A journey through Tito's secret underground nuclear bunker
Updated: May 22, 2020
Several months ago I visited a small unassuming building at an out-of-the-way military base tucked within the steep Neretva River valley slopes of Bjelašnica Mountain, which isn't far from the small town of Konjic, BiH. Within this seemingly ordinary building I was presented with the entrance to the extraordinary underground Atomska Ratna Komanda (or “Atomic War Command” in English), otherwise known more shortly as ARK D-0 or simply 'Tito’s Bunker'. This secret subterranean nuclear command center and protective bunker was built into Bjelašnica Mountain as part of a Cold War defense system to house Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito and the country's political leadership in the case of a nuclear attack. Meant to sustain a direct 20 kiloton nuclear blast, this underground complex was constructed over the course of nearly 15 years, starting in 1953. The Yugoslav state considered its secrecy so paramount that stories relate workers being blind folded before being brought to the worksite and upon its completion in 1979 only 16 people are reported to have known of its existence.
As I wander through the narrow and claustrophobic passageways of the ARK D-0 complex, I am confronted with its 100 rooms which are of every type which you could imagine might be needed to achieve the goal of sustaining a skeleton government of over 300 people for 6 months underground during a nuclear attack. This included conference rooms, kitchens, offices, bunk rooms, elite suites, mess halls, etc, etc, all spread across over 6,500 sq m of subterranean space at a depth of roughly 270m. So little has changed in these rooms that many of them still have their standard portraits of President Josip Broz Tito hanging on the wall. The government of Yugoslavia spent what was at the time roughly the equivalent of roughly 4.6 billion USD dollars, making it the single most expensive construction project the country ever completed.
As I investigate each room, I am continually stunned by the amazing variety of high-tech 1970s/80s-era military equipment that appears to be in an absolutely pristine and unblemished condition. Many of these sets of equipment and devices are so untouched that many have their original instruction manuals and log books sitting right next to them. The ARK D-0 bunker was outfitted with what was at that time the highest and most advanced technology of the era, hosting an extremely impressive array of not only electronic systems and communication relays, but also water purification/recycling devices, air conditioning/filtration, power generators, and much more.
One of the most fascinating sections of the bunker I walked through was the area which was set aside as Tito's personal offices and living quarters. Modestly decorated, there are no over-the-top frills and adornments here... simply a series of comfy and inviting rooms where Tito and his wife Jovanka to live, sleep and relax in relative comfort in the event of a nuclear attack, with facilities here as well for him to conduct his day-to-day presidential business that such an attack might entail. I find each room perfectly preserved, with plastic and sheets covering much of the furniture, which, in all likelihood, has barely ever been touched or used since it was installed.