The western part of Poland, today on the border with Germany, used to be largely part of the German Reich before WWI. Following the defeat of the central empires in 1918, the borders of Poland were partly redrawn, but with respect to today’s political map of Europe a large territory of what is today western Poland was still German. Most notably, the Baltic town of Gdansk (or Danzig, in German) was the port town of Poland in the interwar period, linked through a narrow corridor to the main inland region of that country. The severing of this link and the attack on Gdansk by Hitler’s forces in late summer 1939 was the first act of WWII.
With this map in mind, it is no surprise that most towns in the Polish region on the Baltic shoreline, and south to the border with today’s Czechia, are pointed with former Luftwaffe airbases, German made concrete bunkers and coastal guns similar to the Atlantic Wall (see this post for an idea). As a matter of fact, also the remarkable border forts of Czechia were put in place in the 1930s to counter warlike Hitler’s Third Reich on the other side of the border, not Poland, today bordering Czechia to the north (see this post).
Western Poland was swept by Stalin’s Red Army in the closing season of WWII in winter and spring of 1945. Soon after WWII, Poland had its borders this time totally redrawn. A new big communist state was created in central Europe, which to the uttermost delusion of the fierce local population, was basically a feud of the USSR – actually, the largest and most populated of the countries in the Eastern Bloc.
Just like any other country in Moscow’s suffocating embrace, Poland was strongly militarized. The armed forces of Poland were among the most developed branches of the Polish state, but this was just a part of the overall picture. As soon as the former Allied forces of WWII split, and the USSR became an undeclared enemy of Western democracies in the late 1940s, a strategic Soviet force was installed in Poland, taking over many formerly German military assets in the western region. The Northern Group of Forces was the name of the branch of Soviet military deployed to Poland.
As the strategy for a war in Europe envisaged by the Soviets was based on a kind of nuclear-assisted blitzkrieg-style westward push from the border between the Eastern and Western Blocs, the westernmost regions of the Soviet satellite countries on the border with the west were the most heavily reinforced. These included all the territory of the strongly Soviet-presided German Democratic Republic (see for instance this and this post, but there are really many on this topic on this website, and a dedicated book as well!), western Poland, western Czechoslovakia (i.e. Czechia), and to a lesser extent also Hungary (see for instance here) and Bulgaria.
Traces of the Cold War are very abundant in Poland, where they have received a generally greater attention in later times than in other former communist dictatorships, with some good examples of preservation, besides an array of inevitably abandoned and rotting facilities. These traces include both Polish and Soviet relics.
Some conspicuous Cold War leftovers in Poland have been described in this post, a brilliant example of preservation of a nuclear bunker, and also here. In this one, some more are shown, either preserved or abandoned, Soviet or Polish. They include the abandoned Soviet command bunker in Legnica, the partly abandoned Soviet airbases of Chojna and Kolbrzeg, the Museum of the Polish Artillery in Torun, the Polish command bunker on the island of Wolin (‘Vineta Battery’) and the one-of-a-kind nuclear fallout control bunker in Kalisz. The war cemetery in the fortress of Poznan is also portrayed as a special feature – a unique testimony of the dramatic history of Poland in the 20th century.
Photographs are from a trip to the area in 2020.
Navigate this post – click on links to scroll
- Soviet Northern Group of Forces Command Bunker, Legnica
- Chojna Abandoned Soviet Airbase
- Kolobrzeg Abandoned Soviet Airbase
- Museum of Artillery, Torun
- Nuclear Fallout Control Bunker, Kalisz
- Vineta Battery – Polish Army Command Bunker
- Poznan War Cemetery & Soviet Memorial
Soviet Northern Group of Forces Command Bunker, Legnica
The role of the town of Legnica in Poland during the years of Soviet occupation was comparable to that of Wünsdorf in the German Democratic Republic (see this post). It was here that the Northern Group of Forces, i.e. the branch of the Red Army stationed in Poland, had its headquarters. Just like Wünsdorf, operations in Legnica could count on dedicated high-security facilities.
A complex of underground halls, connected by a network of tunnels, formed a nuclear-proof command and control center, capable of fully operating for more than a week without resupply from the outside world. Different from Wünsdorf, this extended network was prepared in the trees at a certain distance from the stately ‘official’ buildings of downtown Legnica, precisely west of the small village of Wilkocin.
The secret bunker in Wilkocin is actually formed by two separate items, once in the middle of an extensive fenced and strongly defended area, totally impenetrable and guarded by watchmen and watchdogs.
The western item, isolated in the sand dunes typical of this area, yet actually not far from the village of Wilkocin, was partly visible from the surface. The codename of this installation was ‘Syrius’, and it was a reserve command post for the western war theater, i.e. the war in central Europe, to be fought along the border with NATO forces, in case the Cold War should have turned ‘hot’.
A group of apparently normal buildings form the visible part of this complex. The latter might have been more numerous, and perhaps demolition works have stricken in the recent past – the site is basically abandoned since the early 1990s when the Soviets quit. Traces of colored floor tiles, electric wires with voltage indications in Russian – many items recall more or less explicitly the Soviet tenancy of this place.
A small water tank/pool and some service buildings can be found in the area at the base of the low-rise mound where the biggest building of the complex is.
Traces of the original camouflage can be seen still today on the walls. Also the building date – 1983, a relatively recent date – is clearly reported on a sidewall.
The invisible, underground part of this complex can be accessed from small hatches, surfacing all around the main building, and even inside it – albeit the latter have been obstructed for safety, since the building is really rotting.
The underground part of the complex is basically made of a long straight corridor, giving access to an array of halls placed at a 90 degrees angle with respect to it. These halls vary in size. Some of them are really small, and were possibly intended for storing supplies, for sleeping stationing troops, or as technical rooms.
Traces of direction signs in Russian can be seen on the walls.
Some of these smaller halls are also interconnected, creating a kind of labyrinth. Tight doors were likely installed between adjoining rooms. They are gone now, but the passages between the rooms in the bunker are very small and make moving around difficult.
Not all of the halls were on the same level, so stairs can be found here and there.
To the far end of the main corridor, a much larger hall greatly resembles the military air control center in Wünsdorf, perhaps its intended purpose in the days of operations.
Behind this larger hall, technical rooms might have been designed for gear to support control and monitoring operations – computers, projectors, etc. A long tunnel takes you outside directly from this area.
Back inside, the main corridor ends in a descending flight of stairs, giving access to another roomy hall. There used to be (likely) a massive tight door here, as suggested by traces in the walls.
This final hall is rather peculiar, having a kind of smaller control cabin in it.
From the outside, the cusp profile of the latter hall surfaces from the side of a hill, taking the shape of a hangar with two entrances – possibly a garage for radars or antennas, linked and providing data to the adjoining hall, likely a control room.
A walk of about 1 mile to the southeast of the first item takes you to the second bunker in the secluded area of Wilkocin. Codenamed ‘Tuman’ (meaning ‘fog’ in Russian) in Soviet times, this was the central communication node of the Northern Group of Forces. Differently to the ‘Syrius’ item, this second facility was built totally underground.
The only surfacing components are an array of bulky but relatively small concrete constructions, possibly the base for electric/electronic gear like aerials, capacitors, or something alike.
Concrete hatches give access to very steep, narrow and long staircases, taking you down into the core of the hill.
The ‘Tuman’ item is basically articulated along two long parallel corridors, with halls between them.
The function of the halls is today hard to guess. Some unusual features, maybe associated to the original role of the corresponding rooms, are the different, often bright colors of the walls and ceiling, ranging from orange, to lurid green, to sooth black.
In some spots, the pavement is covered with ‘elaborated’ tiles, unexpected in an underground military facility.
Traces of hardware are relatively few, and include a few lamps, metal pipes emerging from the walls, and some cabinets with writing in Russian.
The numerous interconnections between the halls, tunnels and passages in this bunker result in a very complicated labyrinth!
The majority of the halls are similar in structure. A couple are roomier and feature a significantly taller ceiling.
The sand of the dunes outside has somehow managed to come in one of the halls!
The secluded location of these mysterious and silent bunkers, isolated deep in the trees and far from any populated settlement, makes for a very thought-provoking walk.
Getting there and moving around
This site is an interesting example of ‘semi-wild’ conservation. It is advertised by means of dedicated explanatory panels in the village of Wilkocin, and can be reached leaving your car there and taking well-maintained trails to the two items. Actually, both bunkers are also sanctuaries for bats. Once there, you can explore the underground networks without restrictions, and modern emergency exit routes are also visible on the walls. However, the tunnels and halls are completely dark, and there is no map. Visiting is at your own risk. So a torchlight and a good sense of direction are required if you are visiting alone. Yet given the limited size of these bunkers and the many exits, you are not likely to run into any trouble. In my view, this is a good compromise for interested people to visit these historically relevant installations, which are not being demolished, but left to interested people without spending a cent of public money to preserve them.
Due to the size of the area and the walk required to reach the points of interest from the parking in Wilkocin, you might easily spend 4 hours exploring this site thoroughly. Due to the location, pretty far from everything, it is likely you will not meet a single person for the whole duration of your stay – this may add much to the ghost aura of the place. Cell phone coverage is so-so, and obviously null inside the bunkers. You might better go with some offline maps (Google maps of the area are fine, as you are not required to move out of technical roads, clearly visible from satellite pictures).
Chojna Abandoned Soviet Airbase
The western districts of Poland hosted basically all Soviet airbases to be found on the territory of this country. This was clearly connected with the strategy of the USSR in case of a war in Europe. Having most offensive forces ready for action along the border with the West meant a significant time advantage in the quick invasion of core Europe and the rush to the North sea, which were in the plans of the top-ranking military in Moscow in case of an outbreak of hostilities.
Actually, the Soviets did not have trouble in finding suitable locations for growing modern airbases in this area – the Luftwaffe had in this district an outstanding number of airfields. Chojna, known as Königsberg before 1945, was one of them.
The Soviets took control of this airport in February 1945, and since them it became one of the most developed in Poland. Today, the airport is basically closed except for minor ultralight operations. However, its original size and prominence can be appreciated moving around its premises – today possible, as the former taxiways and service roads have been turned into car traffic roads, albeit not much used except by the local companies who have taken over some of the original hangars.
Among the many interesting sights of this former airbase, the runway is – as of 2020 – basically intact! This makes for a very unusual and impressive sight – the length of the runway is remarkable, since the airbase was potentiated over the years, and in the closing stage of the Cold War, the Soviets operated from here with massive Sukhoi Su-27 fighters (late 1980s).
Differently from western standards, the Soviets always preferred runway surfaces made of relatively small adjoining concrete slabs.
In connection with the operation of larger fighters, in the form of Su-27, Chojna was one of a handful airbases in the Soviet empire to receive the AU-19 type shelter, the biggest in the inventory of the Soviet air forces.
Only a few of these hangars were built, and today some of them in Chojna have been sadly demolished.
Along the main taxiway running parallel to the runway, smaller AU-11 shelters can be found – their size being compatible with MiG-15 or MiG-21, both types operating from Chojna over the years – converted for storage by local companies or private owners.
A larger maintenance hangar has been taken over by a major engineering company.
Another remarkable feature of Chojna is a well preserved ‘Granit’-type bunker. This type of bunker was the lightest and cheapest in the Soviet inventory. It could serve different functions, from theater missile storage, tactical nuclear ordnance storage, reinforced command bunker, etc.
The actual function of the bunker in Chojna is shrouded into mystery, but similar bunkers can be found in association with tactical nuclear deterrent in Poland (see this post). This might suggest the presence of air-dropped nuclear weapons in this airbase, at some point in history.
Despite too populated and lively to evoke a thick Soviet ghost aura (unlike several bases in the GDR, see for instance this post), Chojna is definitely worth a quick visit for the many unique spots it still offers, as well as for the ease of touring it moving around by car.
Getting there and moving around
Chojna is pretty close to the German border, some 30 miles south of Szczecin. The airbase is located south of the town, with now public roads providing access from the former Soviet village originally for the troops, today normally inhabited by the local population. A visit of less than one hour may cover most of the spots. The ‘Granit’-type bunker can be found in the south-western corner area of the base, with access just south of the western extremity of the runway.
Kolobrzeg Abandoned Soviet Airbase
The airport of Kolbrzeg is actually not really abandoned. Originally a Third Reich’s Luftwaffe installation, the Soviets took over this airfield, located right on the Baltic shoreline, potentiating it through a much longer runway, and turning the original German one into a taxiway and apron.
Today, the long Soviet runway is still used for general aviation operations, with private Cessna and Cirrus aircraft flying to this touristic location.
However, the airport was too big for the traffic it needs to support today. Hence large parts of the former area have been opened to public car traffic, and abandoned shelters from Soviet tenancy can be found scattered around.
The area of the apron, with large concrete slabs making the pavement, can be freely walked and allows to appreciate the big size of this air base.
Part of the original technical hangars, likely dating back to Hitler’s era, have been re-used by local companies.
Similar to Chojna (see above), Kolobrzeg once had a ‘Granit’-type bunker built on its premises. Unfortunately, this was selected for demolition, and nothing remains of it today.
Getting there and moving around
The airport of Kolobrzeg can be found about 3 miles east of the village, along the Baltic shoreline. The former German-then-Soviet village is today a tourist destination (name Podczele), thanks to the proximity with the beach. You may have a quick visit by car to the airport area, moving along the old Soviet taxiways, before parking on the former apron and going to the beach.
Museum of Artillery, Torun
Just east of remarkable UNESCO-town Torun, the small collection of the Museum of Artillery makes for an interesting detour from the touristic path. This museums occupies the westernmost building of the School of Artillery of the Polish Army, still active today.
The collection is clearly centered mainly on artillery, documenting the history and potential of this branch of the military with an interesting collection of shells, fuzes, warheads, cannons, howitzers and firearms mostly from the 20th century and up to our days.
Being a Soviet satellite for the whole duration of the Cold War, Poland received war material made in the USSR in large lots. Among the artifacts on display, didactic cutouts of Soviet warheads from theater missiles are extremely interesting.
Computational range-finding gear of Soviet make is also on display.
The diversity of shells and fuzes is always striking – some of the fuzes look like high-precision clock mechanisms.
To the outside, you are allowed a view of the courtyard of the school of artillery (inaccessible at the time of my visit), with a collection of heavier weapons. It appears however that the collection is loosing some of the items on display in the Cold War years, maybe for restoration, or for displaying them in other collections.
In a small depot on the side of the museum building it is possible to find a restoration shop, where they are actively working on the refurbishment of some heavier pieces of artillery.
Getting there and moving around
The museum can be accessed at this coordinates: 53.019260130760934, 18.623310804318898. It is a about .5 miles northeast of the central touristic district of Torun. You will find a rather unapparent pedestrian gate with a doorbell. You will be immediately admitted upon ringing the doorbell. Parking is not easy in the area. Visiting may take about 30-40 minutes for an interested subject. Unfortunately, explanations are in Polish only, but the museum staff is welcoming and they will try their best to let you get the most out of your visit. Website here.
Nuclear Fallout Control Bunker, Kalisz
Really a one-of-a-kind witness of the Cold War on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain, the perfectly restored and preserved bunker in Kalisz can be found in the basement of a standard residential home.
The secret bunker unveils today a complex and careful administration of the Polish territory, in view of a possible nuclear war to be fought in this country. This installation, run by the Polish government since the 1960s, besides serving as a crisis reporting point, was a central node for the administrative district having its capital city in Kalisz. The main standard function of the bunker was that of collecting and elaborating meteorological information from several sub-nodes of the reporting network, thus elaborating a map of the winds which was regularly updated.
The scope of this very precise meteorological forecast was that of estimating the likely evolution of a potential nuclear fallout, in case of a nuclear attack. Based on this information, the national Army could be sent in a direction or another, avoiding contaminated hot spots, evacuation operations of the local population could be carried out with a good knowledge of the actual risk, and so on.
The bunker could also trigger a nuclear attack alarm for the population of Kalisz, and it could host the local government representatives to ensure the survival of the chain of command.
The bunker is about 5.000 square feet, on a single underground level. It is articulated along a single corridor, with several rooms accessible on the sides. A unique feature – most of the original hardware is still there!
Designed to be autonomous in a nuclear fallout scenario, the bunker could be accessed via an airlock closed by tight doors, and had its own power generator.
Another room hosts battery packs, again for power supply.
The bunker was constantly guarded, and linked with the communication network of the Polish government. A communication room, today still featuring its original telephone console, served this scope. The shift spending the night there could make use of a basic bedroom.
The core of the bunker can be found to the end of the corridor.
Here a set of telephone booths were used by the personnel of the bunker to collect information from peripheral reporting points, dislocated on the territory controlled by the Kalisz bunker.
The information were gathered and reported on a paper map on a pivoting table on the wall. This table was then turned by 180 degrees, the info was received by the commanding staff in an adjoining room – so that decisions were not heard by the low-level operators of the telephone booths.
A highlight of this already impressive show is the still powered reporting & control console, which allowed to issue orders to other nodes of the network. A custom-built map of the district controlled by the central bunker in Kalisz, with multicolored lamps indicating the status of each peripheral node, can be still operated (even though the outgoing links are now severed), providing a very lively evocation of how the bunker control room looked like in the days of operation.
The command room nearby, where people in charge could elaborate their tactics, still resembles its original appearance, with example maps of the meteorology report on a large table.
Another interesting room is the air-filtering room, another essential element in assuring the survival of the bunker staff in case of an attack.