Caches of Explosives Hidden in Moscow

Here’s a post-Cold War risk that I hadn’t considered before:

Construction workers involved in building a new hotel just across from the Kremlin were surprised to find 250 kg of TNT buried deep beneath the old Moskva Hotel that had just been demolished to make way for a new one. Police astonished Muscovites further when they said that the 12 boxes of explosives lodged in the basement could have been there for half a century.

And now, new evidence points to the possibility that Moscow could be dotted with such explosive caches—planted by the secret police in the early days of World War II.

Posted on August 4, 2005 at 7:58 AM27 Comments


Juergen August 4, 2005 8:33 AM

Not a purely Soviet thing, actually. In the 80s and 90s several weapon caches were discovered in Western Europe, which turned out to have been created by the CIA and NATO for use by resistance groups in case Europe got overrun by the Red Army.

Interestingly, such caches were even found in Austria… which had been neutral in the cold war.

NATO even had a special secret operations group called “Gladio” that was supposed to use the weapons in those caches.

wiredog August 4, 2005 9:29 AM

Every once in a while an unexploded bomb from WW2 is found in London, and I presume other cities in Europe as well.

Jarrod August 4, 2005 9:48 AM

Such weapon caches have also been reported to be in the US, sometimes containing maps and photos, some explosives and detonation gear. Some former KGB personnel have suggested that there may be dozens of hidden caches. So if you’re digging your new well on your nice couple of acres a mile from the railroad tracks and you come across a buried container, it may not be such a good idea to yank it out and open it. 🙂

blankmeyer August 4, 2005 10:16 AM

“Such weapon caches have also been reported to be in the US, sometimes containing maps and photos, some explosives and detonation gear. Some former KGB personnel have suggested that there may be dozens of hidden caches.”

Wouldn’t the terrorists love to get their hands on some of these caches.

egeltje August 4, 2005 10:30 AM

If the stuff still works and the info on the maps is still acurate…
It is far easier to get some fresh explosives. It is more scary if some kids found it and started playing with it.

Peter August 4, 2005 10:37 AM

Yeah, thank goodness that I didn’t find such stuff when I was a kid. When I reminisce about what sort of teenager I was in the 70s, I am astonished that I still have both hands, both eyes, and all 10 fingers.

Ian Mason August 4, 2005 10:39 AM


“Interestingly, such caches were even found in Austria… which had been neutral in the cold war.”

Of course neutrality in a specific context doesn’t imply not defending yourself – cf the Swiss Army. The technique isn’t a cold war specific but rather insurance against initially losing any land war. It allows your non-military population to become resistance fighters or your disarmed POWs to re-arm themselves on release.

Exactly the same trick was used by the British during the second world war in case of a successful invasion by the Axis forces. Except in this case it even extended to buried secret shelters that were not only arms caches but also small underground barracks for small teams for resistance fighters to hide out in.

The British wartime operation was titled “Operation Stay Behind”. After WWII it was kept in place as a cold war operation and similar operations set up in other NATO countries. The Italian operation was called “Gladio” – named after a tradition Italian (Roman) sword. The operations in many other participating countries had similar names: “Glaive” in France, rather more prosaically “Schwert” in Austria and so on.

David August 4, 2005 11:20 AM

Aren’t these the same sort of weapons caches used in Iraq today? Or all those weapons being smuggled in? No doubt the Baathists understood this tactic well.

Such security threats are far greater for land mines in many nations of recent wars. These are not caches for a potential/future threat, but deliberately set to kill at the time. Just because a truce is called doesn’t mean that those weapons are all cleaned up.

Davi Ottenheimer August 4, 2005 11:53 AM

Good source of news about explosives, Bruce. It appears while some are being found under buildings, even more have been recently lost at sea…

“An investigation has revealed strange details in the case of a sunken SP-13 barge that was carrying 70 tons of explosives in Russia’s Far East Sea of Okhotsk, Itar Tass reported Thursday. The captain, however, claims all 26 containers have sunk and pose no threat.”

Sounds like the start of a Tom Clancy novel to me…

Davi Ottenheimer August 4, 2005 12:00 PM

And here’s something perhaps a little closer to home:

“Several years ago officials thought the area was safe. But when a man drove up to the Waterways Station in 1991 with what he thought was a souvenir bomb in his trunk, officials were jarred into taking a fresh look at the site. Bill Birkemeier, Corps chief at the Duck facility, said the man was the father of one of a group of teenagers who had unearthed some old explosives in the sound near a pier just off-site. He said the group had carried several of the bombs home already, and more were later found in same waist-deep water.


There is no way to estimate how many total tons the Navy dropped on Duck, said John Baden, state coordinator of the Corps’ Defense Environmental Restoration Program. But about eight tons of scrap metal were removed in 1993 by a private contractor. In 1994, the U.S Marines removed five unexploded bombs, a machine gun, 1,438 dud bombs and more than 20 tons of metal weapons casings from the site.”

Peter August 4, 2005 12:49 PM

When the US troops invaded, they raced to capture Bagdad. They didn’t stop to secure the weapons dumps for over a week, which resulted in over 250,000 tons of munitions being looted from ammo dumps and military depots across the country. Much was stolen for the metal (to be sold for recycling), but plenty would be left for folks to use in exactly the manner being done weekly.

You can make an enormous number of roadside bombs from a single ton of military weaponry. You can supply your resistance forces for decades with 250,000 tons. You know what is missing because many of the storage facilities were sealed by UN inspectors just prior to the invasion.

Juergen August 4, 2005 1:04 PM


Sorry, I should have made it a bit more clear… the caches found in Austria weren’t hidden by the Austrians but by the CIA. They were discovered by accident in the mid-90s, and the US government had to admit ordering to hide them in Austria in the 50s and 60s. Minor diplomatical embarassment back then.

Andy Dingley August 4, 2005 2:18 PM

To clarify something about Gladio, it was not a NATO plan to oppose a Cold War invasion. It was a CIA project to oppose the democratic rise of Communism, particularly in Italy. It has a very shady past, particularly in its links with and arms supply to the Italian far-right groups of the ’70s

Ari Heikkinen August 4, 2005 2:40 PM

Well, resistance forces need weapons in case of an invasion. Looks like a reasonable tactic to me.

Davi Ottenheimer August 4, 2005 2:53 PM

This thread is taking an interesting turn. Here’s an article in the Moscow Times about the Gladio Operation:

It quotes “sworn testimony by Gladio agent Vincenzo Vinciguerra”:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple: to force … the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security.”

It references a book “NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe” by Daniele Ganser, who is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the ETH in Zurich.

That led me to read a recent article by Ganser ( that says the “former head of Italian counterintelligence in March 2001, confirmed the CIA might have promoted terrorism in Italy. After the socalled Piazza Fontana massacre, which in 1969 had killed sixteen and wounded eighty, parts of the bomb had been planted in the villa of well known leftist editor Giangiacomo Feltrinelli in order to blame the terror on the Communists. ‘The
impression was that the Americans would do anything to stop Italy from sliding to the left'”

So with all this clandestine bombing and underground militarism going on, how exactly do we measure the real post Cold-War risks? Surely it is far greater than just the sum of explosives left behind.

Ian Woollard August 4, 2005 3:14 PM

250Kgs of conventional explosive? Pah! That’s nothing! Here in Britain we had plans to hide nuclear bombs under main roads, to blow up the Ruskies if they tried to invade! (Kept warm by battery chickens- no, I am not making any of this up!)

I don’t think they were deployed… then again, perhaps they did and later forgot….

Bruce Schneier August 4, 2005 3:56 PM

“I don’t think they were deployed… then again, perhaps they did and later forgot….”

You’d think someone would have smelled the chickens by now.

Jarrod August 4, 2005 4:19 PM

You refer to nuclear landmines. No, they were never deployed, and as I recall, they were not manufactured in any great quantity.

“Wouldn’t the terrorists love to get their hands on some of these caches.”

Probably not. The explosives would now be decayed and very unstable. Merely touching them could be enough to set them off if there were a small ground arc.

not i August 4, 2005 11:01 PM

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple: to force … the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security.”

One might suppose this is not too far removed from the current state of affairs…

Nick Barron August 5, 2005 4:31 AM

Here in Southampton, UK, about ten years back they found WWII demolition charges buried all over the local airport. it was closed for a couple of weeks while the Army made them safe.

Of course most of these things were either not documented or subject to extreme need-to-know restrictions, so there may be many more floating about.

There was a recent project in the UK to locate all the “pillboxes” (small concrete “bunkers” for fighting off invading forces), as their details had been either destroyed or lost.

Nick Brooke August 5, 2005 4:43 AM

Here’s a link to defensetech on the UK’s chicken-powered nuke. The story begins powerfully:

‘Like me, you’ve probably stayed awake countless nights wondering, “Did the Brits ever make plans for a nuclear landmine, powered by chickens?” Well, dear reader, I’m here to tell you that the answer is yes…’

Cheers, Nick

Clint Laskowski August 5, 2005 7:40 AM

What about the most common unexploded weapons in the world … landmines. There are likely tens of thousands of them around the world. They are not just a left-over from the ‘Cold War’ but a left-over from almost every military action since they were invented. Then again, recovering them for terrorist activity would be a little more risky than finding ‘unused’ caches of weapons.

Is anyone watching to see if the fields of landmines are being dug up. Sounds like a crappy job 😉

Jürgen R. Plasser August 5, 2005 5:52 PM

It’s not long ago that a bomb from WWII was discovered here in Linz, Austria. And we have that many times a year in our country. Those old airplane bombs had very bad precision so they had to drop a lot of them.

Every now and then, when a new building is built, bombs are discovered. It has nothing to do with Soviet cashes but it’s very interesting, actually. Who knows how many bombs are still armed and can detonate? — I don’t think it’s a great danger at all, but those bombs are strange relicts for me, it’s over 60 years ago that bombs were dropped in Austria.

John Henry August 6, 2005 5:05 PM

There are still explosives left from WWI as well. In 1915(yr?) the Brits mined the German trenches on the Messines Ridge and blew up a number of caches totalling 600 tons of explosives.

Several of them failed to go off. For reasons I do not understand, they were abandoned or lost and one exploded in 1935 (yr?)

A year or two back, another of the lost caches of a dozen or so tons of high explosive was found under a Belgian farmhouse. The owner had no plans to move. He was quoted as saying that if it hadn’t exploded in 85 years, it would not do so now.

For reasons having to do with subsurface water and the general perils of excavating there is apparently nothing that can be done about the cache.

John Henry

signalsnatcher August 8, 2005 12:17 AM

In Australia, at the end of WWII the departing US forces left behind an immense armory of weapons. US forces were supposed to dump them at sea, but the GIs were anxious to get home and the job was never done properly. The Australian armed forces decided to dispose of the weapons by dumping them in a disused coal mine in the Hunter Valley just north of Sydney, and then sealing the mine shut with hundreds of tons of concrete.

A few years after the war one of Sydney’s organised crime figures hired a group of coal miners to tap into this mine. Although most weapons were too deep to recover, or else affected by ground water, there were enough to supply gangland and,possibly, the IRA, until quite recently.

Dirk Rijmenants August 8, 2005 6:20 AM

Ever woundered what happend with all the equipment that the DRG’s, specialised Russian Elite Teams, stowed away in many locations in the US and other countries, ready for use in case of…Some of them were discovered in Europe, still boobytrapped and armed! Interesting details are reveiled in the book “The Mitrokin Archive”, chilling…

jimmy gordon October 17, 2005 4:35 AM

signalsnatchers post of august 8 2005 is partly true ,partly urban myth.Decommisioned weapons where disposed of in a coalmine in 1945 -1946 nearly all these weapons where first decommed by Australian army personnel.many military weapons where available to the underworld in as new condition by both australian and american personnel.These points where recorded in two dossiers available by FOI laws via Aust war museum.Caches of explosives where buried all around Darwin however and some where found in the early sixties and detonated by a Private company.Rum Jungle was to be one of the lines where they where cached if Imperial japanese forces attacked by land .Also south of alice springs large ammounts of Mercury fulminate a primary explosive where found in a well on a remote station of the then road to Alice Springs. they where reported by drivers and the engineer who placed them ,this is anecdotal but one of the Drivers was my uncle who said they where shitting bricks transporting the containers.

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