This particular bunker was only declassified in 2003 and was never actually used although it was staffed until Russian Soviet powers fully withdrew from Latvia in 1992 and could hold up to 250 people. Much is still not known about the bunker since all who worked there signed strict non-disclosure agreements and since independence have been unwilling to break them. The contents of the bunker remained relatively intact, despite the Soviet tenancy to destroy everything on their withdrawal from Latvia, the bunker which cost almost twice Latvia's current GDP remained untouched with only classified information being removed by retreating troops.
Finding the bunker, for us at least, proved challenging. Recognising the signs such as the raised air turrets in the car park and on my brief walk around the grounds locating some blast doors I found no other sign of how as a tourist you're meant to get in! I decided to queue at the reception desk along with people getting repeat prescriptions as Sophie waited apprehensively in the car park. Getting to the front of the queue I noticed some gas masks on sale in a glass cabinet and knew I was in the right place.
The entrance fee was 3 LVL (£3.80) per person, but the upshot was it had to be accompanied by an English speaking guide a further cost of 20 LVL (£25) unless of course I wanted to join a Latvian tour at 3:30. Not wanting to miss out, the tour was booked for half an hour later and I went back to justify the cost to Sophie. As it transpired a Swiss-French couple turned up and were happy to take an English tour so we split the cost of the guide between us and so the four of us journeyed 9 metres below ground to start the bunker tour.
The first room we visited was the communications room - all high end equipment for it's day. The bunker itself relied upon a direct connection to the main communications bunker at Sigulda since there were no antenna's mounted on the top of the rehabilitation unit. There was also a direct line to Moscow which remained active until the mid 90's when 'by accident' a farmer put his Rotavator through the hard line and the phone went dead - although apparently accidents like this were common in Soviet times. In Latvia there are lots of underground cables linking the various bunkers and Cold War installations but nobody knows where they are since no records were made, or at least left, regarding their locations.
The next room was a mixture of a telecommunications servers and Cipher machines. A machine operators log left in the room indicates the equipment was tested daily right up until 1992 and it is believed to be still connected to the network. If the other bunkers were operational, although most were ransacked or are now partly submerged, a message could still be sent.
This is where an operator worked with a buddy 24 hours a day. This room was the command control centre for the whole country and each light on the machine represents a region in Latvia. If a message came through it was the operators job to write it down and relay it to the highest authority as quickly as possible.
The phone in the plastic box is the one I mentioned earlier with the hard line connected to the Kremlin. It is in a perspex case to make it impossible for listening devices to be attached.
The board room had some relics put in place for the benefit of tourists, most notably a status of Stalin and a large map of the region showing the location of the Soviet State Farms taken from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The most interesting room we were not allowed to photograph since the information held within it is still relevant today. The room contained a large number of maps each depicting a variety of scenarios such as what would happen if a Dam was bombed, a particular area suffered Nuclear fallout and in what direction troops would rally in the event of an invasion. Also the main generator room was off limits for photography - although still fully functional the generator used something like 12 litres in 3 minutes and was supplied by a 35,000 litre tank.
There were some more formal rooms which gave an insight into relative luxury the top brass were afforded compared to their lower ranked counterparts.
The canteen was re-created and Soviet style meals are available to large tours, fortunately we had just eaten lunch!
It's hard to believe that the tour lasted just over 2 hours as in reality it felt like 30 minutes. The tour guide spoke excellent English and without him we would not have been able to see or appreciate as much as we did. With hindsight I wish I had taken some more pictures but I didn't want to miss out on what the guide had to say and I have tried to transcribe as much as I can remember here - errors and omissions excepted!
A totally fantastic tour and defiantly unmissable in my view for anyone with even a remote interest in Soviet Cold War history.
Was this the facility designed by the SS and built with Soviet POW's?ReplyDelete
We also went to Ligatne bunker and found it very interesting place, although we took a tour from Riga (Red Fox tours charge 39 EUR/pp (including transportation, guide and tickets). Since we were only 2 persons we decided this way will be cheaper and much easier as to get there by ourselves.ReplyDelete
I didn`t hear anything about the SS or Soviet POW`s. It was built by Soviet soldiers.