Tales of a Teenage Spy - The Life and Times of Gábor Rimner
Chapter 35a – Soviet Nuclear Weapons in Hungary in the Cold War - A Military Expert's Critique
Soviet SS-IC Scud B missile in late 1970s.
The 9p117 launcher is painted in mud-brown,
infra-red decoy coating. Photo: KBM VP Makeev
Editorial Note: This was an unplanned and unexpected chapter, only inserted at the last minute for the sake of historical accuracy after discovering the existence of a book entitled OKSNAR - Fully Assembled State - Soviet Nuclear Weapons in Hungary 1961-1991by László Becz, Szabolcs Kizmus and Tamás Várhegyi.
These three authors spent “more than 10 years” researching the subject, including interviews with both Russian and Hungarian army officers involved with nuclear weapons, before publishing their book in November 2019.
The information that follows was given by email and in an interview with László Becz.
American scepticism over Gábor Rimner's claims to have seen a trailer for a Soviet Inter-continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in Hungary in 1974 is perfectly understandable, according to László Becz, a former Hungarian Army technician and co-author of the book OKSNAR - Fully Assembled State - Soviet Nuclear Weapons in Hungary 1961-1991.
Whatever the object Rimner saw on that visit, it was not related to an ICBM, he argues.
“The Soviets deployed only shorter-range tactical ballistic missiles in Czechoslovakia, DDR [East Germany], Poland, and Hungary. He [Rimner] misidentified this equipment as relating to an ICBM, because these missile systems were deployed deeper in the [Soviet] homeland. They had a typical range of 4,500-5,500 km,” Becz says.
In other words, there was no need to go to the expense, or take the security risk, of deploying such weapons in eastern Europe. It was simpler and more secure to locate them inside the USSR.
Furthermore, from the very introduction of nuclear weapons by Soviet forces in the USSR in the 1950s, the military went to extraordinary lengths to keep all aspects of their deployment and operations secret.
Units tasked with operating any kind of nuclear weapon – whether free fall bomb, nuclear-tipped missile or artillery shell – were given cover names such as “Independent Reconnaissance Tank Battalion” and often located within or adjacent to, but strictly separated from, other army units, eg a tank barracks.
The transportation of nuclear weapons and associated equipment, eg missile launchers, was normally undertaken only at night, and unders strict lockdown: even non-associated military personnel had to stay indoors when weapon movements were undertaken.
In addition, soldiers allocated to nuclear units, or on training courses for such units, were given cover uniforms and were expressly forbidden to reveal their real military roles to fellow soldiers and even to their spouses.
Such forms of deception was continued as nuclear weapons were introduced into Moscow's satellites in eastern Europe.
As part of this culture of deep secrecy, “neither Soviet nor Hungarian forces would ever use any warning signs (as we do nowadays) in relation to nuclear, biological, or any other mass destruction weapon,” says Becz. “It would have been an obvious giveaway.”
Hence Rimner's claim to have seen a storage bunker with the radiation hazard warning on its doors has to be the work of his imagination, possibly developed sub-consciously (even if innocently) after his visit to bolster his claim.
Map of military bases with nuclear weapons in Hungary in 1977. Red symbolises Soviet units, green Hungarian army units. Courtesy László Becz.
According to Becz, there was no military base with nuclear weapons named Bükkszentakarattya, although there were two such bases in the Bakony Hills, western Hungary.
One was near the village of Szentkirályszabadja, near the northern tip of Lake Balaton (See map). But it was located behind a Hungarian army base, which Rimner would have had to pass before reaching the Soviet section. He made no mention of any such Hungarian base preceeding the Soviet installation.
The other was at Úrkút, a remote location south-east of the town of Ajka, western Hungary. But as this was the principal Soviet storage depot for nuclear weapons in the region, kept secret from even the top Hungarian military, there was “absolutely no way” Rimner and Eva could have entered these facilities, according to Becz.
SS-1C Scud-B missile with Soviet 22 Brigade, stationed at Dombovar, south-west Hungary c 1975-76. (Soviet designation 9P117M (MAZ-543) launcher with 8K14 rocket as part of a 9K72 missile complex "Elbrus".) Photo: Stanislas Karpenko
In 1974, at the time of Rimner's visit to the base, the Soviets had deployed 8K14 missiles – NATO designation Scud SS-1C - in Hungary. These were battlefield, nuclear-tipped missiles designed for quick deployment to soften up enemy resistance – which in Hungary's case, would have meant an attack first on (neutral) Austria and then Italy and Bavaria.
The launchers for such missiles were much smaller than ICBM trailers, although they were painted in special, infra-red decoy, mud-brown paint and had 'dents' in the roofs of the driving cabs – just as Rimner reported. (see photo, top)
Could the young spy, in his enthusiasm, simply have misidentified a Scud SS-1C carrier for that of an ICBM?
“I don't know what Rimner saw, it could have been anything, but I don't believe it was an ICBM carrier,” Becz says.