These sites were once training grounds, airfields, and state-of-the-art reconnaissance installations. Now, they're abandoned.
A series of island forts off the coast of Britain were built during Victorian times to offer resistance to a French invasion. Later these forts were designed to serve as defense stations during World War I, thought to serve as a line of protection against submarine threats. Following the war, many of the sites transformed into resorts, some still operating and one — No Man’s Land — abandoned after disease emerged on the island.
Off the coast of San Francisco, in Suisun Bay, an abandoned fleet of up to 100 war ships once floated interlinked on the water. This Ghost Fleet held strong at 50 abandoned ships from the United States’ National Defense Rescue Fleet for many years until the environmental hazards of decaying ships and chipping paint led the one-by-one removal of the ships to museums and junkyards. Think of this site as a twice-abandoned military establishment.
Opened as a drydock in 1901, the Charleston Naval Shipyard contributed to multiple U.S. wars, including serving a key role during World War II, as a home for ship repair and construction.
The site was eventually closed in 1995 and parts of the property have undergone redevelopment though portions of the historic site remain standing.
Built in 1898 on Plum Island off the coast of New York, Fort Terry was used as defense during the Spanish-American War. The site was also active during both world wars. Once the protection was deemed unnecessary, the fort, in 1969, transformed into the Plum Island Animal Disease Center.
Deep beneath Croatian soil lies the Zeljava Underground Air Base used in both world wars. It housed fighter jets and was designed to withstand a direct hit from a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb. The $6 billion spent on its construction made it one of Europe’s largest and most expensive military projects.
With runways above ground, the site was destroyed during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1980s, with explosions wrecking the bulk of the underground base. Local authorities still use the site for live training exercises due to the extent of mines located in the area.
The Swiss military bunkers, located in the Alps in Switzerland, offer a textbook definition of camouflage. Even in a so-called neutral country, Switzerland was ready for plenty in the way of military attacks, created a vast network of secret bunkers, located within rocks, barns, or hillsides. Most have been long abandoned.
The first base hospital, the Cambridge Military Hospital, opened in July 1879 in Hampshire, England, welcoming soldiers directly from the Western front during wartime. As the birthplace of plastic surgery, the hospital served multiple functions for a century, eventually closing in the 1990s due to the costs of operating an aging building, although recent reports have developers hoping to turn portions of the building into housing.
The Wundsdorf Soviet Camp, the largest Soviet headquarters outside of Russia, stood shrouded in mystery in Hauptallee, Germany, 25 miles outside of Berlin.
For decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the site housed 75,000 men, women and children. When the wall crashed, the site was abandoned, leaving behind 100,000 rounds of ammunition and countless pieces of trash, furniture, and home supplies.
While some military bases descend underground, one massive antenna, nicknamed the Russian Woodpecker, rises 50 stories high positioned in the wilderness of Russia.
Before it was abandoned, it was apart of the Soviet’s powerful radar system used during the Cold War. It remains a landmark for tourists.
Built on the sand off the coast of Cape May in New Jersey, the Cape May Bunker served as a gun placement to protect America’s East Coast. It was constructed at the beginning of World War II when military leaders believed that war would come to American shores. The site is now part of a state park.
On the Atlantic Ocean floor, a rusty submarine holds a historic past. Constructed in 1942, this U-352 submarine was a part of the “Wolfpack” for the Nazis during the Battle of the Atlantic. The submarine sank to the bottom during combat and now offers a popular scuba diving destination.
Several abandoned or still-thriving military bases exist on islands, but the Sazan Island Base offers an intricate connection of underground tunnels once used by the Soviets as a weapon plant. Italy first used the island, which later became a hub for military action during the Cold War.
Albania’s government now operates the island, used for everything from tourism to detecting pirate and smuggling activity.
Throughout the Cold War, the whole world watched expectantly. Even the Artic was involved; it employed a system called Distant Early Warning (DEW) meant to detect incoming bombs launched toward North America.
After the Cold War, the governments of the United States, Canada, Greenland (pictured), and Iceland ceased operations of the system and the dome-shaped structures were abandoned or dismantled.
In the Florida Keys, an island fortress, called Fort Jefferson, was constructed in 1846 to help fight against piracy in the Caribbean Sea. A lofty, six-sided brick wall surrounded living quarters where soldiers and equipment were stored.
After the dispute calmed, Fort Jefferson turned into a Civil War prison. Now it serves as a national monument visited by tourists.
In the early 1900s, Frank Bannerman built a castle on an island in the Hudson River, 50 miles from New York City. The never-finished castle turned into a storage facility for his weapons surplus business.
While not technically a true military site, the ammunitions held on the site consisted of a vast array of military weapons, including historic relics belonging to George Washington. Explosions and fires have mired the site for 100 years and the decrepit old shell of the castle remains owned by the state of New York.
Hitler resided in several bunkers during World War II, but none more popular than Wolf’s Lair in Poland. This steel-reinforced concrete structure was Hitler’s home for over 800 days of the war and was where he made decisions such as the construction of death camps.
He survived an assassination attempt in the bunker and following the Germany defeat much of the bunker was destroyed. Portions remain, now covered in moss and deserted, but still a growing tourist attraction.
, the Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, N.D., was a radar system intended to find and destroy missiles launched at the U.S. Inside the complex, along with radar, were 30 Spartan antiballistic missiles and 16 Sprint missiles.
Because of a treaty with the Soviet Union that limited the number of weapons complexes each country could have, Mickelsen didn't even stay in service for an entire year. The complex was deactivated on Feb. 10, 1976.
You won't find much to see when scanning a 57-acre parcel in rural Eastern Washington, but dive 155 feet below the ground and you'd find three 1960s-built silos that once housed nuclear-tipped I rockets. These concrete and steel facilities with 14-foot-thick walls boast a mix of tunnels and oddly arranged underground rooms. Some were updated to host Titan II rockets, but all were eventually decommissioned as the military continued to modernize (though airmen continue to man remote silos containing Minuteman III ICBMs). These facilities were self-sufficient, including having their own water-treatment facilities, food, and fresh air supplies.
Located on California's central coast off Highway 1, represents one of the most picturesque abandoned sites in North America. The fort, located 80 miles south of San Francisco, was used primarily as a training center for U.S. Army infantry, seen by the Olympic-size swimming pool that has attracted many a photographer and the rows of barracks overgrown by the natural beauty of the area. It was also well-known for 21 stables designed to house warhorses and mules. Fort Ord was established in 1917, underwent improvements in the 1930s, and stayed open until 1994 when it was closed as part of military downsizing.
When it was established in 1917, this fort in Queens pointed its cannons toward the sea to protect New York. During World War II, Fort Tilden beefed up security "and concrete" in case of an attack. But the Fort wasn't needed during the war, was decommissioned in 1974, and has since become part of the National Park Service and the site of urban exploration.
Now a National Wildlife Refuge deep in the Pacific, Johnston Atoll hasn't always been about the birds. The atoll, which makes up 696 acres of land over 800,000 square miles of ocean, was made a bird refuge in 1926. The largest of the four islands "Johnston Island" became the site of a U.S. Navy runway in 1934. The site turned toward nuclear testing from 1958 to 1975, complete with test launches and radioactive debris. Then, in 2003, Johnston Atoll was given back to the birds, though 1300 people still live and work there.
The Devil's Slide Bunkers on the coast of San Mateo County in California were high tech for the late 1930s. The U.S. War Department took nearly 10 acres along the coast to create triangulation stations and observation sites so military personnel could use binoculars to pinpoint the positions of ships in the sea. The Devil's Slide was one of those preradar sites and included concrete and steel observation pillboxes. The site was sold to a private owner in 1983.
Built for crazy long-range radar during World War II, this Lincolnshire, England, communications center dotted the countryside with massive dishes. During the late 1950s the site actually underwent an upgrade, but it was decommissioned in the 1980s. The majority of the structures stood until demolition removed most of the wild-looking dishes in 1996. You can still take a look at the site's remnants, including a few of the funky-shaped dishes propped up on the turf.
Fortified locks built for submarine protection make for some intriguing abandoned sites. One of the largest, built by Germany during World War II, is Saint Nazaire in France. The structure features 14 pens to secure German subs. The majority of the granite, concrete, and steel structure dipped below the surface with antiaircraft weapons mounted on the top.
Now more famous as a set for The Pianist and Valkyrie, the mostly abandoned 60-building Beelitz Heilstatten Military Hospital, located in the woods outside Berlin, was a bustling hospital during World War II. The site was built as a sanatorium in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but was converted into a military hospital "treating Hitler during World War I" and included theaters, psych wards, and a rifle range. Operations here ceased in 2000, and while some of the buildings have been meticulously restored, the vast majority of the complex has been turned over to adventure-seeking urban explorers.
This hexagonal structure in the middle of the Patapsco River south of Baltimore was built from 1848 to 1850, and a lighthouse was added a few years later. But Fort Carroll was never finished, and destructive rains made the location especially inhospitable. The U.S. Army said farewell to Fort Carroll in 1921.
These fortified towers poking up in the Thames and Mersey estuaries were built to protect England from German submarines. The forts also watched for submarines and housed antiaircraft guns used throughout the war. The small towers, grouped in six forts, were decommissioned in the 1950s but many still remain. Today they rise above the water level with rusted power.
Now a museum following its 1993 decommissioning, this Black Sea base for submarines also housed a series of tunnels that reached into the mountains. Designed to launch submarines during the Cold War, the top secret location "considered by some the most clandestine base run by the Soviet Union" was tucked into the mountain and under the sea.
Some of the most obvious antiaircraft towers ever built were the eight blockhouse Flak Towers seen in Berlin, Vienna, and Hamburg, Germany. Constructed for World War II, the concrete and steel walls "up to 11 feet thick" were virtually indestructible.
The Greenbrier is a resort located outside of White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. And tucked 720 feet into the hillside below that resort is the Greenbrier Bunker, a secret location built to house Congress in the event of a nuclear war. It was completed in 1961 and maintained by government employees working undercover as Forsythe Associates, a company hired by the resort for audiovisual services. The bunker had its own power plant and water-purification unit, a 25-ton blast door, decontamination chambers, a clinic, a lab, a cafeteria, meeting rooms, and more. The facility was a secret until in 1992, forcing the government to decommission it. Now the site is open for tours, but the luxury resort that surrounds it remains in operation.