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.

Soviet Traces in the Caucasus – Armenia, Azerbaijan & Georgia

A visit to the three Caucasian republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – today offers much to virtually any type of traveler. An incredible range of sceneries can be found there, from beaches to mountain ridges, from abundant traces of a multi-millennial civilization to futuristic skyscrapers and oil rigs.

As recent history has dramatically shown, these countries are inhabited by markedly different, deeply divided populations. Furthermore, all three of course still have a complicated relationship with their gigantic neighbor, Russia, which shares a border with both Georgia and Azerbaijan – with some unsolved uncertainties especially with the former, as shown in the cases of the contended territories of Abkhazia and Ossetia. On the other hand, Armenia is historically at loggerheads with Turkey, with which it shares a long – and impenetrable – border.

The three Caucasian nations have suffered the influence of stronger powers for ages. Constant clashes between Czar’s Russia and the Turks meant the loss of independence for long. As a matter of fact, both today’s Georgia and Azerbaijan where under Russia, and Armenia under the Turks, when WWI broke out. Soon after the war, short-lived independent nations were extirpated by the deadly action of the communist Bolsheviks, invading from Russia. The three Caucasian nations were forcibly incorporated in the Soviet Union, creating an artificial, uncomfortable friendship between each other and with Russia.

For roughly seven decades the three nations were on the southern border of the USSR, sharing a frontier with Turkey and Persia (later Iran). Turkey collaborated with the Third Reich in WWII, and later joined NATO, hosting – as it still does today – Western military forces on its territory. That border with the USSR was very active in the Cold War years. Aerial espionage missions were flown by the US from Turkey, ballistic missiles were installed, gigantic radar plants were put in place by the Soviets, who also manufactured MiGs in the outskirts of the Georgian capital – really a hot region in the Cold War!

As soon as the Soviet power started to creak at the very end of the 1980s, national movements faced again, eventually leading to the birth of independent nations as we know them today. This was not without a deadly struggle however, as for the case of Azerbaijan, mostly relevant for its oil reserves and the border with Iran. Furthermore, religious and cultural differences and unsolved disputes over the actual borders among each other meant that these three nations were never friends over the last three decades.

Besides this complicated geopolitical inheritance, the long-lasting Soviet tenancy of the three Caucasian Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs) left traces, of course. Some highlights among the architectural leftovers of Soviet times are presented in this post, from all three Republics. Monuments, from Soviet times, or celebrating independence from the Soviets, are similarly included. Further traces are preserved in museums – military museums dating from the Soviet era, like in Gori (Stalin’s birth town in Georgia, see this post) and Yerevan, history museums like in Baku and Tbilisi, or collections of artifacts from Soviet times, like the world-class Auto-Museum next to the airport in Tbilisi.

Photographs are from a long visit to the Caucasus in summer 2019.

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Armenia

Azerbaijan

Georgia

Sights in Armenia

Republic Square, Yerevan

A fine example of Soviet-times architecture, Republic Square – originally named Lenin’s Square – was designed in the mid-1920s, soon after the creation of the USSR, and was actually built little by little, reaching completion in the 1970s. It is a great example of Soviet-classicism, contaminated by some Armenian motifs – Armenia boasts an original architectural school originating several centuries ago, and particularly evident in medieval Armenian churches.

The focal point, once a statue of Lenin at the center of the square and pulled down in the 1990s, is possibly the front facade of the rich History Museum of Armenia, in a pale color and openly recalling the lines of the beautiful monasteries to be found in the country.

Besides the museum building, fronted by a huge fountain, the oval shaped square is defined by four more buildings, coordinated in terms of volumes and colors. The frieze on some of the buildings is centered on the usual Soviet iconography – five-pointed stars, sickles, harvest, …

The easternmost building with a clock tower used to be the seat of the government of the Armenian SSR, and is now the palace of the Armenian Government.

The westernmost building was designed, and still is, a hotel.

At night, they regularly offer a nice show with music, lights and water games.

Visiting

Centrally located in Yerevan, you can reach this place in several ways. You probably won’t miss it if traveling to the Armenian capital city. Just note that parking is not possible on the square.

Cascade, Yerevan

A large – better, a monster-size… – stairway, climbing uphill from central Yerevan to a residential uptown neighborhood, was designed in the early 1970s and built in two stages, both in the 1970s and in the 2000s.

The stairway is interrupted by platforms, with sculptures and fountains, which make it look pretty irregular and full of details to discover.

Access to the famous Cafesjian Museum is along the stairway.

As of 2021, the complex is unfinished, still missing a planned building on top. The stairway offers a beautiful view of Yerevan, basically in its entirety. The panorama reaches to Turkey and mount Ararat.

Visiting

This is a highlight in town you won’t probably miss. A climb with a taxi to the top is recommended, descending the stairway instead of climbing it, especially on torrid summer days.

Mother Armenia & Victory Park, Yerevan

A unique sight in the former SSRs of the Caucasian area, the Mother Armenia statute is a typical relic of the Cold War, like you can find elsewhere in Russia or more rarely in the Soviet satellite countries of Eastern Europe.

The statue was born as a commemorative monument for the effort of the Armenian SSR in the Great Patriotic War. Having been designed soon after WWII, when Stalin was still the leader of the USSR, the monument was pretty different from now – a huge statue of Stalin used to stand on top of the huge pillar! This was removed in the early 1960s, being swapped with a nicer statue resembling an Armenian young woman, and titled ‘Mother Armenia’.

The base of the monument features a few decorations, based on typical Soviet iconography.

Around the monument, in what is called Victory Park, a few specimens of Soviet military technology are there to see. These include a few tanks, missiles and aircraft.

Ahead of the monument, an eternal flame is still lighted today (invisible in the pics due to the extreme sunlight). A majestic perspective leads to a balcony, from where you can enjoy a nice view of the Armenian capital city.

The base of the statue is home to a war museum, conceived in Soviet times, and later updated with documents over the most recent  Armenian war actions.

The latter, including the countless clashes with Azerbaijan and Turkey, are documented on the much visited ground floor, besides the main hall.

A part on the same floor is dedicated to the actions of soldiers from the Armenian SSR in Soviet times, and more generally to the Cold War period.

Little or no attention is devoted by visitors to the rich collection on the underground floor, mostly centered on the actions of the Red Army against Hitler’s Wehrmacht in WWII.

Here the exhibition is very rich of relics from both the German and Russian sides, including weapons, papers, uniforms, … Several maps retrace the epic battles and actions, leading to the defeat of the German military machine.

Portraits of generals, insignia and mottoes in Russians, not limited to the actions in WWII, relive the genuine ‘Soviet remembrance’ feeling, to be appreciated also in similar museums like in Kiev (see here) or Moscow (see here).