25 pictures of abandoned military installations and their stories
From radar facilities to bunkers, gun emplacements to forts, militaries build infrastructure to further their missions. When they're usefulness expires, however, those installations sometimes remain for years, decades, or even centuries, standing as crumbling and dilapidated reminders of wars gone by.
Some abandoned military structures become derelict and are overtaken by nature. Others become hotspots for tourists looking to catch a great sunset and take a few selfies. Many remain so chemically contaminated it would be dangerous to go near them.
Militaries across the world leave abandoned installments in their wake, sometimes in the form of small, simple structures and sometimes in the form of vast, sprawling complexes that once housed soldiers and their families.
Here are 25 stunning abandoned military structures that stand today.
Teufelsberg Listening Station: Berlin, Germany
One of the finest views of Berlin can be taken in from a former American listening station perched atop a hill of rubble. The Cold War relic was comprised of a series of listening devices and gear for jamming Soviet radio signals across the divided city. When the Cold War ended, the station became a sunset hangout, as well as a tapestry for graffiti artists.
Balaklava Submarine Base: Balaklava, Crimea
Looking today at the idyllic, yacht-strewn Balaklava Bay, you'd never guess the strategic Russian port on the southwestern tip of the Crimean Peninsula was once a maritime nuclear fortress. The Cold War submarine base was designed for two purposes: to survive an American nuclear assault, and retaliate with a launch. You can visit this hulking relic, which is still guarded by a 165-ton steel gate, designed to withstand a blast with five times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
Maunsell Sea Forts: Kent, England
The towering Maunsell Sea Forts pockmark the Thames Estuary in Great Britain. Reminiscent of the lumbering Imperial Walkers that spearheaded the attack on the Rebel base in "The Empire Strikes Back," the peculiar-looking forts were commissioned in 1942 to repel Luftwaffe attacks during World War II. They’ve been abandoned since 1958.
Wünsdorf Soviet Camp: Hauptallee Zossen, Germany
Known as "Little Moscow," Wünsdorf Soviet Camp was once home to 75,000 Soviet men, women, and children during the Cold War. Located 25 miles from Berlin, the sprawling, secret base was the site of the largest Soviet headquarters outside the USSR: the heart of the high command in Soviet-occupied Germany. When the Berlin Wall fell, the Russians withdrew, leaving behind nearly 100,000 rounds of ammunition, nearly 50,000 pieces of ordnance, and tens of thousands of tons of munitions, trash, furniture, and home appliances.
Wolf's Lair: Kętrzyn, Poland
Thousands of enslaved prisoners of war built the Wolf's Lair, and were sent to Nazi death camps within six months of their arrival so they couldn't reveal the structure's secrets. The most famous of Adolf Hitler's many headquarters, Wolfsschanze was a massive complex consisting of 80 buildings and 100 barracks that contained everything Hitler needed to conduct military operations, receive guests, and remain secure—to a degree. The Wolf's Lair, in what was then Rastenburg in East Prussia, was the site of the famous Valkyrie assassination attempt.
Saint Nazaire Submarine Base: Saint Nazaire, France
During World War II, Saint Nazaire was one of the most important Atlantic harbors. When the Nazis conquered France, they erected a gargantuan concrete fortification that still stands today. Once a critical base for sheltering and repairing German U-boats, the marine base was so enormous it could even receive the Third Reich's largest battleships for maintenance.
The Maginot Line: Northeastern France
The Great Wall of China is almost certainly history's most famous extended fortification, but the Maginot Line is a close runner-up. Built in the 1930s, the elaborate defensive obstruction provided thick concrete shelters, heavy guns, storehouses, underground rail lines, and even air conditioning for troops. Soldiers enjoyed tremendous tactical advantage compared to previous fortifications. Although it covered France's border with Germany, the Maginot Line did not extend to the border of Belgium, which the Nazis conquered simply by going around the line.
Željava Underground Air Base: Željava, Croatia
The border between modern-day Croatia and Bosnia witnessed brutal violence during both World Wars, as well as crushing post-war occupation and subsequent war after the Soviet collapse. During communist occupation, the Soviets built a huge underground air base that once housed dozens of fighter jets. In 1992, Serbian forces destroyed the base to prevent it from falling into Croatian hands, and the site has been abandoned ever since.
Fort Ord: Monterey Bay Coast, CA
Established in 1917 as a target range, Fort Ord was long-considered America's most beautiful Army base. Situated on 45 miles of the picturesque coast of California’s Monterey Bay, the base once housed 50,000 troops and served as a major staging area for the Vietnam and Korean wars. Closed in 1994, it was discovered that the base-turned-Superfund-site was one of the most toxic places in America. Plans were announced in 2018 to demolish the last remaining structures.
Beelitz-Heilstätten: Beelitz, Germany
Had it not been for the Beelitz-Heilstätten military field hospital, the largest and deadliest war in human history might have been averted. It was there that a young Adolf Hitler was nursed back to health after sustaining serious injuries during World War I, including temporary blindness caused by a British gas attack. Although small portions of the hospital are still in use, most of the complex's 60 buildings are derelict structures dating back as far as 1898.