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Leba, Poland

Nazi Rocket Test Site

This open-air museum was originally a World War II testing ground for German missiles and rockets. 

From 1940 to 1945, in a secluded marshy forest in northwest Poland, Nazi scientists conducted top-secret ballistic tests for short and long range missiles. What was kept from public view for decades is now the Muzeum Wyrzutni Rakiet, or the Rocket Launcher Museum.

The museum is within the grounds of the Słowinski National Forest, just a few miles from the Baltic Sea. The site had originally been a World War II testing ground for the Germans, and in 1967 was turned into a national public park. But access to the missile site was still restricted, and occupying Soviet forces began testing and experimenting with meteorological rockets. Those trials lasted until 1974, when the grounds were abandoned.

Prototypes from the rockets on display ultimately led to the development of two missiles used during WWII: the R1, R2, and R3 models of the Rheintochter surface-to-air missile, and the V4 Rheinbote short range ballistic rocket. Technology from the tests and launch pads were adapted to the V2 rocket, the Nazi’s foundational guided ballistic missile design. After the war, when German engineers such as Wernher von Braun came to the US, their knowledge and designs were used by NASA in the development of the Saturn Rocket that took the first men to the moon in the Apollo 11 mission.

In a way, these launch tests were the great-grandparents of the successful Saturn program, and the outdoor museum doesn’t let you forget it. They have a shell from a V2 rocket and several information panels explaining the progression of the technology, from the Nazis in the 1940s to the eventual NASA launch on Cape Canaveral in 1969.

Know Before You Go

This site is tucked away inside of the Słowinski National Forest and rarely advertised. Following the main trail to the sand dunes, the entrance is halfway to the other end of the park, about 2.5km (a mile and a half).

From the entrance of the park, where you can leave your car, there is a main trail. Walking takes between 30-45 minutes and is a beautiful trail through the marsh. You can pay for an electric golf cart to ferry down the path, or you can arrive by actual ferry. By far the easiest thing is to rent a bike at the entrance, or from any of the vendors in the area, and take the ride yourself. A small fee gets you in, about 7.50 złoty (about $2 US), cash only.

Once there, in addition to the V2 rocket shell there is a wide variety other rockets and missiles on display which were catapulted into the heavens from this location, German and Soviet alike.