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.
The Devil's Slide Bunker: Coast of San Mateo County, CA
Driving California’s scenic coastal route of Highway 1, you may notice a strange building that looks like it's growing out of a boulder. That's Devil's Slide, an observation bunker encased in a nest of rocks during World War II, when conventional wisdom suggested that a Japanese attack on America's West Coast was all but certain. The attack never came, the Allies won the war, and the bunker was left to decay and become exposed as its rock encasement eroded away.
Fuchu Abandoned U.S. Air Force Base: Tokyo, Japan
You might not think of Tokyo when someone mentions abandoned military bases—it's one of the most densely populated places on Earth—but the crowded city is in fact teeming with them. Among the oddest is in Fuchu: an abandoned military base that still hosts the rotting shells of two enormous parabolic antennas. Built by the Japanese Imperial Army and occupied by American forces after World War II, the base is now a maze of crumbling, graffiti-painted dormitories and electrical component rooms.
Imari Kawanami Shipyard: Kyushu, Japan
Japan is home to one of the world's most bizarre abandoned military bases. Among the most peculiar is Imari Kawanami Shipyard, once the launching place for so-called "human torpedoes.” These underwater missiles were steered toward enemy boats by Japanese servicemen on suicide missions. Abandoned since 1953, the shipyard was turned into a public park in 2011.
Ellis Island Hospital: New York, NY
More than a million immigrants passed through the Ellis Island Hospital after landing in New York City between 1901 and 1924. The year it ceased immigration operations, the site was converted to a psychiatric hospital for soldiers and later used as an internment camp for Italian-, German-, and Japanese-Americans during World War II. It sat derelict for decades before being restored and opened to the public in 2014.
Eastern Island Midway Atoll: Hawaii
Six months after Pearl Harbor, American forces scored one of the war's most decisive victories at the Battle of Midway. Today, Eastern Island on the Midway Atoll is home to one of the most impressive portions of the National Wildlife Refuge System, where former military structures have been taken over by nature and wildlife.
Flak Towers: Vienna, Austria
Although it may look like a Medieval castle fortification built to weather a siege during the Crusades, the Vienna Flak Towers were in fact built during World War II by order of Adolf Hitler. These were constructed in Vienna and beyond to provide anti-aircraft platforms. Although they once could fire 8,000 rounds per minute across a 360-degree field of fire, they are now home to flocks of pigeons—and not much else.
Swiss Military Bunkers: Throughout Switzerland
Since it's a famously neutral country, people are often surprised to learn that Switzerland maintains a powerful military. Part of the country's prowess comes from its vast system of camouflaged bunkers hidden throughout the Alps, designed to blend into the surrounding landscape. Some are disguised as residential homes, others can be converted into runways. Many more are abandoned, but still hidden.
RAF Stenigot: Lincolnshire, England
The rotting hulls of four massive parabolic dishes are all that's left of Royal Air Force (RAF) Stenigot, a WWII radar station built in 1938 in Lincolnshire. The 60-foot-wide dishes weren't part of the original station, erected to send and receive messages. These now-abandoned giant antennas were constructed after World War II, when NATO briefly adopted the site as part of an early warning system for Russian airstrikes.
Hashima Island (aka Battleship Island): Nagasaki, Japan
When the Mitsubishi corporation discovered that Hashima Island sat atop one of the world's most productive coal seams, it quickly became one of the most densely populated pieces of land on Earth. Among the island’s residents of employees and their families were hordes of POWs and slaves, who were forced to mine the coal that fueled the rise of industrial Japan. When the coal supply was exhausted, Mitsubishi closed the mine, and the town remains abandoned.
Cape May Bunker: Cape May County, NJ
The Jersey Shore is famous as an East Coast summer destination, but it's not all just fun in the sun. The South Jersey hotspot of Cape May Beach is home to a reminder of dangerous times: a now-abandoned bunker and gun emplacement built in the early days of World War II, when military leaders believed the war would likely come to American shores.
Fort Carroll: Edgemere, MD
In the middle of the Patapsco River near Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge sits a six-sided structure known as Fort Carroll. Designed in 1848 by Robert E. Lee, the fort stored mines during the Spanish-American War. It occasionally housed seamen and once served as a pistol range, but the imposing structure was never actually used as a fort. Although redevelopment has long been discussed, the fort has sat for decades in a state of disrepair.
Mothball Fleet: Suisun Bay, CA
Although the only remaining ship in the so-called Mothball Fleet is slated for removal, the dreary flotilla once numbered nearly 60 vessels. A reserve fleet comprised of surplus ships, the Mothball Fleet ships in California's Suisun Bay became a veritable floating toxic waste dump, leaking more than 20 tons of deadly chemicals into the bay over the years.
Duga Woodpecker Radar Site: Chernobyl, Ukraine
One of the most imposing abandoned military sites in the world, the Duga Woodpecker Radar Site is being reclaimed by nature in one of the most infamous places on Earth: the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The site of the world's worst nuclear catastrophe conceals Duga-3, a 14,000-ton wall of mesh steel that once served as the heart of the Soviet Union's anti-ballistic missile early warning system. The avian name was given to the massive machine in honor of the pecking sound it made when active.
Vieques Island Bunkers: Puerto Rico
Once used by the U.S. Navy to store munitions, the bunkers in Vieques Island, off the coast of Puerto Rico, were hidden under earth and grass. During World War II, the Navy took over nearly the entire island, which it used not only to store weapons, but to test them as well. The bombardment triggered protests, which compelled the Navy to stop the test bombings and abandon the bunkers at Vieques Island.
Camp X-Ray: Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
One of the most infamous former military installations in the world, Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay is now abandoned and overgrown. Tens of thousands of Haitian asylum-seekers were housed there in the mid-1990s. The site's real infamy, however, was earned after the 9/11 attacks, when hundreds of suspected terrorists from around the world were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which many have argued amounted to torture.