Two unusual mistakes that revealed the secret locations of Soviet nuclear bunkers in Poland

Bunkers were close enough to Western Europe to win the initial nuclear conflict before launching a conventional ground offensive

Content of the article

When in the mid-1960s the generals of the Soviet Union decided to install nuclear bunkers in Poland to be closer to their goals in Western Europe should the Cold War escalate, they took almost every precaution to keep them secret.

Advertising 2

Content of the article

But they also made two remarkable mistakes, according to new archaeological research on three Polish bunkers that today are either partially demolished or overgrown and looted by looters.

To keep their nuclear installations secret, the Soviets did not tell the Poles who paid for them, but they did not learn that they had stored about 160 tactical nuclear warheads until the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the Soviets explicitly denied this. The Polish soldiers who built the bunkers also had no idea, because they worked in separate sections without knowledge of the wider purpose. Many were told they were building barracks for Soviet communications units.

Content of the article

Advertising 3

Content of the article

The Soviets took care to thoroughly censor maps of these areas, as they had done in other Soviet-controlled countries – Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany and Bulgaria. And they built them in areas of dense forest with low hills to help with camouflage and ground defense.

They were close enough to Western Europe that, in the event of war, they could win the initial nuclear conflict before launching a conventional land offensive.

But then they had to equip the installations with workers and soldiers, and they wanted the people in charge of their nuclear operations to be mentally stable, so they had to provide “the illusion of normal life” – said Grzegorz Kiarszys from the Department of Archeology of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. University of Szczecin in Poland, whose the research appears in the journal Antiquity.

Advertising 4

Content of the article

This meant organizing the lives of the petty officers and their young families, evidence of which was excavated from garbage pits at all three sites where archaeologists found children’s toys. But the Soviets also made a critical mistake by building soccer fields with running tracks outside.

Soviet nuclear bunker in Podborsko, Poland.
Soviet nuclear bunker in Podborsko, Poland. photo. Grzegorz Kiarszys/Antiquity

In the early years of spy satellites, this was a big mistake.

“After all the efforts to keep the location of the base secret, such a decision seems not very well thought out, at least from a military point of view” – writes prof. Kiarszys in his article “The Destroyer of Worlds Hidden in the Forest: The Cold War of Nuclear Warhead Locations in Poland”.

“The soccer field in the middle of the forest certainly caught the attention of NATO and CIA aerial image interpreters,” he said.

Advertising 5

Content of the article

“However, it should be remembered that although some military structures were recorded using satellite images, this does not necessarily mean that the CIA image interpreters correctly recognized their function,” Kiarszys wrote. “There are no known reports confirming whether and how the constructions were interpreted until the late 1970s.”

The interior of one of the two
The interior of one of the two “Monolith” bunkers in Podborsko. photo. Grzegorz Kiarszys/Antiquity

The second mistake was just as stupid. The Russians planted spruces along the roads serving the bunkers, Kiarszys said, and in the Russian climate it might have made sense, as mature spruces can offer very dense cover. But in Poland, one of the sites was in a beech forest, so when they changed color in the fall and spruce did not, satellite imagery translators in the US were treated to a distinct green line marking a top-secret nuclear power plant facility.

Advertising 6

Content of the article

“Although these places are not yet protected by law, their significance and value are gradually being recognized after many years of neglect,” wrote Kiarszys. “Recently, former Soviet nuclear repositories are attracting an increasing number of tourists who want to explore the material remains of one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War in Eastern Europe. They are no longer just remnants of a totalitarian regime or relics of traumatic memories that need to be erased. Instead, they speak to a contemporary identity shared by all of Eastern Europe.”

• Email: [email protected] | Twitter:



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encouraging all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before they appear on the site. Please provide substantive and respectful comments. We’ve enabled email notifications – you’ll now receive an email if you get a reply to your comment, there’s an update to a comment thread you’re following, or if a user you’re following comments on a comment. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on customizing your email settings.

Comments are closed.