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A 007-feeling in Lithuania
Ventspils (Latvia), July 16th 2013

You probably know the typical James Bond cold war stories from the 007 movies. The Russians have nuclear weapons that they can launch from an underground base. Deep in a forest they constructed underground silos with moveable roofs from where they can launch missiles to destroy the world. Russian soldiers are sitting in bunkers behind electronic control panels, waiting for the order from Moscow to turn on the system with the well-known key, and pushing the red button to actually launch the rockets. That these 007 stories were partly based on the real situation, is proved by a former Soviet nuclear missile base in Lithuania, which is nowadays open to curious visitors.

Deep in the forest near the small village of Plokstine, in the Western part of Lithuania, is a once very secret nuclear missile base, built by the Soviets in 1960. The Russians built this base as response on the Americans, who did the same. Ten thousand soldiers, mainly from Estonia, needed eight months to build the bunkers and the four 25 meters deep silos from where the nuclear missiles could be launched. Nobody of the normal citizens were aware of the existence of the base in their area. The base was covered with sand, and only the four domed roofs of the silos were visible. In the heights of the cold war period, the notorious 22 meters long R12-missile with their 3 meters long nuclear warhead were positioned here. The base had enough destructive power to destroy Europe. The missiles were mainly directed towards Norway, Great Britain, Spain, West Germany and Turkey.

Domed roof of a missile silo

It was also this base who deployed the missiles to Cuba during the Cuban crisis in 1962. Secretly, the missiles were transported to the black sea, where they were loaded on a civilian ship that brought the missiles to Cuba. Another important moment of the base was in 1968, during the Warsaw Pact invasion in Czechoslovakia. This was probably the only moment in the history of the base that it was actually on code ‘red’, the highest alarm code. There were never any incidents or accidents on the base; there was never a James Bond kind of guy who entered the base to destroy it. So, not the whole 007 story is based on reality. The Soviets dismantled the base as a response on the agreement with the Americans to bring back the number of nuclear weapons in the world. But what actually happened with the missiles that were positioned here, it still a mystery.

It is a great experience to visit the former base and to take a look around. Where in the world can you peek into a concrete silo in where were once nuclear missiles positioned that were directed to our homes in the west? Unfortunately, you can only visit the base as part of an organized tour, which you can arrange at the visitor center. If you are lucky, the group is small, and if you are unlucky (like us), the group is way too big. Practically every hour, a tour starts under the guidance of a guide. But don’t expect too much from the guide, unless you speak Lithuanian or Russian. There are no English speaking guides, and that is a little bit thoughtless, especially when you know that most of the museum is financed with money from the European Union. There was probably no money left to hire somebody who also speaks English.

Peek into the missile silo

The duration of the tour is an hour, and it takes you through several rooms and hallways of the base. Unfortunately, nothing of the actual equipment is present. So don’t expect old electronic equipment and machines in the control rooms, radio stations, storage rooms and generator quarters. One of the highlights is the peek from above in one of the round concrete silos in where the missiles were actually positioned. But the main highlight is the feeling that you visit a once very secret place in the oh-so-powerful Soviet Union, a base constructed with the goal to maybe destroy a huge part of Europe. Several rooms in the bunkers have information panels (also in English) but you won’t get enough time to read them. The ladies who lead the tours are interested in only one thing: to end the tour within the one hour time span. And they aren’t also very friendly. They lead the group like if the visitors are a class of annoying teenagers, so if you do something ‘wrong’ or you take too much time at an information panel, expect to get a ‘punch-up’. It’s like how a fellow-visitor from Belgium said: “The communist regime might have disappeared here, but they haven’t said goodbye to the Soviet culture yet”.

Radio room
Generator room
Anti-NATO propaganda
A maquette of a nuclear missile
Oxidyzer room

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