The Plokštinė base was a Soviet medium-range nuclear missile launch facility built in the early 1960’s.
Four launch silos housing 22-metre tall R12 rockets with 3-metre warheads were connected by long underground passageways to a multi-level command centre buried deep beneath reinforced concrete.
The base housed 10,000 soldiers, brought in secretly from USSR satellite states. And the 79th Rocket Regiment was stationed there until 1978.
Missiles from this very same base were deployed to Cuba in September 1962, sparking off the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis, which nearly led to full on nuclear war.
And the base was put on red alert during the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The Cold War happened for real here, and there were fingers on the trigger ready to obliterate Western Europe.
Today this facility has been turned into a museum. And you approach it by driving through the incredible natural beauty of Lithuania’s Žemaitija National Park.
We lost the sat nav signal as we entered the park — as though all satellite communications were being jammed, and we’d just driven off all officially sanctioned maps. The voice of Darth Vader — my driving companion — only burst back into life as we were heading down a forlorn gravel road on final approach to the base.
Total silence filled the car, and then Darth suddenly urged us to turn around as quickly as possible. It felt like an omen…
But despite being warned off by the Dark Lord of the Sith, it was difficult to imagine 4 hardened silos filled with so much destructive power when surrounded by lush forests and lakes.
Had the base been operational, we would have been intercepted long before.
The immediate surroundings of the launch area were protected by 4 layers of fence that included barbed wire, a sensor wire which triggered alarms in a guardhouse, an electrified fence, and all sorts of patrol routes through the surrounding forest.
The board at the visitor centre which explained these defences had this to say about the electrical fence: “The combat system P-100 had been also used security of the perimeter, which generated 380 to 2,000 volts and ensured the offender’s death from electrical shock.”
The concrete caps of the hardened silos could be opened and the missiles fired in 30 minutes. And the facility could operate autonomously for 15 days — or for 3 hours if hermetically sealed.
I heard about 4 such missile launch facilities in Lithuania, and at least one in neighbouring Latvia (likely more).
We were able to tour this facility and examine many of the original pieces of equipment, though many had been stolen by locals as soon as the Soviets vacated the base.
The underground command centre also houses a Cold War museum, and it brought back all those late night childhood fears of missiles and red dawns and the morning after, brought on by far too many Hollywood movies.
But the dangers were real, and total destruction really was just a mistake or a bad Monday morning away.