Nuclear 'Foxbats'

Yak-28I 1989, the year when the Soviet empire fell apart, marked the end of the deployment of the outdated Yak-28 in Germany. One of the first discoveries made at Werneuchen after the withdrawal of the Russians was a special 'GRANIT-2' storage bunker, the existence of which seemed to contradict the basing there of reconnaisance and electronic warfare aircraft - specifically the Yak-27, Yak-28 and MiG-25. A full analysis of this particular bunker and its immediate surroundings, and a detailed look at the deployment history of that air base, was necessary to solve this puzzle. The stationing at Werneuchen of offensive weapons ended, as is well known, in 1968 with the withdrawal of all frontal bombers (those of the 132.BAD) from the GDR. A reconnaissance unit, the 931.OGvRAP, was transferred from Stendal to Werneuchen. Reconnaissance aircraft can obviously be modified to drop bombs, but did they also have a nuclear capability? Some years ago, the author of this article met a Yak-28 pilot from that time. Surpirsingly, Guards Captain Oleg Kozlov now lives in Germany, in Hamburg. From 1986 to 1989, he was one of the few to fly the Yak-28PP 'Brewer-E' electronic warfare variant, and he spoke freely about his time at Werneuchen, saying:

MiG-25R 'Our air base also had its share of the glukhonyemye (deaf mutes).' [These were the personnel responsible for the nuclear weapons, who were not allowed to speak with other people about their work. Even if other military personnel asked, they never answered, hence the nickname. These officers were deemed so important that they even had permission to buy a car in East Germany, which Russian personnel were not normally allowed to do. At Werneuchen, for instance, only the base commander and the commander of the nuclear personnel could do so - it was a great thing, for a normal person in the GDR had to wait 12 years for a private car.] Kozlov continued: 'I served as a pilot in the 2nd squadron of the 931st Separate Guards Reconnaissance Aviation Regiment. The MiG-25 reconnaissance aircraft of the 1st squadron were also intended to deploy nuclear weapons. The loading exercises for this were carried out mostly at night. While maintaining radio silence there were several [conventional] training flights over the Belorussian SSR. 500kg dummy bombs were dropped from an altitude of 20km over the Luninets bombing range. Even though I received the flight engineer qualification at the Barnaul Flight School (BVVAUL) I did not receive any special training concerning the deployment of nuclear weapons. My Yak-28PP could only carry two UB-16 rocket pods under its wings, out of which 57mm S-5P electronic jamming devices could be discharged.'

MiG-25R Due to the location of the base, right next to the Berlin Control Zone, the West was always well-informed of goings-on at Werneuchen. In 1971, reconnaissance photos showed the first prefab concrete parts for the construction of a special weapons storage bunker. In the years that followed it was built out of sight on the site of a former Wehrmacht rifle range. The first MiG-25RB reconnaissance aircraft at this base were spotted in November 1974, having replaced the Yak-27R 'Mangrove'. From this point at the latest, nuclear weapons capable of being deployed from the MiG-25RBs were stored on the base. Alongside those stationed at Werneuchen, MiG-25RBs from Brzeg, Poland, also had a nuclear cpability. These were the only bases in Eastern Europe to which MiG-25RBs of Frontal Aviation were deployed with a nuclear capability. The 164.OGvRAP of the 37.VA received its first MiG-25RBs at the end of 1973. The dual nuclear capacity thereof was assumed through Western information-gathering by 1975, and their combat effectiveness was estimated as follows: 'The selective deployment of tactical nuclear weapons from high altitude and with great speed through 'Foxbat-Bs' in their secondary function, due to known observations of reconnaissance units stationed in Brzeg, cannot be excluded.'

Nuclear weapons

MiG-23M The Western allies were also comparatively knowledgeable about activities at the fighter base at Zerbst, located right underneath the southern air corridor to Berlin. A first-hand insight is provided by Boris Rytschilo, a technical officer who served in the 35.IAP for several years and published a chronicle of his unit in 2000. It reads: 'The MiG-23M was introduced almost simultaneously in all three Fighter Regiments ['Flogger-B' introduction occured with the 31.GvIAP at Falkenberg in 1973, the 35.IAP at Zerbst in 1975, and the 787.IAP at Finow and 85.GvIAP at Merseburg in 1976] of the 16.VA. At this time the MiG-23M was the most modern and complex aircraft of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. However, from 1980 on the MiG-23M was already considered obsolete... only five years after its introduction. During that time the improved MiG-23ML 'Flogger-G' was delivered to other Fighter Regiments. The training of air-to-ground missions increased in frequency.
During night-time - in order to avoid enemy detection - the 2nd squadron practiced the attachement of special bombs. In about 1982 our Regiment was transformed in to a Fighter-Bomber Regiment (the 35.APIB). It was not until the end of the 1980s, when we received modern MiG-29s, that we were reinstated as a Fighter Regiment. Our MiG-23Ms remained as fighter-bombers until 1989.'

MiG-23M

HAS It was not only at Zerbst that the MiG-23 was intended for use as a nuclear strike aircraft. Eyewitnesses confirm such training methods at Kolobrzeg air base in the norh-west of Poland. This was the home base of the 871.IAP of the 4.VA (formerly 37.VA), which was equipped with MiG-23Ms from the end of 1973. This airfield also had a Granit bunker which was suitable for the temporary storage of 'special' weaponry. A conspicuous loading ramp close to the bunker allowed the fast loading and unloading of the bunker's dangerous contents, typical of such storage sites. Warrant officer Pavel Sutkin reported the following on the internet in 2005: 'The methodical instructions concerning the attachment of the RN-28 [or is it RN-40?] special into the MiG-23M was intended to enable the flight crews of the 1st squadron to attach the special bomb under realistic conditions even without the technicians being present. The enty to the hardened shelter [Soviet HS type AU-11] was gained through the exhaust channel, which was secured by guards and kept closed during training. The slits between the front doors of the shelter were closed to a margin of 15 to 20cm and covered with tarps to avoid any outside visual identification. A man also stood guard there. All pilos of the 1st squadron were present to watch the procedure...'

Su-24 Un Su-24M du 116.GvBAP se trouvait vraisemblablement en permanence pręt ŕ ętre armé de bombes nucléaires dans la hangarette "Paterny" (montage photo avec un Su-24MR du 11.ORAP). © S.Meeter.

A Su-24M of the 116.GvBAP was probably always ready to be loaded with nuclear bombs inside the 'Paterny' shelter (photomontage with a Su-24MR of the 11.ORAP). © S.Meeter.
'The detachment had difficulties positioning the ammo trailers with the RN-28 under the MiG-23M. The specialists then attached the bomb to the special mount [BD3-66-23N] under the fuselage, which was rather difficult due to the curves of the airplane structure. Afterwards they removed the much-lightened ammo trailers. At this particular moment, a yound pilot who was sitting in the cockpit and was simulating a combat readiness Level One activated the malfunction discard lever... presumably by accident. The bomb, of course, fell forcefully to the ground. A guard says that the tarps between the large bunker doors were ripped off and the entire 1st squadron ran away madly and disappeared in an unknown direction. Apparently they hid themselves so well that they were not found until the next morning. They had found the hardened shelter in the reserve command post.'

MiG-29 Three Fighter Regiments of Frontal Aviation in Eastern Europe are known to have had a dual nuclear capability from the mid-1970s. These units constantly had nuclear weaponry stored at their bases. Stargard in Poland, Milovice in Czechoslovakia and Kiskunlachaza in Hungary all had Granit-2 bunkers that allowed the storage of nuclear weapons (1). The capacity of each storage site was sufficient to equip an entire fighter squadron with tactical nuclear weapons. Freefall nuclear weapons of Soviet Frontal Aviation in Czecholsovakia were stored exclusively at Milovice. After the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this airfield was upgraded to a 'multi-purpose' air base. Along with helicopters, transports and liaison aircraft, this base was also the home to the 114.IAP which flew MiG-21s, MiG-23s and MiG-29s for 20 years. Nuclear weapons were stored in a state of constant readiness in a Granit-2 bunker on the edge of the airfield. At Kiskunlachaza, south of Budapest, this related to the 2nd squardron of the 14.GvIAP, a unit which started flying MiG-23MLs in 1979. These were replaced with MiG-29 'Fulcrum-Cs' in 1986, which allowed the unit to retain its nuclear capability. The 159.IAP at Stargard-Kluczewo in western Poland flew MiG-21s until the end of the 1980s, when it received Su-27 'Flankers'. The author is uncertain as to whether or not the Su-27 was conceived to have a nuclear capability. By then, though, the Cold War was all but over, and this nuclear arsenal in Eastern Europe had had its day.

This chapter is an adaptation of the article entitled 'Nuclear Power' by Stefan Büttner, published in the March 2009 issue of Aircraft Illustrated (Ian Allan Publishing) - see mulitmedia. With special thanks to Stefan Büttner and Ben Dunnell, Editor.

With thanks to Siete Meeter for the nuclear weapons shelter images. See more on his site here and check 'Hidden places/Germany/Russian airbases'. More nuclear weapons shelters can be seen here. Check the entries with the word Sonderwaffenlager.

>Nuclear power articles recognized by the general press<

notes

(1) Tököl, in Hungary had a Granit temporary strorage bunker. According to A.Timokhin of the 515.IAP based there, the 1.AE of that regiment had a nuclear capability. They were flying MiG-21SMT during the mid-seventies. For some reason, they were replaced by MiG-21bis in 1982. Some pictures of these aircraft equipped with a special contol box for nuclear weapons have been made available (see part 2). MiG-29s took their place in 1987, still keeping the nuclear role. The 515.IAP was finally disbanded in November 1989 and its aircraft were transferred to the 5.GvIAP at Sarmellek.HM.


Special weapons  < Part 1 < Part 2

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