While the German Air Force was demobilized after the end of the first world war, and eventually dissolved as a condition under the treaty of versailles in 1920 – the German Luftwaffe made an unsurprising comeback in 1935 after years of secret training and rearmament programs. Dozens of Airfields, Airstrips and Air bases sprung up throughout the Reich – with a good 70 of them being created in Berlin and Brandenburg alone. One of these Air bases was the Flugplatz Werneuchen, which not only part of a secret Nazi radar testing site in the 1940s, but also home to Soviet nuclear missiles.
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Flugplatz Werneuchen under the Nazis
Like the majority of Luftwaffe Airbases, the Flugplatz Werneuchen can be considered a relatively “new” addition. The Reichsluftfahrtministerium, as part of its rearmament project, acquired a large plot of land on the outskirts of the city of Werneuchen in 1935 – with the intention of establishing a pilot training facility. Wedged between the Straußberg and Bernau (home to the Heeresbekleidungsamt of the Wehrmacht and a Panzerkaserne), Werneuchen was just a mere 15 kilometers north east of Berlin.
With over 3000 construction workers and at rumored cost of 100 million reichsmark, the Luftwaffe completed the construction of the Airbase (Fliegerhorst) between 1936 and 1937, and the Jagdfliegerschule Werneuchen officially moved in on the 27th of November 1937.
Like the majority of airfields at the time, the Flugplatz Werneuchen did not possess a fixed runway, relying only on a 1300m long grass runway – though it did have a concrete taxiway around the field. When the Nazis built the Flugplatz Werneuchen, they constructed 7 large aircraft hangars out of reinforced concrete – which from the inside resemble the cross section of a wing. Alongside the 7 hangars, a large overhaul hangar was built as well as a heating plant and a coal storage building that was directly connected to the local rail tracks as well as an administrative building with a 2 story tower.
As the Flugplatz Werneuchen was built to train pilots, the Airbases not only had an officers casino, messhall, administrative buildings, a school building as well as multiple buildings to house the cadets and officers – totaling around at least 30 buildings.
The training school didnt just train Luftwaffe Pilots, but also trained pilots from axis friendly nations such as Spain, Romania and Bulgaria.
Luftwaffe Units stationed at the Fliegerhorst Werneuchen
Upon its “opening” – the first unit to be stationed in Werneuchen was the Jagdfliegerschule Werneuchen, which was renamed to Jagdfliegerschule 1 in 1940, and again in 1942 to Jagdgeschwader 101. The Jagdgeschwader 132 “Richthofen” (named in honor of Manfred von Richthofen) – which was based out of the Fliegerhorst Döberitz, was briefly moved out to Werneuchen between September and October 1938 to assist in the occupation of the Sudetenland, though they were apparently never deployed.
In preparation for the upcoming campaign in Poland, both the 2nd and 3rd Kampfgeschwader 26 – equipped with the Heinkel He 111 bombers (which were manufactured in the not far off Heinkel Werke in Oranienburg) – were moved to Werneuchen in August 1939, before making room for the Kampfgeschwader 27 in September of the same year.
From 1943 onwards, units of the Nachtjagdgeschwader 5 – a night fighter wing – saw multiple relocations to Werneuchen after seeing heavy action in the western and eastern fronts. With the front drawing ever close over the years, they would be later joined in Werneuchen by the Nachtjagdgruppe 10 in 1944, a whole host of smaller units (which would be too many to list) and finally by the Nachtjagdgeschwader 3 and Nachtschlachtgruppe 8 in early 1945.
The last Luftwaffe unit to be stationed in Werneuchen was the 2nd Schlachtgeschwader 1, which flew sorties until April 1945. By the 16th of April, 1945, all flying units had fled, with the remaining stationed personnel evacuating the Flugplatz werneuchen on the 20th of April 1945.
In April 1942, the Luftwaffe decided to set up an “Erprobungsstelle” at the Flugplatz Werneuchen. The Erprobungsstellen – literally “Test Sites” – date back to the early 1920, when the Reichswehrministerium secretly began the preparation for covert testing sites for the Luftwaffe. These sites were tasked with the research and development of aircraft, weapons, engines and specialized technical equipment – and saw rapid development after the unveiling of the new Luftwaffe in 1935. Of the 13 Erprobungsstellen operated by the Luftwaffe, the most well known ones today would the Peenemünde- West, which focused on the development V2 Rocket and the Erprobungsstelle Rechlin, which would be the crown jewel of the Luftwaffe research operations.
The Erprobungsstelle Werneuchen was tasked with the development and the testing of search and target devices for air and sea reconnaissance and worked closely with the aeronautical radio research institute in Oberpfaffenhofen (which after the war turned into the german center for aerospace, energy and transportation research).
Initially a squadron of the “Technischen Versuchskommandos” was tasked with flight testing the new technical equipment, but soon handed over the responsibility to the newly formed Nachtjagdgruppe 10. In late 1943, the “Erprobungsstaffel für Schiffsbekämpfung” (a unit specifically created for naval warfare) was stationed in werneuchen to test the FuG 200 Hohentwiel – a low-UHF band frequency maritime patrol radar system.
The Nachtjagdgruppe 10 would also go on to test the FuG 202 “Lichtenstein” (made by Telefunken) – one of the first airborne radars -which would be primarily used by night fighter squadrons.
The Reichsarbeitsdienst, aided by countless Soviet Prisoners of war, constructed a massive “Hochbunker” in 1943 for the Erprobungsstelle Werneuchen. The bunker was intended to aid the technical staff, though there is hardly any information available as to what exactly it was used for. We do know that the Spanner III – an infrared night vision was tested here, as well as the Freya Radar, a whole series of FuG equipment from (102 to 227) and the Würzburg-Riese aka FuMG 65.
While not visible on the photos here – the Hochbunker Werneuchen has an octagonal platform mount, which indicates that it was most likely used to attach a “Würzburger Riese” radar.
The Erprobungsstelle Werneuchen had two auxiliary sites, one in village of Tremmen (to the west of Berlin) and one in Weesow, a small settlement 4 kilometers to the north of Werneuchen. The Germans had been experimenting for years with radar technology – and one of the most prominent companies in this field was the Berlin based GEMA (Gesellschaft für elektroakustische und mechanische Apparate mbH). By 1935, the GEMA delivered its first radio locator to the Oberkommando der Marine which set the groundwork for continued radar development for the German military.
With the increasing air raids over Germany, the existing aerial reconnaissance wasnt effective enough anymore. This led to the development of the FuG 404 also known as the “Jagdschloss radar” or “Panoramaradar Jagdschloss” -the first radar system to feature a plan position indicator display. This radar system featured a rotating radar antenna which made it possible to display all aircraft in the entire airspace on one screen, allowing military staff to record size and flight directions of entire bomber formations.
The first FuMG 404 Jagdschloss radar was erected on a concrete tower in the village of Tremmen in 1940, and had an operating visibility of over 200km. The images that it generated were then sent directly(!) – via broadband cable – to the “Leitbunker Tiergarten” in Berlin – allowing the staff in Berlin to view the developments in real time. The “Jagdschloss” radar was highly successful, not only due to its range and display capability, but it was also immune to jammers – effectively stainy in full operation until the end of the war.
Around the same time as the construction of the Hochbunker Werneuchen, a second FuMG 404 Jagdschloss Radar – known as Jagdschloß Z – was built a 4 kilometers north of Werneuchen in Weesow. The tower was virtually identical to the tower in Treemen, though it featured some slight technical modifications. The Radartower Weesow – if the sources are to be believed – was also connected to the “Leitbunker Tiergarten”. The Radarturm Weesow was also equipped with the experimental Rundsuchgerät ” Propeller” – developed by the Lorenz Company in 1944 and partially based on the Schiffssuchgerätes FuG 200. The radar was essentially a giant propeller (hence the name), but apparently during testing it caught fire for unknown reasons and was completely destroyed.
Radarturm Weesow Video
Flugplatz Werneuchen under the Soviets
By February 1945, the Erprobungsstelle Werneuchen was moved to the city of Stade (close to Hamburg) – most likely in an attempt to avoid having its research fall into Soviet hands who had just crossed the Oder River after the Vistula–Oder offensive. The last Luftwaffe squadrons operated out of the Flugplatz Werneuchen until they were evacuated on the 16th of April 1945. The last remaining ground crews evacuated on the morning of 20th of April – a few hours before the Soviets took over the airfield. Apparently preparations had been made to destroy the Flugplatz before the German retreat, but these had been stopped last minute.
When the Soviet Red Army marched in on the 20th of April, 1945, they immediately put the airbase to use, and began flying missions in and around Berlin during the last days of the war in Europe.
By 1951, the Soviets begann modernizing the Flugplatz Werneuchen – the most notable improvement being the addition of a concrete runway (2500m long) to accommodate the first Soviet Jet bombers – the Ilyushin Il-28. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Werneuchen primarily hosted a series of Bomber Units – but was also occasionally used to host long distance bombers such as the Tupolev Tu-4 (aka a reverse engineered B-29) and the Tupolev Tu-16. For reasons that be, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev landed in Werneuchen in 1957 for one of his official visits to the GDR, rather than landing in Berlin Schönefeld.
By the late 1950s, the Soviets had already secretly begun stationing nuclear armed missiles close to Fürstenberg and Vogelsang, and continued to expand its nuclear arsenal in the GDR over the years. In 1971, the Soviets once again decided to expand the Flugplatz Werneuchen – but this time with a GRANIT-2 bunker, a so called “Special Ammunition Depot” (склад боеприпасов особого насначения) designed to store nuclear weapons. An underground fuel depot was added in 1973, primarily to allow for the stationing of the MiG-25.
With German Reunification and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet Forces were recalled back “home”. While many had already been shipped back by 1990 – there were still roughly 360,000 formerly Soviet Troops stationed in East Germany in 1991. Most of the Aircraft stationed in Werneuchen had already made their journey back to Russia by May 1991, though the Russian Military continued to use Werneuchen up until September 1993 as a logistical hub to fly out equipment and other materials.
In September 1993, the Flugplatz Werneuchen was handed over to the Bundesvermögensamt – a federal agency tasked with dealing with real estate services.
As for the radar tower in Weesow, it was briefly used for target practice by the Soviets after the war, with the scars still visible to this day. Rather than tearing down the tower, the east germans had planned to install a directional radio mast on top to strengthen the signal of the General German News Service (Allgemeiner Deutscher Nachrichtendienst) between Weesow and Berlin, but this was rejected by the the Intelligence units of the NVA, citing issues with the nearby flight traffic.
Flugplatz Werneuchen Video
After German reunification
Unlike many of the other former GDR and Soviet occupied airfields in East Germany, the Flugplatz Werneuchen was cleared for civilian air traffic use after its demilitarisation. Werneuchen was used primarily for light and ultralight aircraft, though it had a relatively low number of take-offs and landings per year (less than 1000). Its low usage and large size made it popular for illegal car races though – thanks to its 2500m long concrete runway.
To curb the illegal races, the airport authorities decided to split the runway with into two segments with the help of a massive earth mound, creating a 900m long western and a 1499 long easter runway – with only the eastern runway being cleared for active use.
This “earth mound” also led to one of the first post reunification accidents, when in 2002, a Saab 200 Swiss aircraft en route to Hamburg had to make an emergency landing in Werneuchen. The pilots were not aware of the earth mound at the end of the runway and tore of the landing gear when the aircraft rolled over the obstacle (injuring one passenger in the process).
In 2004, a Beechcraft King Air took off from Werneuchen, but had to make an emergency landing shortly after it was noticed that the aircraft was leaking fuel (injuring all 6 passengers onboard). The last recorded accident took place in 2019, when a ultralight plane crashed killing the pilot in the process. The cause of the crash couldn’t not be determined.
Flugplatz Werneuchen today (2022)
The Flugplatz Werneuchen is still in active use to this day, with the aerial photography agency “euroluftbild.de” using the airfield as its main base of operations. Some of the main aircraft hangers and associated buildings have been repurposed and are being actively used by various companies. The main tower building is rotting away, and sealed off. While some of the other hangars have been stripped of all equipment – they remain relatively open and are a hotspot for graffiti artists (with the majority of works by the artist “Bill Knospi”). There is an active security guard that patrols the airfield and perimeter with a car, and if you are unlucky he will ask you kindly to move on (and follow you for quite some time afterwards).
There are a bunch of derelict buildings to be found in the woods next to the runway, the most interesting being the former firing range to adjust the aircraft weapons.
A large section of the airfield has been converted into a solar panel farm, which is fenced off. It’s not possible to cycle completely around the field / tarmac unless you want to lift your bike over the fence, which we can’t really recommend. Many of the former aircraft hangars along the runway have been converted into unique looking homes, and some have been converted into what seem like storage spaces.
Werneuchen itself is filled with dozens of derelict buildings, from the officers casino to the staff quarters – but they all look to be in terrible shape. All have been fenced in, with some being more accessible than others, but judging from the ones that we had a look in, the majority are about to collapse and are inhabited solely by racoons. In addition, most of the abandoned buildings in Werneuchen are right next to completely nice inhabited homes, so there are plenty of watchful neighbours about.
The former nuclear bunker was converted into a shooting range for the Korporative Schützengilde Werneuchen von 1848 e.V. gun club.
Hochbunker Werneuchen (2022)
The heating plant on the far end and the hochbunker are secluded enough to not be patrolled – though there is little left to see. The hochbunker seems to be sealed tight – though we’ve seen older photos (from about 10 years ago) that it had been open at some point. Others have (successfully) attempted to scale the hochbunker form the outside, but aside from increasing your chances of dying, there isn’t much to be had aside from a mediocre view over the landscape.
Radarturm Weesow (2022)
The Weesow Radar Tower was placed under monument protection by the state of Brandenburg, while the tower was apparently sold to a student from Saxony for the paltry sum of €100 in 2005. It was rumored that he apparently lives in there – at least during the summer months. For those planning on visiting the Radarturm Weesow, there is a small memorial just up the road to the victims of the NKVD who were interned here in a special camp after the war.
Flugplatz Werneuchen Address
Alte Hirschfelder Str. 19, 16356 Werneuchen