By the mid 1980’s, the Federal Republic of Germany contained more nuclear weapons per square kilometre than any other country in the world. In total, there were about 5,000 nuclear warheads based on the territory at the time, and together they had the combined destructive power of around 20,000 Hiroshima bombs! Despite this, the federal government in Bonn had no say over their usage. Western Germany, when signing the Treaty of Brussels in 1954, became legally obliged to never possess Nuclear, Biological or Chemical weapons. Western Germany was at the frontier of the Cold War, yet its government was individually impotent.
Western Germany, though, was a member of NATO, and therefore belonged to the nuclear sharing policy. This meant that Western Germany would possess conventional weapons that could, in times of conflict, be fitted with nuclear warheads loaned from the United States military. This was the raison d'etre for the creation of the Flugkörpergeschwader, a mobile unit of the West German Luftwaffe. They possessed Pershing I missiles, rockets that could be fitted with American nuclear warheads and fired from the back of a truck. These missiles had a 740 kilometre range, enough to reach targets in East Germany or Poland.
The second unit of the Flugkörpergeschwader, created in 1976, was stationed in a complex just outside Arsbeck, a town located near the Dutch border in the northwest of Germany. The capital of West Germany, Bonn, was just under 100 kilometers to the southeast, and the surrounding region was dotted with military bases, American, British, Belgian, Canadian. Strategically, there was no discernible requirement for another military base. The region did not need more troops, more nuclear missiles. The purpose of the Flugkörpergeschwader though, was not strategic but rather therapeutic. The West German government did not want to be left feeling as nakedly impotent as it really was. Therefore, to allay their own fears, as well as those of their electorate, they created the Flugkörpergeschwader.
But the West German government, despite possessing Pershing missiles, was still effectively impotent. Or if not truly impotent, they were not active players with any ability to significantly alter events. For it was he United States and the Soviet Union alone who, in 1987, signed the INF treaty, a treaty that committed the two signatories to dismantling their long-range nuclear arsenals. Overnight, the justification for the Flugkörpergeschwader units had been stripped away, consigned to history.
Subsequently, the Flugkörpergeschwader was disbanded. Their Pershing missiles were all destroyed, save for a few exhibits which went on to serve as museum pieces. And the site in Arsbeck, a large complex containing living quarters, garages for military trucks and a control tower, was decommissioned and abandoned. The once heavily fortified military complex became a deserted site in the middle of a forest. For 11 years the trucks of the Flugkörpergeschwader had been based at Arsbeck, each of them fitted with 36 missiles. At any given time, nine of the missiles were kept on launch platforms, ready should the immediate call come for their use. Now the trucks and the missiles were gone and all that was left were abandoned buildings and bunkers.
For the following 16 years the barracks in Arsbeck stood empty. However, in 2006 the living quarters were reopened. Their new use: to house and process asylum seekers. The rest of the site though – particularly the bunker system to the rear – remains abandoned and is gradually being swallowed up by the forest.