substantially in the construction works.

Walking under the arch is at your own risk, cause despite the bulky appearance of the structure, smaller pieces of concrete are hanging from from the ceiling. However, a walk inside will give you the most striking impression of the size of the hangar.

Just nearby the remaining module to the west you can find a walkable, half interred bunker, likely with a technical function which is today hard to imagine.

The module still standing today is the westernmost of the hangar, so walking east you will have the chance to step on the roof of the demolished modules. A number of thick iron rods can be spot at ground level.

Walking along the former southern side of the hangar, you can spot a deep well, probably part of the construction strategy. It may have been used to take out the gravel from beneath the base of the arches to lower them to a rest position on more compact ground.

Along the same side you can find a way to walk below the fallen structure. You can also get a view of the edge of one of the modules.

The eastern end of the complex is probably the most hazardous, cause you find an unprotected concrete cliff a good 10 ft high, constituted by the edge of a fallen module.

All in all, the place is a nice example of the undeniable structural design abilities of the German military, really interesting to visit both from a technical viewpoint and as a witness of the utopian visions of the Nazis, which unfortunately cost the lives of many.

Getting there and moving around

Reaching the trail-head is very easy by car. Leaving Mühldorf am Inn for Waldkraiburg along the road St2352, about 0.5 miles south of the crossing with St2550 you will find a sizable gravel factory to your right, preceded by an unpaved road taking west in the trees. You can park on the unpaved road on the northern side of the factory – probably a heir of the original factory built to feed the construction works of the hangar.

From there, you should take the unpaved trail into the trees, closed to vehicle traffic. It is another 0.5 miles to the site, on a flat and easy trail. A quick scan of the Google map will allow you to plan the trip. The place is not remote, cell phones work and you may use a virtual map to get oriented on site. Visiting might take about 2 hours for a very interested subject, including the trip from the parking and back, plus all time needed for pictures .

War Museums in Moscow

People visiting Moscow from abroad usually spend much of the time in the Kremlin and the nearby districts, where they can find many cultural attractions, as well as fashion stores, great hotels and restaurants. Among the features of Russia’s capital city less known to the average tourist are the many monuments and museums dedicated to war history, which in some cases host extremely interesting exhibitions and artifacts from various ages, which would tell the visitor as much as the most prominent attractions in town.

Three I could visit in person are cited in this post, all of them easily reachable with the usual metro rail in a few minutes from the downtown.

The following photographs were taken during a visit to Moscow in September 2015.

Central Museum of the Armed Forces

This is a purely Soviet installation Cold War buffs will definitely like very much… Despite the old-fashioned website – which after all contributes to the picture of a Soviet-state-owned company… – the building was built following WWII, better known in Russia as the Great Patriotic war of  1941-1945. On the outside, besides the entrance there are a missile and a tank. Once inside you immediately find yourself in a large two-levels hall, dominated by a sculpture of Lenin and a huge mosaic wall, plus paintings of battles and other war-themed scenes all around.

From soon after your arrival, you get to grips with the only real ‘problem’ of this installation, where – just like many others touristic sights in Russia – everything – including the escape plan in the event of fire… – is written in Russian only. So, from the viewpoint of history, you’d better go prepared if you want to get the most from this exhibition, for you won’t find any understandable written information, unless obviously you understand some Russian.

There are several halls in the museum, related to historical moments from WWI up to the present day. A first notable room presents a lively reconstruction of a WWI trench fight, with lights and sounds.

The path through the museum follows the course of history, including the revolution, which put an end to WWI for Russia. Then follows WWII. I have to say I never found a collection of Nazi artifacts so rich as the one preserved here in any other place I visited. Literally hundreds of items, from propaganda posters to flags and banners, weapons, medals, papers,… Also present in due quantity are flags and banners of the Soviet Union, as well as Soviet uniforms, weapons and medals from the age of WWII.

Probably the most notable items from the time are the red banner raised on the Reichstag in Berlin – the corresponding b/w photograph is today one of the symbols of the end of WWII – and an original metal eagle with a swastika, probably taken from the Reichstag or the Reichkanzlei. The flag and the eagle are put together in a kind of monumental installation in a large central hall, celebrating the victory of the Soviet Union in the Patriotic War.

An old coat and a hat belonging to Stalin are also part of the exhibition.

Moving on to the Cold War period, a first focus is on the early history of the Soviet atomic program, leading to the detonation of the first nuclear asset in 1949, and to the testing by the Soviets of the largest thermonuclear device ever. Many models and some documentation are available – I could not understand the details, in that occasion I really regretted having no knowledge of Russian! The development of strategic missiles is covered next, including the much connected race to space.

The highlight of this part of the exhibition – at least for western visitors – may be the wreck of Francis Gary Powers’ aircraft, downed in 1959 by a SAM, basically a Soviet invention, during an illegal flight over the territory of the USSR ordered by the CIA. A large part of the fuselage and of the wings can be seen, with technical labels in English. Also part of the ejectable seat and other parts of this Lockheed U-2 are packed together somewhat inelegantly. Some original papers and maps the pilot had with him at the time of the accident are exhibited, together with many photographs. Extremely interesting.

Approaching the last stage of the Soviet Union, scale models, mockups and parts of larger nuclear missiles are presented. Also the war in Afghanistan is mentioned and the more contemporary war actions in Chechnya and other theaters following the collapse of the USSR are outlined and artifacts and photographs showcased. A window from the relic of the ill-fated Kursk submarine remembers this more recent tragedy – together with a monument on the outside to the right of the entrance.

Finally, the backyard is full of interesting items like missiles, gantries, heavy vehicles, tanks and so on. Unfortunately, it started raining heavily at the time of my visit, so photographs were not possible.

All in all, I would say one of the best museums in Europe on the topic of 20th century war history, and probably the best on Russian/Soviet operations in the 20th century. The presentation may be perceived as antiquated for todays standards, nonetheless this may be appreciated by people who are not totally new to this piece of history and who are more interested in seeing valuable and unusual ‘hardware’. I would recommend at least a full hour for the interested visitor, extendable to 1.5 hours rather easily including a detailed visit to the outside exhibition.

Getting there and moving around

The museum is not far north from downtown Moscow, less than .2 miles from Dostoyevskaya metro stop (line 10). The building can be approached walking along ul. Sovetskoy Armii, on the side of the park. The neighborhood is decent and safe, I had no bad feelings visiting alone.

Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Moscow is scattered with monuments remembering the Soviet effort and the victorious outcome of WWII, but the focal point of the celebration is the park at Poklonnaya Hill with the museum of the Great Patriotic War. The park is an extensive area, built around a perspective leading to the top of the hill, where the museum can be found (website here). This is hosted in the curved building behind the very tall spine which can be seen from the distance.

Approaching from the east, from the famous Kutuzovski Prospekt where many important political players of the USSR used to live, including Brezhnev, it is possible to spot first a huge arch, just in the middle of the road, and departing from it the perspective leading to the hill, just to the left of the Prospekt. To the left of the hill as well as beyond the spine there is a park with several smaller installations remembering war actions involving the USSR and more recently Russia, and following WWII. It is also possible to find there an exhibition with cannons, armored vehicles and other warcrafts.

The museum, accessible from the front of the circular building, is intended basically to celebrate the heroism of the Red Army in the war against Germany. It acts as a place of remembrance for the many who never came back, and during my visit there I coincidentally could assist to a ceremony with high ranking military staff celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.

Inside the most notable items are huge and very vivid dioramas – I must say, very well made, especially for the age – reconstructing some scenes from some especially dramatic battles of the war against Nazi Germany.

In the crypt it is possible to find the very interesting ‘Hall of sorrow’, a more modern monument to the fallen soldiers, with many crystal drops hanging from the ceiling, representing the tears of Mother Russia. These should be really many, with a proportion to the number of soldiers actually lost in the conflict.

The exhibition of artifacts includes a selection of items from various moments and fronts of the war. I could not tour this part freely because of the above mentioned ceremony, but what I could see was interesting. Unfortunately, I could not see the Hall of fame.

Above all, the plan of the whole installation and the Soviet style adopted, not so bombastic in this case, are extremely interesting. Touring the museum may take less than 45 minutes. If you are interested in moving in the park, you may need more. Distances here follow monumental proportions, so monuments are not really close to each other as they might seem on a map.

Getting there and moving around

The area can be reached easily from Park Pobedy metro stop on line 3. The perspective leading to the museum starting from the arch (and from the metro station) is about .6 miles long.

Museum-Panorama ‘The battle of Borodino’

You can find this museum very close to the Museum of the Great Patriotic War described above. The theme of the exhibition is here the battle of Borodino during the war against Napoleon and the French Army.

Borodino is located about 80 miles west of Moscow. There the advancing French Army faced the full power of the Russian Army. Napoleon himself was present and led war operations, while Kutuzov and Bagration, the top-ranking generals of the Tsar, were among the strategists on the Russian side. The battle was a prototypical battle of the time, with wild fire from cannons, infantry and cavalry, all in the arena. It turned out very cruel, taking a huge death toll on both parts. As a matter of fact, the Russian Army, which had constantly retreated avoiding the contact with the French until that great battle, continued back towards Moscow, which was finally abandoned and set on fire as Napoleon’s Army was reaching it. On one side, the Russians failed to stop the French at Borodino, on the other they set for the French a deadly trap – the French did not quit chasing the Russians until the winter of 1812 finally struck when they were infinitely far from home with no active supply lines, nor food nor resupply storages at hand. The season killed basically 9 out of 10 on the French side, triggering the end of Napoleon’s dreams of power.

The museum was recently refurbished in a modern key, with a detailed description of some moments of the battle on wide screens and interactive panels – again, unfortunately all in Russian. Uniforms, weapons and artifacts add to the visit, but the highlight here is the beautiful panorama painting. This is similar to the cyclorama in Gettysburg, PA, and it is a more than 300 ft long circular painting vividly depicting some important moments in the battle of Borodino. As you can learn from the website, the painting was made in 1912 (before the Soviets) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the battle. The building was renovated in 1962.

The visit may not take much, especially if you are not interested in the war against Napoleon, but I would suggest going there even only for the uniqueness of the installation as well as  for its artistic significance. In any case, the visit may not take more than 45 minutes, especially if you don’t understand Russian.

Right behind the museum it is possible to see the wooden hut where Kutuzov and his staff discussed and decided for the destruction of Moscow in order to jeopardize the plans of the French to find a shelter there for the approaching winter season.

Getting there and moving around

The museum can be reached easily from Park Pobedy metro stop on line 3, like the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. From the metro stop you can walk west on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, and you will soon find the museum on the left (northern) side of the road, about .2 miles from the station.

Wolfsschlucht II – Hitler’s Forgotten Headquarters in France

A few miles from the city of Soissons, and precisely in the municipality of Margival in the northern French countryside, southeast of the region of the Somme – where the fierce offensive of the British and their Allies took place in 1916 – lies a very little advertised and almost unknown item of great interest for war historians.

It was here, not far from where young Hitler fought for the Kaiser in WWI, that the occupation forces of Nazi Germany started building their headquarters in 1942. The place, not far north from Paris and at a similar distance from the coasts of Normandy and the narrowest section of the Channel, was probably selected also for the existence of a long railway tunnel, with an entrance hidden in a small but deep valley – of use for hiding the special armored train Hitler used to travel over the occupied regions of the Third Reich.

Being intended for acting as a major directional center where the Führer himself should be in charge, the military installation was designed with all that was necessary for leading the German offensive and directing operations on a potential western front, and with some comfort for the top figures of the German government. Similarly to other bases destined to host the Führer, the fort in Margival received a picturesque name – ‘Wolfsschlucht II’ or  ‘Wolf’s canyon II’.

The fact that soon after the D-Day operations and the real opening of a western front for Germany the region fell under Allied control meant that the installation was used intensively for only about three months in the summer of 1944 – it had began to be used more considerably from the first months of 1944, when an invasion from the sea began to be seen by the Nazi high command as likely.

Hitler reportedly visited the place only in one occasion and for 1-2 days in June 1944, soon after the successful landing of the Allies in Normandy, electing to concentrate personally on the Eastern front and leaving the command of operations to other generals. General Model resided in the installation in August 1944. Soon after the area was lost to the Allies.

But the history of the place was not over. The bunkers, barracks and service buildings had been constructed by the German paramilitary Todt organization with good care and had survived the war basically undamaged. They were used by the French Army until 1955 before being selected for quartering NATO forces until 1968. Then control was given back to the French Army, who abandoned the place with the end of the Cold War in the early Nineties.

Since then the place has been left deserted and has fallen into oblivion. Only in recent years a local society of enthusiasts has begun a lengthy but precious restoration work, which by now has interested only a limited part of the huge area of this military installation.

Due to the extensive use by western forces in the Cold War period, much of the few remaining interiors date from more recently than WWII. On the other hand, the buildings and their disposition are original from the German master plan.

The following photographs were taken during an exploration of the site in August 2016.

Getting there and moving around

Wolfsschlucht II has three main gates, one to the south in Margival, leaving the D537 as the road climbs uphill in a horseshoe bend, one to the east in Laffaux, leaving the D537 to the right before reaching the town center approaching from north, and the last to the north, on Rue Principale in Neuville-sur-Margival.

I selected the first of the three, for immediately after passing the gate and the former guardhouse there is a free area where you can conveniently park your car. This area is technically inside the old fence, so if there is nobody around to greet you and to ask about, you may be worried about your car being blocked inside if somebody closes the gate. I watched the door closely and decided it had been open for months, so I left my car inside. Soon after I met one of the members of the preservation society, who assured there was no trouble in parking where I had actually parked, so I guess you can adopt the same strategy…

I must mention the preservation society has a website where they advertise guided tours of the place, even in English language (website here). I tried to contact them in advance the days prior to my visit, about twenty-five times via phone, but could never speak with anybody – the line was free but nobody answered. I sent also some emails to the guys on the contact list of the site, and never received an answer. I decided to go anyway, and in the event I could tour the place without troubles, except a few restored bunkers, which are closed and cannot be visited except with a guide I guess.

The place is not particularly creepy. Once there, I found an entire family and various other people touring the area, plus people busy in the restoration of some of the bunkers. The railway track is still active, so there are also trains passing right besides the bunkers.

The bunkers are roughly aligned along a single road leading from the southern to the northern entrance, to the east of the railway track. The length is about 1.7 miles one way, so plan a walk of about 3.5 miles for a round tour of this installation.

Sights

The first large bunker you find when approaching from the southern gate is the ‘Loano’ bunker – all names are from after WWII, where the numbers painted on the bunkers are original German. The distinctive concrete dome and the surface with holds for practicing with climbing and doing exercises is an addition dating from after WWII.

The road then splits in two. Both ends lead to the northern part of the installation, where the most interesting bunkers can be found. The lower path goes along the railway, and climbs uphill steeply towards the end. There is less to see along that than the other path, going uphill immediately behind the ‘Loano’ bunker.

Along the latter, you can find a series of service buildings, barracks, clubhouses and canteens for troops. Also a former square with a flagpole can be seen to the side of the road at some point. Most of the buildings are totally abandoned. I explored some of them with some satisfaction, but what you can find dates clearly from relatively recent years.

Among other buildings, a partially interred bunker for troops, similar to those you can find in the batteries of the Atlantic Wall, can be spotted in the trees, refurbished but unfortunately not accessible. A distinctive feature of some of the buildings is their ‘partially armored’ construction, with the part reaching to the road made of lighter materials and that closer to the hill made of reinforced concrete.

I guess the iron window frames and blinds date back from WWII.

After a good walk you finally reach a T-shaped crossing and a group of buildings. Among them, the one belonging to the preservation society – ‘Berezina’ bunker. To the east you can spot the only multi-storey building of the complex, which reportedly served as a building for visitors, and actually looks like a small hotel. I don’t think this dates back from WWII, for the style is somewhat ‘un-German’. You can step inside at your own risk, for the building is totally derelict. Baths and canteens are still easily recognizable. To the back of the ‘Berezina’ bunker it is possible to find the entry of a heavy armored bunker, in a refurbished camouflage.

Going back to the T-shaped crossing and taking to the west you find one of the most interesting bunkers, a former communication bunker which was named ‘Patricia’ after the war. This building follows the ‘partially armored’ construction scheme. It is exceptionally long, possibly one of the largest of the kind in Europe.

Inside the building it is easy to distinguish the unarmored part to the front from the armored part to the back, closer to the hill.

Again the inside of the armored part is very similar to the bunkers of the Atlantic Wall, a consequence of both being designed by the same design studio. Remains of cables from WWII and of other equipment from various ages make this visit very interesting. It’s very dark inside the armored part, you will definitely need a torch, and be very careful, cause the pavement is uneven and there are manholes and other strange cavities all around.

The last part of the visit will bring you to the Führer’s quarters. Keeping going uphill, the road will turn north. As you reach the top of a steep climb you will be facing a corner building with three square pillars. This is bunker N.1, where Hitler was in his only visit to the Margival site in June 1944. The very sober decoration of the façade with the three pillars is the only distinctive feature of this building, which is again armored to the back.

Leaving the N.1 building to your left you may take a road proceeding around the hill without climbing. Along this road you see a grassy area with curbs framing a square spot on the ground. This is where a ‘normal’ – i.e. not armored – house for the Führer’s entourage used to stay. Further on, you can find an original Nazi swimming pool, again intended for top-ranking staff stationed in the installation.

Going back to bunker N.1 and taking to the north, you can find large buildings possibly originally hosting command services and canteens. At the time of my visit these were undergoing restoration.

A refurbished bunker with a ‘Tobruk’ shooting post can be found to the northernmost end of the building complex.

During my exploration I came back to the southern gate and to the ‘Loano’ bunker following the lower road along the railway. Being an active track, it should be approached with extreme caution. It is part of the tour, for it was there from the origin.

All in all, this was a stress-free, easy and enjoyable exploration. The site is rich of historical significance and showcases interesting military buildings from the period of Nazi Germany. I would recommend it for everybody interested, including those in lower than average physical condition. Don’t forget guided tours are possible in principle – I wish you are luckier than me in scheduling one!

Aerospace Museum of California – Sacramento

Albeit being a rich and fine collection of military aircraft, possibly among the best in California, the Aerospace Museum of California, located a few miles north-east of downtown Sacramento along interstate 80, is still a somewhat unusual place – at least, it’s not so famous as other attractions in town, like the State Capitol, the Railroad Museum, Sutter’s Fort and the area of the former river port.

The museum is located on the eastern side of the area of McClellan airport. McClellan used to work as a support Air Force base and a station of the Coast Guard. The latter is still operating from this airport today with Lockheed C-130 Hercules, but the Air Force left in 2001.

The following photographs were taken during a visit to the museum in August 2014, and portrait some highlights of this interesting and often overlooked collection.

Sights

The museum is made of a relatively small hangar, where you pay and can also find some nice books. The hangar hosts a few more delicate aircraft, like a refurbished example of the ubiquitous Boeing Stearman training biplane, as well as a nice collection of piston, jet and liquid fuel rocket engines from various ages of aviation.

Also preserved inside is an escape unit of a General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark, which was unique in the sense that it was a totally detachable part of the aircraft. Instead of having jettisonable seats, the pilots would trigger separation of the whole cockpit unit, leaving the canopy intact. This section of the aircraft then descended gently with a parachute. The canopy is open, so you can have a look to the cockpit.

You can board a Dassault Falcon 50 of the Coast Guard, and inspect a North American F-86 Sabre.

The collection outside is hosted on a relatively small fenced apron – good if you don’t want to walk – differently from the USAF museum at Wright-Patterson in Ohio… – but not so good for taking pictures of single aircraft. Among the most unusual sights here, you immediately come across a FedEx Boeing 727 freighter, which can be boarded on some days.

More usual aircraft on display include a North American F-100 Super Sabre, Fairchild A-10 Warthog, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter – a NASA aircraft -, Grumman F-14 Tomcat, McDonnell F-101 Voodoo, Republic F-105 Thunderchief, Sikorsky Jolly Green Giant helo and others.

More unusual types here include two Soviet MiGs, a MiG-17 whose history is not clear – it was acquired reportedly by the Air Force –  and a former Czechoslovakian MiG-21, purchased at the end of the Cold War by a private businessman.

Other interesting American aircraft include a Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star of the USAF. The day I visited it could be boarded. The housing for the early warning radar equipment of this four-propeller aircraft, highly modified from the Constellation liner, is a very distinctive feature of its shape. Inside it is still possible to have a look to the radar and transmission equipment from the early stages of the Cold War, as well as taking the pilot’s seat in the cockpit.

There is a Douglas C-47 – this exemplar is a veteran of WWII and served in the European theatre of war in the brave, perilous operations of 1944. Also this can be boarded, allowing to take a look at the very simple cockpit and the rugged structural construction of this great workhorse.