Weapons of Mass Destruction
The Third Largest Base in Eastern Germany
In 1991, the GSSD (Group of Soviet Forces in Germany) consisted of 338,000 soldiers in Vogelsang, it also housed 208,000 relatives, civil employees, and also included 19,000 children. Behind Wünsdorf, Vogelsang was the third largest settlement of Soviet forces. Today this abandoned city covers an immense spread-out area that also includes Stütznachrichtenzentrale (StNZ) 721, a ‘support message center’ that coordinated wireless, cable and telephone messaging between the various military units in the northern area of East Germany at that time.
The Abandoned City of Vogelsang
Stationed at Vogelsang were the staff and families of the 25th Tank Division of the 20th Guards Red Banner Army (itself based at Eberswalde). Before the GSSD was disbanded in 1994, Vogelsang was also home to:
The 162nd Armoured Regiment
The 803rd Motorized Infantry Regiment
The 1702nd SA-6 Anti-Aircraft Regiment Tactical Missile Unit
The future Community of the GSSD
Construction at this 5,800-hectare site began in 1951 at the expense of the East German State(one of the few complexes purpose-built by the Russians, most likely off plans seized from the Germans after the war) and the garrison became home to around 15,000 soldiers and civilians, some 550 buildings, a massive amount of tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, tactical missiles and the most fiendish missiles of all – nuclear missiles. It become a town in 1954 when the GSSD (Gruppe der Sowjetischen Streitkräfte in Deutschland – Group of Soviet Forces in Germany) moved in to stay and build this future community of the GSSD.
Missile Base in Norfolk and Lincolnshire
This was Vogelsang, where the Russians once had atomic weapons earmarked for Western Europe’s demise, ready to launch at a moment’s notice in retaliation for a pre-emptive strike or visa versa. Four of these weapons were allegedly destined for England, to take out Thor (PGM-17) missile bases in Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Others were bound for US air bases in Western Europe with others pointed at population centers such as London, Paris, Brussels, the Ruhrgebiet and Bonn. These warheads were huge, weighing 29.1 tons and reaching 20.74 meters, they were 20 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Four mobile launching units and 12 missiles were ready for deployment between the two bases, capable of striking targets up to 1,200 kilometers away.
In the Cover of Darkness
It easy to understand why East Germans were not informed, these missiles were delivered under cover of darkness using back roads so that the local populace wouldn’t find out what was been going to be housed in Vogelsang.
“The Soviet Army leadership withheld any information about the stationing of missiles from GDR military leadership in Vogelsang and Fürstenberg. On this account General Heinz Kessler head of the GDR air force claimed that in his position he had no knowledge of any action of what was going on at that time.
The Russians withdrew the weapons in a hurry after just a few months, in August, likely for political reasons with Nikita Khrushchev visiting American counterpart Dwight Eisenhower in September, 1959. During this visit Khrushchev was quoted saying: “We have beaten you to the moon, but you have beaten us in sausage making.” See more here. In another statement during this visit he shared his beliefs, “the exchange of opinions between [the Soviet Union and the United States]…is necessary for ending the ‘cold war’ and creating an atmosphere of trust and mutual understanding between our two countries.”
However after this event another sneaky deployment occurred – this time with R-12 (SS-4 Sandal) nuclear missiles capable of reaching 2,000 kilometers – was supposed to have been sent here in 1961-62 during the top secret ‘Operatsiya Tuman.’ It was so secret not even the soldiers knew where they were being deployed.
“Officers and career servicemen for a long time had no clue that the road ahead of them crossed the western border of the USSR and transited to the GDR,” reported the commander in charge, Colonel Vladimir Aleksandrov from Smolensk. He left for Berlin on Sept. 17, going first to Wünsdorf, then up to Vogelsang and Fürstenberg with his sidekicks to make preparations for deployment.
Launch sites were constructed close to both bases, buildings and storage facilities built, communications equipment provided and slabs were laid for command vehicles, launch vehicles and technical batteries.
“Road signs were put up, repairs were made to the road bed and bridges were reinforced. Work was performed to camouflage both BSPs (launch sites),” Col. Aleksandrov said.
With preparations completed, he returned to the USSR on Oct. 11. The new independent missile regiment set up at Zhitkovichi (Belarus) underwent training over November and December before waiting another month for the order to leave for the GDR.
Increase Training and Combat Readiness
“Everyone agonized from the suspense. But the command to load up never came,” Col. Aleksandrov said. “On several occasions I reported to division command … but each time I got the same answer: ‘Wait. Increase the regiment’s training and combat readiness.’”
The Order to Disband
In the end, the Soviet Union’s production of the R-14 Chusovaya missile (SS-5 Skean), with its much greater range, eliminated the need for armed nuclear missiles in Germany, and Col. Aleksandrov was given the order to disband on July 12th, 1962.
Further Nuclear Dalliances
Meanwhile, there was enough going on through the Cold War and beyond to keep Vogelsang busy. The Red Army’s 25th Tank Division was based here and there were apparently further nuclear dalliances with the storage of TR-1 (SS-12 Scaleboard) missiles between 1983 and 1988.
The Night the Lights went Off
The lights went off in 1994 with the withdrawal of Russian Army troops, the military town was party demolished, with the rest allowed to decay back into the woods. Due to the many ammunition residues in the soil, access to parts of the site is restricted, as the cordoned areas can be life-threatening.