Behind the stunning setting and crystal-clear blue waters of Vis (a Croatian island set across the Adriatic Sea from Italy’s Molise east coast), there is a long history of military activity. The most recent legacy of this offers visitors a chance to explore some of the most extraordinary Cold War fortifications, from Marshal Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslav days.
They are imposing, fanciful and quite frankly sinister in equal measure. I recommend taking the time to peel yourself away from the coast and explore the island’s collection of remarkable modern-day military battlements.
The clandestine (until 1989) installations are impressive, and further enhanced by the feeling of being on a James Bond villain’s island. Top secret underground tunnel networks lead to camouflaged escape hatches, gigantic missile storage sites and phenomenally well- reinforced command module headquarters. It’s made all the more thrilling and movie-like by Vis’s backdrop of sapphire blue Mediterranean views catching your eye at every turn.
You can forgive yourself for a double-take on the horizon to check 007 is not entering Croatian airspace in a DJ flying suit.
The island’s post-1945 military constructions include not only differing levels of intricate tunnel networks, but also a gigantic submarine base, a cliff-top battery of missile launcher positions and one of the most sinister of Tito’s legacies – an atomic bomb shelter complex. All dug deep into the island’s remote and previously inaccessible mountain regions.
Exploring these installations – ideally with a local guide – you are soon drawn into what was obviously a paranoid era of local history. With fears of invasion from both east and west paramount in Tito’s thinking, the sense of threat becomes surreal as you shine your torch through the pitch-black gloom into shower blocks, storage areas and private rooms designed to house Tito and his private entourage through a nuclear winter.
The totally cut-off bunker nestles behind gigantic steel doors, with rust-bucket generators and air filters in position to fire up the overhead piping – blue for water and yellow for air.
Other disused military quarters can be found throughout the local woodlands, and they are just as quiet and eerie as the abandoned maze of dark and derelict tunnels that twist and turn behind the big gun mountain lookouts and echoey missile armouries.
All have been left to ruin, from the moment the state of Yugoslavia broke down and finally collapsed in the 1990s.
There are over thirty different military sites strewn across the island, but the following are four of the most impressive:
- Stupisce Missile base with Command Tunnel network (nr. Komiza)
- Giant 110m long Submarine 110m Pen.
- Tito’s Atomic Bunker (one of six across former Yugoslavia).
- Underground Missile Storage Base (capable of holding 12, 20m long P-21 missiles, with half-ton warhead capabilities. With above ground camouflaged and concealed entrance buildings. Vis, military stronghold overlooking the sea – from Fort St George (1812, Napoleonic wars) to more recent Yugoslav Officer Quarters (1970s, Cold War):