Fore more than 40 years, the Kemmelberg quietly kept a military secret well hidden some 15 meters below its surface.
After the end of World War II, life continued under the threat of a potential nuclear devastation: the Cold War had arrived. The Belgian defense forces too prepared for a worst case scenario: between 1952 and 1956, they established a vast underground bunker complex inside the Kemmelberg. This would become the central command center for the whole Benelux in case of an attack from behind the Iron Curtain. All of this occurred under the highest secrecy – what took shape within the hill was known neither to the local population nor to the construction workers.
The complex covers a total surface of 2164 m². The bunker itself measures 30 by 30 meters; its walls are 2 meters thick, the concrete roof from 1.15 to 2.9 meters. The outer walls have copper shielding for protection against electromagnetic radiation.
At the heart of the bunker complex lies a huge Operations Room, occupying two levels and surrounded by offices for each of the military branches: army, navy and air force. The top level houses power generators and the heating and ventilation installations. Various communication facilities – phone, telex and radio – are spread throughout the lower level.
The bunker remained classified and permanently guarded until 1995. From time to time, the site hosted top secret exercises to adjust procedures and evaluate readiness. It took three teams of 200 people each to maintain full operations on a 24 hour basis.
The Kemmelberg bunker was declassified in 1996 and now serves as a Cold War era museum. As much as possible the building and its contents have been kept at their original state.
It’s a true treasure cove for any photographer (if you are allowed to bring in your ‘weapons’, of course). Not to mention the feeling of traveling back to a mysterious period of our recent history.
Gear notes: D700, 17-35/2.8, 16/2.8
Click on the image(s) to see a larger version