Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Latvia - Leipaja

The Tirdzniecibas Canal meets the Baltic Sea. Leipaja (Latvia's 3rd largest city) is slowly shaking off its Soviet industrial past to reinvent itself.....

An innocuous block in a suburb hides a dark past..... during Nazi occupation in World War 2 a ghetto was created in June 1942. 814 Jews were crammed into this small area before it was liquidated on 8th October 1942. A plaque in the apartment car park marks the ghetto.....

Art Nouveau was an architectural movement founded at the turn of the last century. It was characterised by facades of buildings being adorned with elegant lines and geometrical figures in places interchanging with more elaborate decor . Riga the capital of Latvia has the greatest number of Art Nouveau buildings in the world. Leipaja has its fair share too.....

Latvian towns still have clusters of old wooden houses some now sadly falling into decay.....

Latvia - Leipaja (Karaosta Prison)

Karosta is a sprawling suburb of Leipaja. During Soviet times it was a naval base and was off limits until 1994. At its centre is Karosta Prison which was used as a military prison until 1997.....

The guide used to work in this prison.... his desk in the administration office.....

St Nicholas Maritime Cathedral is the focal point of Karosta amidst ex industrial wasteland and piecemeal housing. Built in 1901 it was designed to look as if it was built centuries earlier. The communists stripped it and used it as a cinema and sports complex. In 1990 restoration work began.

30 000 Soviet Naval staff were based here during the Cold War. It was fascinating to cycle around the desolate base looking at apartment blocks (built to house soldiers) in various states of decay and abadonment.....

Lithuania - Plotstine Nuclear Weapons Base

Hidden deep in the forests of Zemaitija National Park is the first underground Soviet nuclear missle base which became operational on 31st December 1962. Its warheads had enough power to destroy most of Europe. For more than eight months ten thousand Estonian soldiers dug the site with shovels at night to avoid detection by US spy satellites. The missiles stayed here until June 1978 when the site when the site was abandoned and left to rot after discovery by US satellite photography

Rails allowed silo covers to be opened within ten minutes in preparation for launch

Entrance to the underground centre flanked by four missile silos

Control room with 'the button' .....here missles were ready for launch within half an hour of orders. Only twice were fully active warheads loaded and fuelled, firstly during The Cuban Missile Crisis and then again throughout the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia

Rest Room

Ventilation Room with the Lithuanian Soviet Flag. The 79th Soviet Rocket Regiment proudly served here and also in Cuba. The Ventilation Room allowed the Control Room to be sealed with enough air and power for three hours

Electrical Control Room

Site Generator


All roads lead to Armagedon! One of four passages radiating out from the central control area to the launch silos

Its hard to believe the rickety steps and doors were the entrance to clamber into the launch silos
Peering down a 28 metre deep silo! Each missle was 22 metres high including 3 metre long R-120 (SS - 4) thermonuclear warheads, each with a destructive power of 2.3 Megatonnes

Looking across the top of a launch silo - no computer guidance, a primative compass surrounds the rim allowing the medium range missiles to be targeted at European cities as far away as 2 500 kilometres with an amazing accuracy of no more than a few kilometres outwith the target

The remote site was protected by an outer and inner 1 700 volt electric fence, razor cables, dobermans, search lights and machine gun emplacements. For two decades the Lithuanian people knew little of this terrifying arsenal on their doorstep!

Nearby was the camouflaged rocket storage building. Rockets were secretly transported to Sevastopal on The Black Sea and then shipped to Cuba in September 1962 triggering The Missile Crisis

Lithuania - Klaipeda

The melochonic 'Farewell Statue' (2002) at the entrance to the railway station depicts a mother and small boy clutching a teddy bear. A German gift to the city to remember the Germans who were expelled when the city became part of Lithuania in 1923

Remembering fallen Red Army heros in World War 2. Every ex Soviet city has collosal memorials to those who died in The Great Patriotic War.....

For centuries Klaipeda was a Prussian city and was known as Memel its Germanic name until 1925. After World War 1 and the Treaty of Versaille Memel was separated from the rest of Germany in an 'international territory', In 1923 Lituanian troops marched in and renamed the city Kaipeda. Later Hitler stood on the balcony of The Drama Theatre and proclaimed the incorporation of Memel into The Reich

Over looking the reconstructed Old Town from the modern K Tower. Soviet 'liberation' and suicidal German defence reduced the city to rubble in 1944

The Nazis used Memel as a submarine base. Looking out to sea is the northern tip of The Curonian Spit