10.10.2018 change 10.10.2018

Unknown elements of Soviet nuclear bases discovered in Poland

Photo: G. Kiarszys Photo: G. Kiarszys

Soviet nuclear bases in Poland were not masterfully camouflaged, and families of soldiers with children lived on the premises, according to archaeologist Dr. Grzegorz Kiarszys. He identified previously unknown elements of bases in part thanks to the analysis of intelligence materials of the CIA.

Three large nuclear weapons depots were established in Poland in 1969- in Templewo (Lubusz province), Brzeźnica-Kolonia (Wielkopolska) and in Podborsko (West Pomerania). Their essential parts were monumental, dug several meters into the ground, concrete shelters designed for storage of nuclear warheads. Until the early 1990s, they were kept secret.

"Over the decades since the disclosure of information about the existence of bases, these objects have become legends. Numerous, often uncorroborated reports about them have been published. I decided to verify them using various methods, including those used in archaeology" - says the study author Grzegorz Kiarszys from the Department of Archaeology of the University of Szczecin. His research was carried out with funds from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

One of the myths was that the bases were perfectly camouflaged from the spy satellites. Meanwhile, a completely different picture emerges from the analysis of declassified images from US spy satellites - Corona and HEXAGON, says Kiarszys.

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The scientist was the first to carry out an analysis of declassified materials concerning the location of nuclear bases in Poland. "The main elements of the base, including buildings, access roads, helipads, are perfectly visible on satellite images, although for a long time the CIA was not sure whether nuclear weapons were actually stored in the photographed facilities. But we can read about them in American reports" - says Dr. Kiarszys.

Declassified US spy satellite images have been used for years by archaeologists working in the Middle East. They enable them to detect previously unknown cities and cemeteries.

The archaeologist adds that over time even football fields were created in the bases. "Such elements certainly caught the attention of CIA analysts" - he notes. In his opinion, such sports facilities were created when the thaw in relations started, in the second half of the 1980s.

The archaeologist went a step further in his analyses: he used not only satellite images, but also aerial laser scanning to determine the layout of the bases. This method, increasingly used in archaeology, allows to detect even poorly preserved objects, such as prehistoric mounds or tombs. Kiarszys noticed previously unknown elements of bases, including ditches that surrounded all three bases and shelters for cars used to transport warheads. Some of them are almost invisible to the naked eye from the perspective of a person in the field.

This method also allowed to recreate the course of paths of Soviet guards who patrolled the closed zones. "For example, it is clear that soldiers tried to avoid effort and avoided hills and elevations. Their paths sometimes lead to masked watch posts and shooting ditches" - says Kiarszys.

Another common misconception is that the bases were protected by anti-aircraft guns. "It certainly was not the case. The guns were dug in in such a distinctive way that traces of them would be seen on the results of laser scanning. But they were no such traces in the bases or around them" - he adds.

All three bases were built in a very similar way, they had the same elements. The main buildings - concrete shelters for storage of warheads, as well as the barracks and storage facilities - were built by Polish workers, and then the area was taken over by the Soviet army. The Poles did not have access to the bases until the early 1990s. "In the Polish archives there are only official intergovernmental agreements, acceptance protocols and other accompanying documentation, but no geodetic plans or maps of these objects. The bases were changed and expanded over two decades. My research sheds light on their organization and layout" - says Kiarszys.

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The archaeologist also obtained new information on everyday life in the bases, also thanks to archival photos posted on Russian social media by Soviet soldiers who were stationed there. He also talked to several Polish soldiers who were there after the Russians left. The help of regionalist Mieczysław Żuk was very valuable, emphasizes Kiarszys.

What did the archaeologist determine? "These objects were not run by cyborgs, whose only goal and desire was to cause nuclear Armageddon. Soldiers lived with their families and children in these bases, there were even kindergartens! Vegetable gardens were set up at the houses, and animals were kept in wooden sheds" - he says.

The scientist also tried to find evidence that nuclear warheads were actually stored in bases in Poland. To this day, there is no 100% certainty, although this was suggested by General Viktor Dubynin, who stationed there in the communist period, Dr. Kiarszys reminds.

The researcher and his team measured the ionizing radiation (using a Geiger counter) in the shelters where the nuclear warheads would be located. "It was not elevated. This may indicate that either the radiological protection was exemplary - or that the warheads were never there" - notes Kiarszys.

The scientist plans to publish his research results in 2019.

The bases in Templewo and Brzeźnica-Kolonia have survived to our times in a very bad condition. The buildings that accompanied the shelters were demolished, and forest was planted in their place; the fences and other elements of bases also disappeared very quickly. The base in Podborsko, whose shelters are currently made available to the Cold War Museum, is better preserved - it is a branch of the Museum of Polish Arms in Kołobrzeg. The accompanying buildings are used by the detention centre. Similar bases existed throughout Eastern Europe - in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.

PAP - Science in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski

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