The original Stalin Line was a line of fortifications along the western border of the Soviet Union. Work began on the system in the 1920s to protect the USSR against “western aggression.” The line was made up of fortified bunkers and gun emplacements, similar but less elaborate than the Maginot Line (and equally ineffective).
Following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which expanded the borders of the USSR westward in 1939 and 1940, into Poland, the Baltic, and Bessarabia the decision was made to abandon the line in favor of constructing the so-called Molotov Line further west, along the new border of the USSR. A number of Russian generals felt that it would be better to keep both lines and have defense in depth, but this conflicted with the pre-World War II Soviet military doctrine. And given the pace of Stalin’s purges, no one was particularly enthusiastic about coming out forcefully against orders from above.
Thus the guns were moved, but were mostly in storage as the new line began construction. The 1941 German invasion caught the Soviets with their pants down as the new line was unfinished and the Stalin Line largely abandoned and in disrepair. Thus, neither was of much use in stopping the onslaught of Operation Barbarossa.
Following World War II, the Stalin Line was not maintained, in part due to its wide dispersal across the USSR. Unlike in Western Europe, where similar fortifications were demolished for development and safety reasons, much of the line survived beyond the breakup of the USSR in 1991 due to simply being ignored. Today, the remains are located in Belarus, Finland, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine.
Although the Stalin Line itself in no longer operational, there is still a significant military complex located along a piece of the Line in Belarus. Given the history of the Stalin Line, Nigel and Andy and I headed out to take a look and to see if we might have any luck getting to interview soldiers in the area and to get some good video footage for the Discovery Channel (for whom we were filming after they lent us one of their cameras).
This was our first look at the military base – which led us to consider sneaking on…
…But then after getting a closer look at the security in place…
…And being confronted by this guard, we decided it would be far more prudent not to attempt such a move. So, instead, we decided to try to bribe our way onto the base.
We ambled over to the main entrance and following a fairly brief, but awkward, conversation with these guards (below) and after handing over a thick stack of Belorussian rubles (not worth that much), we were in.
We headed over to the remnants of the Stalin Line first. It is still maintained here.
Down in one of the trenches.
A gun emplacement protected by barbed wire, armor and reinforced concrete.
I think some of the guards were rather surprised to see us just wandering around, but I can’t really blame them.
It also didn’t stop us from heading down into the bunker complex though.
A space could be opened here, allowing the defenders of the Stalin Line (now the base) to pour destruction and death into the valley below.
And there is plenty of lighter firepower available inside as well.
I have no idea what this guy was saying to us, but he didn’t seem happy we were down there. So, I took his picture.
One of the guards at the main gate (whom we bribed to get in) spoke enough English to convey to us (aside from his being able to negotiate our entrance “fee”) that there was a site in the valley below the military complex where a battle had taken place between German and Soviet forces during World War II that was worth seeing. Apparently, the Germans were overconfident about the safety of the area and had a convoy attacked. It was amazing to see so much of this stuff just laying around as it was left so many decades ago. Thank God for Communist neglect. In a Western country, this would have been tidied up and cleared away.
You can still see the German Balkenkreuz (also known as the Greek cross) on the side of this tank. The straight-armed Balkenkreuz, which is a stylized version of the Iron Cross, was the emblem of the World War II Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, and Kriegsmarine.
Symbolic American domination of both World War II and the Cold War?
An old boy who had seen us bribe our way onto the base (and emphatically did not want his picture taken) approached us as we were returning from the battle site pictured above. Seeing that we were interested in the military equipment, and since we had already proved ourselves to be shady characters by paying our way into the military complex, he apparently felt comfortable with us. The man communicated that everything we could see around us was for sale at the right price and started selling us on the various equipment and weapons systems.
The sales lot:
And the sales office:
Leading us inside to talk business and show us more products:
And it was a nice, cozy place to do business indeed – even equipped with a woodstove.
All manner of ammunition, explosives and light weapons systems were stored in here. And all of it was for sale. Bunkers like this are ground zero for the proliferation of former Eastern bloc weapons into the conflicts of the developing world.
It takes a lot to shock me these days, but even I was shocked at how easy it would have been to leave with a crate of hand grenades or AK-47s. Or a MiG fighter jet if we’d had enough money…
Here is a sampling of some of the heavier equipment we were offered such as missile systems, fighter jets and helicopter gunships:
Imagine how much possession of a Hind helicopter gunship would enhance my latent plans to seize control, via a coup d’ etat, of a basket case African country!