Editor’s note: In December 2015, two Army intelligence admiral set out on a cruise to analyze the abstruse debris of the Soviet Union in the Baltic States. In the aboriginal of this two allotment series, they showed War on the Rocks readers what they saw in an abandoned Soviet aggressive city. In this part, they analyze the debris of the Soviet nuclear missile basement in Latvia and Estonia.
“Da?” (Да) decrepit the broad-shouldered man abaft the booth counter, eyes apathetically casual at the television army in the bend of the allowance arena Russian pop music videos. The abode was a far cry from a favorable Yelp review, but it was the abandoned accessible restaurant in the abandoned burghal of Gulbene. We active a table in the bend and noticed two added assemblage giving us a acute stare. It seemed we were added absorbing to them than the scandalously-dressed boyish Russian pop-stars on TV, and the boring lasted the abounding continuance of our Latvian barter stop dinner.
Our destination in the about of this asleep little boondocks was an astronomic cavern Dvina missile silo complex, already the home of R-12 medium-range ballistic missiles (NATO designation: SS-4 Sandal) of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Placed on the western edges of the Soviet Union due to their bound ambit of 2,000 kilometers, the Sandals could ability targets as far west as London. From their antecedent fielding in 1959 through the 1980s, the Sandals were the mainstay of Soviet nuclear missile armament in Europe, and became abominable in 1962 back 42 of them were appear in Cuba.
Four identical silos housed the R-12 missiles, with anniversary kept at a altered akin of action barrage address in the accident of nuclear war. Generally, decreased start-up time would be sacrificed for the missile’s shelf activity in any configuration. For example, a abstinent address akin would acquiesce the missile to be launched aural one hour, and included amid flight aisle abstracts and admission of the missile’s onboard advice system. The drawback, however, was that the missile could abandoned abide in such a action for about three months due to abstruse constraints such as the cessation of Soviet advice systems. The basis of the circuitous was a centralized command bunker, which accurate anniversary silo through aing corridors active beneath an backward backwoods floor; a hub with four actual baleful spokes.
A allowance in the aing ache absorbed us off of a Latvian artery and assimilate a accurate slab road, a now accustomed indicator to us that we were entering an abandoned Soviet aggressive site. Maroon brick structures emerged out of the backwoods as we collection added into Soviet secrecy. Dismounted, we approached the aing architecture with a assurance ominously reading, “Personnel on bouncer are obligated, akin at the amount of their lives, not to acquiesce the antagonist to BSP.”
We afterwards abstruse that BSP (БСП) was a Soviet an acronym for Boevaya Startovaya Pozitsiya (боевая стартовая позиция), which translates to “combat barrage positon” and was the doctrinal appellation for Red Army missile battlefront sites and their abutment facilities. Today, the assurance serves as a air-conditioned admonition of the aerial stakes soldiers in the Soviet missile armament begin themselves in. As the advice and intelligence war waged on amid the United States and the Soviet Union, it became added acute for missile soldiers to advance the clandestineness of their barrage armpit locations, and accomplish ambit aegis by any agency necessary.
Most of the barrio in the bare aggressive abject stood gutted and boarded up. 5.56 NATO coffer carapace cartridges blowzy the burst floorboards adjoin about every window, which were about adherent with the casual balance or apart accumulation of bricks. Like abounding added sites we visited, Tirza was seeing a added activity as a breadth for Latvian aggressive exercises. Amid the accepted geopolitical tensions in the region, it wasn’t adamantine to account Latvian soldiers battlefront circuit of blanks adjoin a abstract antagonist who assuredly resembled the Russian Federation. Following the accurate alley afterwards our abandoned array bottomward billet row, the rapidly abbreviating aurora apprenticed us to advance to the capital event.
A few hundred meters through the woodland, we begin ourselves aural a behemothic ellipsoidal allowance and empiric a gray arch peeking aloof over the backbone ahead. We scurried up the acropolis and climbed assimilate the aboriginal dome, breadth the academy angle point apparent three added massive accurate lids, anniversary the admeasurement of a burghal cul-de-sac perched aloft anniversary silo. At the dome’s austere acme was a acerbic metal alien arena with an apparent center. Looking bottomward the biconcave aperture appear a fifty-meter-deep silo bushing with boring filing with a slurry of rainwater, mud and assorted oils and lubricants from the complex’s operational period.
Decades ago, this crumbling alcove already housed a baleful payload. Peering into the darkness, we could anticipate the sharp-tipped warhead of an SS-12 angrily pointing up at us. Briefly absorption on this evidence of mutually assured aition (and alert of the 40-meter bead beneath the accurate we laid upon), we went about award a way into the abject of the silo.
Jagged edges of bulging accurate a the bang aperture appear abundant access credibility acute a ample breadth of aloft apple amid two silos. Ducking beneath blubbery adhesive slabs, we entered the labyrinthine corridors arch to the aphotic affection of Tirza. A arctic breeze greeted us as we descended further, casual by abandoned accommodation with massive semi-circular pedestals for their baleful cargo. In the absurd accident that the abject survived the aboriginal annular of a nuclear missile exchange, added armament was kept in accustomed underground accumulator bays.
Crawling into a baby aperture in the accumulator bay wall, we plunged into the atramentous of a long-forgotten hallway. The cocktail of dried air, silence, and algid acute our senses. As we angry on our headlamps, a continued adhesive alley came into view. Like cavern assets for the post-apocalyptic age, the walls were adorned with corrective emergency warnings and instructions. It was accessible to brainstorm two Soviet soldiers walking accomplished the exact spot, acquainted how their emergency accessories would save them from nuclear-assisted obliteration.
Continuing bottomward the arenaceous corridor, the blackout was alternate by a abrupt cyberbanking chirp, allegorical us that we would no best advance with array activity in our admired GoPro. It was as if the bogeyman of a long-dead KGB administrator was attentive reminding us to be OPSEC-savvy. Regretting the disability to visually certificate the blow of our journey, we trudged on. Afore long, a angle in the adit afar hallways appear Silos 1-1 and 1-2 and amid two appropriately Stygian options: Go larboard or go right.
After negotiating one of the paths abroad from the command centermost blocked by beach and rubble, a ray of ablaze from boarded aflame a ample alcove ahead. The aboriginal cavern akin of Silo 1-2 resembled the abandoned set of some B-rated science fiction movie. Arenaceous analog panels lined the adit arena about the silo and on the arresting akin below. Openings in the silo bank hinted at added levels underneath, acceptable apartment a countless of account shafts, heating and cooling ducts as able-bodied as the massive ability feeds bare to accumulate the circuitous humming.
At sundown, we alternate to a abandoned aliment boutique breadth our agent was parked. Our Toyota RAV4’s headlights and the apathetic decrepit complete of rainwater reanimated the arena of a adolescent Soviet alleged tinkering endlessly on a mechanically cruel Zil truck. Driving through the alveolate accolade of the motor pool, the high-beams aflame crimson-painted instructions and diagrams on the adhesive interior.
Observing the complication and calibration of a missile silo fabricated it difficult to anticipate how a massive SS-4 Sandal could be “surface launched” with basal abutment anon from its carriage agent (transporter architect launcher). We had to see it firsthand, so we bound to arch arctic into Estonia to appointment a aloft Soviet nuclear apparent barrage site.
We bedded bottomward for the atramentous in a asleep suburb a few afar from the Riga airport. Our bender in bootleg Latvian atramentous analgesic from our accommodating but conspiracy-prone indigenous Russian Airbnb host acquired us to accept a blooper in pre-Estonia planning. The alcohol went bottomward abundant smoother than our host’s notions that 9/11 was an central job, and that the apple was controlled by an abject accord amid the Bilderberg Group and the Rothschild Family. Analgesic is one of abounding old European herbal digestifs (such as the Hungarian Unicum Zwack or added acclaimed German Jägermeister) that bounded bartenders cascade while badinage that it’s medicine. Von Moltke’s acknowledgment on diplomacy never actual aboriginal acquaintance with the antagonist became applicative as the analgesic accepted to be a aces adversary. Consequently, we blindly entered the abysmal Baltic woodlands in hunt of our aing site.
Despite our blunders, we were able to cross to the Rohu apparent missile barrage abject with the aid of artery actual markers and baby board signs pointing to the bounded “Raketibaas.” Estonian Google Apple akin anchored a geolocation brand for the base. Another assurance forth the way led us to an awkward bean brand in a abounding application of pines.
We begin ourselves continuing in an accustomed copse, already bloodied by an ambuscade of Red Army soldiers by Estonian partisans appropriately accepted as the “Forest Brothers.” The history of the Baltic states is checky with activity by Soviets and Nazis alike, anniversary applying their own abstinent alarm to the conquered. Some Estonians begin themselves angry in chip civic units of the SS, uncomfortably bond Baltic struggles with the atrocity of the Nazis. The abhorrence of the Soviet soldiers in this bush copse angry out to be all for naught, as the Russians would authorize themselves in a beyond and far added alarming attendance abandoned a few years later.
Hardened accurate hangar-like structures came into appearance as the aing ache and abrade began to subside. Their behind Soviet white-and-blue walls were adorned with graffiti. Vandalism at Rohu was awfully centered about Nazi symism, which may accept been a advised slight adjoin Russian neo-nationalism beneath Putin or a attestation to the region’s ambiguous Neo-Nazi activism. Contempo agitated crimes agitated out by Neo-Nazi groups accurately in Tartu akin prompted affair from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Nazi apologue has been banned beyond the Baltics for the accomplished decade, and it seems the bang and sickle will be barred from accessible affectation throughout Estonia, admitting backfire from the Russian Federation.
Signs of burghal activity became axiomatic as we collection into the aforetime “closed city” of Tartu, which contains the country’s celebrated classical university founded in 1632. Tartu’s aing adjacency to Raadi Airfield, a Soviet abundant adviser base, resulted in the university boondocks acceptable a bankrupt city. The movement of its citizens were belted and foreigners were banned from blockage brief (even visiting university lecturers). Tartu has continued afford its Soviet past, and is now home to the Baltic Defense College, a bunch aggressive academy that consistently hosts NATO chief administration courses.
Over a few pints of Saku beer, we discussed the chance advanced in an 18th aeon armament bunker-turned beer restaurant. Built by the Russian Empire during the administration of Catherine the Great, the apartment already captivated abundant ammunition to akin Tartu University above. Thankfully for us, the armament had been traded for beer two centuries before, apparently abundant to accumulate the academy acceptance annoyed (or at the actual least, two road-weary intelligence officers).
A fortnight and about a thousand kilometers later, our meandering through the Baltics led us to the arresting burghal of Klaipeda, a medieval anchorage that begin new activity as a bank resort accepted with Soviet apparatchiks in the 1950s. An atramentous airing led us a continued book of Lithuanian minesweepers and convoying vessels, abiding in absorbing parade, yet lazily bobbing in the baptize with no souls aboard. On the berth beside them were aged fishermen agilely cat-and-mouse for their catch, hardly ashamed by the city’s “Black Ghost” carve menacingly aggressive out of the frigid waters. En avenue arctic appear Riga, we rushed through the atramentous Baltic countryside and veered off at a alliance of balustrade and anchorage alleged Jelgava for one aftermost discovery.
Multiple intelligence sources (Google Apple and our now basal Latvian burghal analysis website) indicated that the Soviet apparent barrage abject of the 307th Regiment of the 29th Missile Division was amid nearby, abnormally administration the aforementioned GPS coordinates as an inn registered on Google Maps abnormally called “Zalite New Polygon.” Debating whether we were about to blunder into a new-age band compound, we absitively it was account the accident and traversed attenuated country anchorage amid arid potato fields until the clay clue transitioned to accurate slabs; a admonition we were advancing our prize.
Steep mounds of grass-covered apple bankrupt the chain of collapsed abounding countryside, with anniversary aerodrome placed absolutely a few hundred meters accomplished the last. We navigated our SUV through the massive accurate aperture frames of anniversary hangar, and had abundant amplitude central to do a few doughnuts (which may accept resulted in a 28 Euro accomplished for a biconcave muffler). Admitting the hangar’s size, two massive agent architect launchers (TELs) would accept been a bound clasp because they had to carriage and barrage a missile over 20 meters long.
Under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Armament (INF) Treaty amid the United States and Soviet Union, abounding SS-4 Sandal and SS-20 Saber missiles were ordered to be destroyed forth with their agent vehicle, missile erector, barrage angle and propellant tanks. Jelgava was appointed as a Soviet missile aishment site, which explained the acerbic hulks of demilitarized accouterments littering the base. Luckily for us, the warheads were removed from anniversary missile afore on-site eradication.
The abbreviate winter canicule reminded us that our time to analyze Jelgava was growing short, and we collection through the capital checkpoint one added time, admiring the monochromatic mosaics adorning the ambit wall. And in accurate Baltic fashion, a territorial German Shepard appeared in time to angrily hunt us bottomward the backwoods road.
Missile sites like Tirza, Rohu and Jelgava may accept been deactivated for over two decades, but the bogeyman of the Algid War still casts a adumbration over the Baltic States. The corrupt bean and acerbic metal of Soviet aggressive ability angle silently in abandoned genitalia of the Baltic countryside, as leaders in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius about and a accurate anguish about a resurgent Russia with aspirations agnate to its antipathetic predecessor. Absorption on this, and absent to see for ourselves the bound breadth a Russian aggression ability occur, we mapped a chance to an Estonian burghal breadth NATO ends and Russia begins: Narva.
Adam Maisel is a aggressive intelligence administrator in the Army Civic Bouncer and adept of Operations Enduring Freedom and Freedom’s Sentinel. Previously, Adam served as a aldermanic abettor for the Civic Bouncer Association of the United States. The opinions bidding are his and his alone.
Will DuVal is a contempo alum of Santa Clara University and an Army Reserve Aggressive Intelligence Administrator assigned to the 304th Advice Operations Battalion in arctic California. He accelerating with a Bachelor of Science in political science and all-embracing diplomacy with a accessory in German studies, and has formed with the Truman Civic Aegis Project, U.S. Mission to NATO, and Office of the Abettor Secretary of Defense for Accessible Diplomacy as an intern.
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