Soviet ‘Monolith’ Nuclear Bunkers in Poland – Survivors & Ghosts

Since the beginning caught in the storm of WWII, Poland saw its border changed again in 1945 by the Western Allies and the USSR – the lack of natural borders meant that fate for this Country several times over the centuries. Furthermore, as a massive flow of Soviet forces had been pivotal in repelling Hitler’s forces, similar to other nations sharing a border with the USSR, Poland found itself deep in the sphere of influence of Stalin’s Soviet Union. A communist dictatorship was installed starting 1945, due to last until the end of communism in Europe in 1989.

As a matter of fact, Poland turned out to be by far the most populated and largest of Eastern Bloc countries. Strategically placed in the middle between the USSR and free Western Europe, with a wide section of the Baltic shoreline and a huge, mostly flat territory, similar to the German Democratic Republic nearby, Poland was the theater of a significant militarization effort by the Soviets. Not only the Polish army received Soviet war material in large stocks over the full span of the Cold War, but the Red Army also actually had significant assets scattered over Polish territory – its huge Northern Group of Forces being stationed there, with tanks, aircraft, dedicated bases, firing ranges, as well as several tens of thousand troops and their families, making for a kind of military colony of the USSR.

What is possibly less known is that also Soviet nuclear weapons were stationed in some satellites of the USSR, like the GDR (see this and this chapters, for instance), Hungary (see this chapter), and of course Poland.

Some elements of the global picture have been introduced in another chapter, dealing among other things with a Basalt-type bunker built for storing air-launched nuclear systems, on the premises of the Soviet airbase of Wiechlice (Szprotawa). Yet as can be argued from the general map of of nuclear depots known to Western intelligence, dating from 1979 (‘Warsaw Pact Forces Opposite NATO’, Vol.I-II, CREST record number 0005517771, declassified and released in 2010, here), there were also three major depots of the Monolith-type in Poland. Similar to Stolzenhain and Lychen in the former GDR (see this post), these depots were larger, multi-chamber storage facilities, intended to store primarily missile warheads for longer periods, for instance to complement the SCUD launch system for theater missiles.

The uniqueness of Poland in the panorama of Cold War archaeology lies in a generally positive attitude towards preserving some traces of this dramatic piece of recent history, when the map of Europe was markedly different from now, and the western world found itself multiple times on the verge of a nuclear confrontation, to be fought on the very territory of now wealthy Core Europe. As a result, an impressive number of war museums putting on display military stuff from all the 20th century can be found scattered over the broad territory of today’s Poland.

Even more important, a certain number of former Soviet military installations are being either actively preserved, or at least not condemned through demolition works or re-assignment to improbable new uses. This is despite a totally justified negative attitude towards the Soviet occupation forces and communist dictatorship. This attitude marks an unusual difference between the cultural attitude of the fierce Polish people towards recent military history and Soviet occupation, with respect for instance to Germany or Hungary, where the comprehensible dislike for the Soviets has taken a shape in leaving behind – i.e. more or less demolishing – every trace of a Soviet military presence, and especially in the former, reducing military museums to a minimum.

Among the most prominent Cold War relics you can find in Poland are the three Monolith-type nuclear warhead bunkers mentioned above. One of them – the Podborsko site – has been restored with 90% original material, and makes for a world-class, top-tier museum in the panorama of Cold War military history. The other two, Brzeznica-Kolonia and Templewo, have been left to nature and have now become ‘Soviet ghosts’, but they are advertised with panels, providing some info, and while access is not encouraged, a quick look inside the bunkers, as well as freely walking in the former premises of these bases, is of course possible.

This post covers these three Monolith-type sites, with a focus on the unique preserved Podborsko site, which needs to be on the shortlist of everyone with an interest in Cold War technology, as well as in the history of the nuclear stockpile. All sites were visited, and all photographs taken, on a trip to western Poland in summer 2020.

Navigate this post – click on links to scroll

Sights

All three sites are in northwestern Poland. GPS coordinates are provided in the respective sections. Despite being not too much afar from each other, due the relatively slow connection roads in the area, visiting all three places in one day is not possible. Furthermore, the area is quite dense in both general interest and Cold War related destinations, so I would advise planning a trip to this region of Poland and listing these sites among other destinations.

Podborsko Site – Objekt 3001

A good specimen of a Monolith site, Podborsko – or Objekt 3001, as per the official military listing of the Cold War years – was centered on two large half-interred bunker, each with two big side-wards opening tight doors at ground level, providing access to the interior with the trolleys used to move the nuclear warheads from the transport trucks to the cellars.

For an increased protection in case of an attack to the site – likely listed among targets of strategic value by Western Countries – a second tight door was put immediately next to the external one, creating a tight, blast resisting and insulated airlock between the interior of the bunker and the outside world.

Both doors to the two ends of the airlock can be – and are – opened via a manual crank system. Two men are needed to actually move the doors however – they are really heavy! A servo-assisted system was in place originally.

An interesting detail is the original sensor for the door status, part of a security system of the base.

Similar to their US counterparts, the Soviets took the problem of security of the nuclear arsenal pretty seriously. Each door on the path followed by the warhead from the outside to the cellar, including the airlock doors as well as the cellar doors inside the bunker, were associated to a trigger. When the corresponding door was opened, the trigger sent a signal via a dedicated cable link to the headquarters of a dedicated branch of the Red Army offices in Moscow, Russia, which was kept constantly updated on the status of each critical door in the depot. The link was via purpose-designed vacuum-protected cables – the actual wiring ran along a vacuum manifold, so that in case of the cable was bitten and the vacuum manifold collapsed, an emergency signal was immediately sent to the nearest nodes of the network, allowing surveillance staff to intervene promptly.

The opening of and closing procedure of the airlock doors involved communication with a post in Moscow too, which started with the local guards communicating their intention to open the doors via a system housed in a blue cabinet besides the tight door. As the signal traveled from the bunker to the headquarters and back, the opening of an airlock was not a quick operation! Original writings in pencil can still be found in the cabinet.

Past the airlock, you land on an elevated concrete platform. From here the warheads were moved to the underground floor via a mechanical crane. This is still standing today, with limit indications in Russian.

From the platform you get an excellent lookout of the bunker structure. You can see a twin suspended platform to the opposite end of the underground floor, with a tight door shut closed. Along the long sides of the main hall, on the underground level you see several doors. On the right hand side, big sliding doors painted in white give access to the cellars, where the warheads spent most of their time in rest. On the opposite side are smaller man-sized doors, giving access to the technical area, with provision for the men of the permanent bunker watch.

The stairs leading downstairs are among the few complements to the original structure – they have been put in place to ease visiting. Originally, the underground floor could be reached from the suspended platform only via a lateral manhole with a vertical metal latter.

The warheads are long gone today – the site was built in the late 1960s, and was emptied of its strategically relevant content in the late 1980s, to be finally ceded back to the Polish government after the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Europe. The cellars today are mainly empty, and used to showcase interesting items related to the site.

First, you can see a scale model of the entire site. In Soviet times, the place was a full scale military base. It included a separated area with living facilities for the troops and their families, who ran the base with both technical and surveillance tasks. Today, this area has been taken over by the government, and used as a prison – Podborsko is rather secluded and far from populated areas on the Baltic coast. Furthermore, as said there used to be two twin bunkers. Today only one has been restored, whereas the other is sealed and waiting for reuse. Between the sectors of the base multiple fences with barbed wire, concrete walls, foxholes and other deterring/defense devices and systems were in place, making the innermost part of the base with the bunkers rather inaccessible.

An original armored cabinet from the time of operation is still in the corner of a cellar, its original use is uncertain.

In another cellar you can find everyday items and relics from Soviet presence in the area. These range from toothpaste to children’s toys. Also more military-related items, like cartridge boxes and even original Soviet military dog tags have been found scattered over the area!

You can also find weapons, a scheme of the base in Russian, anti-radiation suits, and parts of the body, control and guidance systems of a Soviet SCUD theater missile – the corresponding warheads being the main business in Podborsko. There is also a copy of the plan of an attack scenario for Western Europe, showing some targets on the respective sides of the Iron Curtain.

One of the cellars has been left empty, with a mock-up of a warhead, resting on one of the original trolleys. This is particularly evoking, despite being just one out of the high number of warheads usually stored in a cellar. The actual number of warheads residing in each Soviet storage over the years is still today not totally clear. However, reportedly former Soviet staff support there was in a single Monolith bunker in Poland enough nuclear material for the whole attack plan over Europe, meaning a number of several tens warheads per site.

The trolley is original as said, and it shows the function of the slots on the ground of each cellar, which allowed anchoring the trolley firmly in position. This was possibly needed also in the extreme case of a blast hitting the bunker, so as to avoid any unwanted displacement of the trolleys.

A fourth cellar displays a set of panels, outlining the history of the Cold War.

As said, the security triggers telling the status of the door can be found close also to each of the sliding doors of the cellars.

Before moving to the technical area on the other side of the bunker, a look to the central hall reveals a number of original material. In particular, you can find an interesting set of instruments, handles and gauges packed together in a metal cabinet. Their function was that of monitoring the state of each warhead. Nuclear material needs to be stored in precise conservation conditions, so warheads were kept in dedicated cases. These were inspected regularly by connecting them to the monitoring system and recording the corresponding gauge readings. Traces of the positioning markers for an inspected trolley can be found close to the cabinet, painted on the ground.

Another conspicuous sight in the main hall is the heating system, needed to keep the inside atmosphere at a constant assigned temperature and humidity level, to guarantee the health of nuclear material. A big array of heat exchangers takes the top part of a side wall in the main hall.

The technical part is made of two main parts, and is accessible on the long side of the hall opposite to the cellars. One part is made of a blind sequence of three narrow compartments. Here you can find a case for manipulating dangerous chemicals, with protection gloves once protruding inside. Nearby, a sink and some cabinets recall a medical room.

This area was designed to manipulate and check the triggers of nuclear weapons in use at the time of construction of the Monolith bunkers (late 1960s). These made use of reactive materials, thus requiring some precautions and a complex maintenance procedure. They were phased out soon after the construction of the site though, so this part of the bunker was basically unused since that time. A tight door connects this area to the main hall.

The second part of the technical area is arranged along a U-shaped corridor, starting and ending in the main hall. Similar to the previous technical part, a small sealed door connects the corridor to the main hall.

The first technical rooms you meet are related to climate control.

Next you find a big water tank. Close by there is a single toilet. This was reportedly seldom used, as drainage did not work properly due to the underground placement. Watchmen during their shifts in the bunker went out for their physiological needs.

Going in and out for pedestrians was made possible through a man-sized airlock. This is perfectly preserved in Podborsko, similar to the passage leading up, by means of very steep metal ladders.

Another interesting sight in the technical area is the air filtering room, which is close to the small living area for the watch staff. In case of an attack to the facility, making the area poisonous possibly also due to fallout, this huge filtering system allowed the troops inside to survive for some time.

The electric control room is in almost mint condition. Only the major connections to the external power lines – not there any more – have been cut. Same electric connections still bear their original hand written identifiers!

An original – and rare – handbook with some illustration of standard trolleys is among the artifacts to be found in this incredible exhibition.

Concluding the technical part, a massive Diesel power generator, with its ancillary air pumping and exhaust expulsion systems, is still there in a rather good state.

Back outside, the Podborsko site features also a Granit-type bunker, perfectly preserved with its metal doors – seldom found elsewhere. Granit bunkers were much softer in construction than the Monolith-type, and they might be used for storing assembled missiles, command posts and more. The one in Podborsko is another Soviet mystery – it is hard to tell to what purpose it was built, probably in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

The second bunker, very similar inside to the main one, is sealed and waiting for restoration. You can walk the exterior, where some remains of the truck loading/unloading platforms can be found. Traces of a fence line can be seen to the back.

Getting there and moving around

The Podborsko site is a branch of the ‘Muzeum Oreza Polskiego w Kolobrzegu’, called ‘Cold War Museum Podborsko 3001’ (‘Muzeum Zimnej Wojny Podborsko 3001’ in Polish). The town of Kolobrzeg is on the Baltic coast, roughly a one hour drive from this bunker, and hosts other branches of this nice museum (a tank and artillery collection, a marine branch,…). The dedicated website of Podborsko is here, to be Google-translated from Polish. The Podborsko site is open on a regular basis at least in summer, and also by appointment. I guess the visit may take about 1 hour once on site.

My visit was a special one though, as I had the chance to join in for a special thorough visit of the site, prepared for Dr. Reiner Helling, a nuclear scientist from Germany, and one of the most knowledgeable historians in the field of Soviet military presence and nuclear assets in Europe. Dr. Helling extended the invitation to me, so I had the unique chance to take a private, tour with the local curators of the branch, Mr. Mieczysław Żuk and Mr. Pawel Urbaniak. We spent some hours touring the site inside and out – special thanks to all three for an unforgettable experience!

Getting to the bunker is easy by car. Driving will be along an original Soviet service road, which can be faced with a regular city car. You may park once on the spot once there.

Brzeznica Kolonia – Objekt 3002

The site in Brzeznica Kolonia can be found close to the former Soviet village of Klomino – pretty famous in its heyday among the urbex community – and in the vicinity of the airport of Nadarzyce, still active today.

The site has been largely wiped out, but the bunkers and a little more hardware survive, in a ghost condition. However, the site is advertised with some explanatory panels, and it is also quite popular among the locals, which come here to take a couple of pics in a weird scenery.

One of the most portrayed items on the premises of this site is the Granit bunker, which is today lacking its original metal door. Similar to Podborsko, this ‘soft’ bunker was added at a later stage, and its function is to be guessed. Interestingly, some painted stripes can be found on the pavement, possibly marking the position of some trailer or gear.

Similar to Podborsko, the two major Monolith bunkers are arranged with their respective axes crossed. The eastern one can be accessed from its southern door pretty easily. Inside, it reveals its similarity with Podborsko, except for having being spoiled of any metal part – from the doors to the heat exchangers – and having hosted a wildfire or similar, as can be guessed from the sooth on the walls and ceiling.

Getting to the underground level from the suspended platform is not safe if you are going alone, like me, as the original metal ladders have been taken away. However, hard spoiling has to be expected also in the technical rooms.

Walking on top of the bunker, you find traces of the man-sized side entrance, completely interred.

Ahead of the bunker and to the back, traces of the loading/unloading platforms for trucks can be still recognized.

The westernmost bunker is easy to access from the eastern gate. Inside, it has been spoiled of any metal, similar to its twin brother. It is in a generally better shape though, without sooth on the inside walls.

In both bunkers, traces of original painting can be found.

In between the two bunkers, a number of smaller buildings are still to be found, including – apparently – a water tank, and some sentry boxes.

Also, more than in Podborsko you can appreciate a network of foxholes, which despite fading in nature, can be clearly noticed departing from the main roads once crossing this military installation.

Back to Nadarzyce nearby, you can get access to the former ghost town of Klomino. The majority of the original Soviet blocks have been wiped out, but most incredibly some of them have been restored and are today inhabited. This, and the very bad access road, make this place worth a visit only for completing the tour of this once big Soviet installation, without adding much. There is really not much left to see in Klomino.

Getting there and moving around

As said, the bunkers are pretty popular among the locals, who go there by mountain bike or car. The site can be accessed via an unpaved service road, totally safe also for a standard car, taking south from Nadarzyce. The parking point is here 53°25’51.0″N 16°34’43.6″E. There are also some picnic tables, an explanatory panel and some warning signs.

Templewo – Objekt 3003

Similar to Brzeznica Kolonia, the Templewo site has been largely reclaimed, and is now partly preserved as an unusual spot in the wilderness. The base has completely gone, but the the monolith bunkers are still there.

They can be found following an original Soviet paved road.

Both Monolith-type bunkers can be accessed with little difficulty, despite the gates having being mostly interred, like for Objekt 3002.

With respect to the latter, they appear in a generally better shape, albeit stripped of any metal hardware. Again, going down to the underground level is not recommendable if you are exploring alone, as there are no ladders from the suspended platform.

Taking a detour from the Monolith bunker area reveals an extensive network of trenches and foxholes, with abundant traces of – dangerous – barbed wire.

Finally, a single Granit-type bunker, added to the site at some point similarly to Podborsko and Brzeznica Kolonia, has been completely taken away. Only the side embankments can be seen today, wet and with a slimy puddle in between.

Getting there and moving around

The site can be reached by car, shortly north of the road connecting Trzemeszno Lubuskie to Wielowies. A parking area, part of the former base, is here 52°25’16.2″N 15°19’10.6″E. No special car needed, you can drive the original Soviet service road with a standard city car. From the parking, you may move north for a very short walk. You will soon find mild warning signs concerning the bunkers.

The area is located next to a huge military proving ground, so loud bangs might be heard quite easily, and you will see signs telling not to go south with respect to the access road to the former nuclear installation. However, the bunkers themselves are out of the danger area, and totally open and accessible.

The Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade

With a few parallels in aviation history, especially in the years immediately following WWII, former Yugoslavia benefited from supplies by a great number of countries. As a matter of fact, the air force of this newborn communist republic was formed at first from leftovers of retreating Germany and conquering Britain, followed by the establishment of a supply line initially from the USSR, and later the US and again Britain.

The special political ability of marshal Tito, who ruled uncontested as a communist dictator since the foundation of Yugoslavia in 1945 until his death in 1980, and the credit he benefited from especially in Britain, allowed him to keep out of the sphere of influence of the USSR since 1948. In a strategic position on the border with NATO countries like Italy and Greece, Tito adopted a detente policy of ‘equal-distance’ between the two opposing blocs over the Cold War period (even though NATO did not trust him fully, as testified by the deployment of a SAM defense line in northeastern Italy, see this post).

Of course, most of the military supply was of Soviet make, especially after the death of Stalin and well until the end of communism in Europe and the bloody fragmentation of the Yugoslav state. However, concerning civil aviation, autonomy from Moscow allowed the adoption of western aircraft, like the French Aerospatiale Caravelle and much of the Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas inventory, in the major national airline JAT – something which happened very rarely anywhere in the communist bloc over the years of the Cold War, another notable instance being Romania, again a ‘semi-autonomous’ communist dictatorship, who refused the Soviet Tupolev Tu-134 in favor of license-built British BAC 1-11s.

Another effect of the autonomy from the USSR was the creation of a national aviation industry, which especially in the case of SOKO, produced military trainers and light attack aircraft of good success, which despite ageing, are still flying today.

More recently, the fierce conflicts raging over the Balkans in the 1990s have created a major active front for modern aviation, where the air force of Serbia – which inherited the geographically central part of Yugoslavia and its capital city, Belgrade – confronted the NATO alliance in an open conflict. The unbalance of forces allowed the western coalition to quickly establish air superiority, which did not come without a few notable material losses however.

A rich display of this peculiar aviation history, actually tracing back to WWI and the early years of aviation, can be found in the Aeronautical Museum of Belgrade, which despite being in today’s Serbia, acts as a kind of Yugoslav Aviation Museum. As a matter of fact, it was founded as such back in the years of Tito, and opened in its current building nearby ‘Nikola Tesla’ civil airport of Belgrade in 1989, when Yugoslavia was still a reality.

This short post provides an outline of what you can find in this museum, with photographs taken on a visit in April 2019.

Sights

The museum occupies a relatively large area in the vicinity of the airport of Belgrade, and is made of an open-air exhibition, open-air storage area, and big mushroom-shaped building hosting an indoor exhibition.

The ‘gate guardian’ is a SOKO J-21 Jastreb, a nice light multi-role aircraft from the 1960s, powered by a British Rolls-Royce Viper jet engine.

Indoor exhibition

The entry hall of the mushroom-shaped building features is a good example of the architectural style from the late communist era. The ground floor hosts a small exhibition about the early days of aviation in the former region of the Balkans, with documents from WWI years. Among the items on display, you can find early pilot’s licenses from notable war pilots, likely granted after training abroad, and actually written in French.

The main hall of the museum can be found upstairs. This large can be walked on two levels. Most aircraft are to be found on the lower level, but a few are suspended to the glassy circular sidewall of the mushroom, lighted from behind by the sunlight – so that taking pictures is just a nightmare!

The centerpiece of the collection is an exemplar of the SOKO J-22 Orao, a twin-engined – two Rolls-Royce Viper turbofans – light ground-attack and trainer aircraft from the 1970s. Designed jointly by Yugoslavia and Romania, this model equipped the Yugoslav (then Serbian) air force during the 1990s, where a handful exemplars are still flying today.

Indeed a clean design with an interesting performance, this aircraft was possibly the last heir of the Ikarus-then-SOKO lineage, originated back in the years before WWII. In this respect, some unique exemplars of aircraft are preserved in this museum, witnessing the existence of a school of skilled aircraft designers in Serbia, not much known in the western world.

A key figure of the Ikarus design bureau, Dragoljub Beslin led the design of Ikarus S-451, a nice, very small, twin-prop attack aircraft flown in 1951, especially designed to sustain high load factors in maneuvers at high speed.

Another unique specimen is the twin-jet Ikarus 451M, the first jet aircraft built by Yugoslavia. Same designer as the S-451, this unusual jet-engined taildragger flew in 1952, but was soon superseded by more modern models, in those years of quick-paced development of aviation technology. Again, the engines were from the West, in the form of two French Turbomeca Palas turbojets.

Another member of the ‘Ikarus 451’ family – it must be said this Yugoslav one is likely the oddest model numbering systems ever created… –  the T 451 MM Strsljen (Hornet) features a more convincing configuration, resembling the single-engined British BAC Jet Provost and the Italian Macchi MB 326, both rather successful trainers from the late 1950s. On display is actually the ‘Strsljen II’ version, which is a attack/training version with more thrust than the first series aircraft. This model was conceived to operate from unprepared runways, and featured two Turbomeca Marbore II French turbojets. The aircraft flew in 1958, but an air force contract was not granted.

Some functional wind tunnel models of other aircraft, actually never reaching the 1:1 prototype stage, are on display. These include a rare ekranoplane design, the UTVA 754. With a mechanic-monster-like appearance like all ekranoplanes (the most famous being probably the Bertini-Beriev preserved at the Russian Air Force Museum in Monino, see here), this machine was designed in 1982 in the then-Yugoslav town of Zagreb, today the capital city of Croatia.

A medevac aircraft conceived for easy conversion between floats and wheels, the UTVA 66H can be visited also inside. The indigenous SOKO is represented by a number of models. These include the SOKO G-2 Galeb, a successful trainer/light attack aircraft from the 1950s, built around a single Rolls-Royce Viper turbofan. During its long history it was exported to several international operators, and gave birth to the more recent SOKO J-21 Jastreb. The Galeb was in service with Serbia until 1999.

Another section of the museum features aircraft of foreign make which witness the intricate history of alliances of both the pre-WWII Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the post-WWII communist Yugoslavia. Most remarkably, these include a Messerschmitt Bf-109-G! The history of this particular aircraft is not very clear, some sources stating it was captured from Bulgarian air force. As a matter of fact, Yugoslavia acquired about 70 Bf-109-E from Germany in 1940, which in turn furiously invaded from north in a quick an violent campaign in spring 1941.

Next in line is nothing less than a British Hawker Hurricane! A group of Hurricanes were acquired from Britain in the immediate pre-war years, and even license-built in Belgrade in a small number – Yugoslavia apparently purchased aircraft seamlessly from both opponents at the outbreak of WWII. Later on, Hurricane-equipped squadrons of Yugoslavia fought back on the side of the Allies from bases in southern Italy, finally regaining control over the Balkans.

In a similar fashion, a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.V witnesses the involvement of British-supplied national air force squadrons in the liberation of Yugoslavia from the German invaders.

In the closing years of WWII, Yugoslavia benefited also from the help of the USSR. This is witnessed by a massive – and pretty rare, out of former soviet republics! – Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik. This big attack aircraft, possibly the most famous Soviet aircraft of WWII, equipped three squadrons in the Yugoslav air force, and helped in the fight on the so-called ‘Srem front’ north of Belgrade. An often overlooked sector of the European front, substantial operations were carried out since late 1944 until April 1945, with the forces of Nazi Germany slowly retreating under the offensive of the Red Army (including Bulgarian divisions) and of Yugoslavia from the south. These operations involved 250’000 troops on either side, thus engaging the Germans and draining resources from mainland defense. At that time, an entire division of the Yugoslav air force were equipped with this aircraft type, kept in service until the 1950s.

Similarly, an elegant WWII Yakovlev Yak-3 fighter of Soviet make can be found nearby in the colors of Yugoslavia.

After the end of WWII, Tito was determined not to surrender his political and economic independence to Stalin. In this high-stake gamble, he made no secret of his thoughts, and sought international recognition from the west. As expected, Stalin showed no sense of humor in that matter, and as the USSR broke relationships with Yugoslavia, this country faced the risk of isolation and of Soviet invasion in the early stage of the Cold War (late 1940s).

Over the years, the good relationship established with the western Allies during WWII were strengthened further, and most incredibly for a communist country, the US provided aircraft and helicopters, in the form of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, Lockheed T-33 Shooting Star, Republic F-84G Thunderjet and (much later, in the early 1960s) North American F-86D ‘long-nosed’ Sabre.

The years of Kennedy administration saw a significant improvement of the relationship between Tito and Khrushchev, and this led to a switch to Soviet aircraft in the form of the supersonic MiG-21, which equipped the Yugoslav air force in substantial numbers over the following two decades. An exemplar of this iconic and ubiquitous aircraft, an unquestionably well-performing aircraft in his age, is preserved in the museum. By the way, the early 1960s saw also the widespread adoption of SOKO Galeb trainers and the phase out of older British/US models.

Other peculiar exhibits in the indoor part of the museum are the wrecks resulting from air fight operations during the Yugoslavian wars of the 1990s. On the national (Yugoslav) side, the tail cone of a SOKO G-4 Super Galeb – a totally different design from the quasi-homonym G-2 – damaged by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile in 1991.

But much more material is from NATO countries, resulting from combat during operation ‘Allied Force’ against Serbia in 1999. Most notably, you can see a substantial part of the wing of a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, the famous stealth aircraft downed by a vintage Soviet SA-3 Goa surface-to-air missile in March 1999, as well as a landing gear, ejection seat, pilot’s helmet, Vulcan cannon and some smaller parts of a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon downed the following May, again due to an SA-3 missile. The first stage of the missile which hit the Nighthawk is on display too.

These are basically the only aircraft lost in action over enemy territory during that operation.

An apparently easier prey, General Atomics RQ-1 Predator UAVs were used in great numbers, some twenty of them being downed. One wrecked example is put on display.

More items of the kind include parts of NATO missiles, including HARM anti-radiation missiles and cluster-bombs containers.

On the upper level, you can find a mostly photographic exhibition mainly about the national carrier JAT. Interestingly, not a single Soviet-made model appears in the pictures, whereas you can find Boeing 707s, 727s, 737s, Douglas DC-9s, McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s, Aerospatiale Caravelles and ATR-42/72s – clearly a strong commercial bound with the West, pretty unusual for a communist country!

Another Yugoslav airline started operations to a later date – Aviogenex. This apparently did use aircraft from the USSR, in particular Tupolev Tu-134s, later flanked by Boeing 737s. Aviogenex ceased operations much later than the end of Yugoslavia, and operated as a Serbian company for some years.

One of the most iconic brutalist monstrosities in northern Belgrade is the skyscraper which used to host the headquarters of this airline – it looks like a good setting for some ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Judge Dredd’ movie…

Some more panels include descriptions of airport history and modern operations in the nearby airport of Belgrade. The history line of the national aviation industry is also presented in detail through historical pictures.

Some more aircraft can be found on this level, as well as a SA-3 Goa missile in a non-operative paint scheme, likely for training or telemetry tuning purposes.

Outdoor exhibition

The large area around the building is split between a small outdoor exhibition prepared for the public, and a larger storage area with many more aircraft which can not be neared nor walked around.

The displayed aircraft include an Aerospatiale Caravelle in the colors of JAT. This exemplar was one of three operated by this airline, and was active between 1963 and 1976.

A much elder transport, a German (French license-built) Junkers 52 with P&W engines represents a fleet of four such aircraft operated by the Yugoslav air force, complementing another group of originally German aircraft captured during the war.

An aircraft of historical significance is an Ilyushin Il-14 twin-prop transport. This aircraft was a personal goodwill gift from Khrushchev to marshal Tito, and the founding member of Yugoslav presidential fleet.

A couple of Lisunov Li-2 and some original Douglas C-47 Skytrain, of which the former is a license-built Soviet version, are on display, albeit not all complete. A MiG-21 Fishbed and a Kamov twin-rotor helicopter are also on display.

Another extremely rare item from the post-WWII years, a Short SA.6 Sealand amphibious aircraft of British make has made its way to Belgrade, after years as a transport aircraft in the Yugoslav air force.

The non-visible part of the museum features a rather impressive collection of MiG-21 in several versions, SOKO J-21 Jastreb and SOKO J-20 Kraguj in a large number, a SA-2 Guideline soviet-made SAM launcher with two missiles, and a number of partly assembled aircraft and wrecks.

A mystery item is a part of an allegedly US aircraft, apparently a part of the tail empennage of a bigger transport – any suggestion about this item welcome!

Visiting

The museum is located to the northwest of the airport of Belgrade. It can be easily reached by car from the access road going to the main terminal area. Website with info in English here. Parking ahead of the entrance.

The museum can be visited in about 2 hours by an interested subject, much less if you have just a mild interest in aviation. Much paneling is in double Serbian and English language, allowing to get the most from your visit.

Despite being fully operative, the place has a somewhat rotting appearance especially from the outside, as mostly typical to former state-run institutions in former Yugoslavia. Furthermore, some form of protection for the aircraft in the outside exhibition is hopefully to be considered by the management, otherwise the aircraft with literally disintegrate to the action of the elements in a matter of some years.