Mystery Bridge Nr. 146: An Abandoned Railroad Bridge at a Once Important Airbase in Czechia

Our next mystery bridge takes us into the mountains, but this time to the area between Ustí nad Labem (Aussig) and Liberec in northern Czechia in the region of Bohemia. The Hradčany Airport is a former military airbase located near the town of Ralsko. It’s situated in the area of confluence between the Ralsko and Ploučnice Rivers.  Originally, the area was used for military combat training during the times of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as after the establishment of Czechoslovakia. When Nazi Germany occupied the country in 1938, the area was converted to a military airbase by the Wehrmacht, which included new runways and hangers for their fighter jets. It was one of the most important bases fort he eastern front during World War II. 

As part of the measure to expel German residents out of their country, Czechoslovakia reclaimed the airbase but only for a short time, as it later became part of Soviet Army when it became a socialist republic. Again, the airbase became an important point of axis for the Soviet Union, especially during the Prague Spring of 1968, when troops entered the city and ended the revolution with military force. For 30 years, the  Hradčany Airbase was an important military base for the Soviets to ensure that none of the communist states were influenced by the capitalist West.

After the fall of the communist party from power in 1989, withdrawal of Soviet troops was negotiated in February 1990. The last soldier left the district in May 1991. The district lost its military status in the same year. On January 1, 1992 the village of Ralsko was established by joining of nine villages together. Between 1993 and 2004 the area was extensively cleaned up from chemical contamination and searched for unexploded ammunition. To this day, all that remains are ruins of the airport that are beset by vandals. The area has been also used for drag racing and dance parties, yet there have been plans to convert the former base into a recreational area.

And this takes us to this bridge, the Stary zeleznicni most, a former railroad bridge located north of the former airbase. This was discovered by Czech bridgehunter Lara Vajrychová during a recent trip to the area. The structure is approximately 200 meters long and features a combination Lattice and Bailey truss design. The portal bracings are I-beam with bedstead endposts. The connections are for the most part pinned, based on Bailey truss building techniques, yet the top and bottom chords have riveted connections.

It is unknown when the structure was built but we do know that the railroad line served as an important link to the airbase from the north. It could be that the Germans had built this prior to the start of World War II as soon as Czechoslovakia was taken over in 1938. Should this argument be true, then the bridge survived the bombings unscathed, which enabled Soviet and American troops to use the bridge and the rail line to march into Germany in 1945.  By the same token, if the crossing was damaged, it was likely that the Soviets rebuilt the bridge and used it to provide materials and artillery to quash any uprisings, yet that would have happened between the time the country became a communist state in 1948 and the time before the Prague Spring, 20 years later.

And this is where your help is needed here: In your opinion, were the Germans or the Russians responsible for this important crossing that made the now former airbase a key axis point (Stützpunkt) until 1990.  What kind of truss design is this and who was behind ist construction? 

And for that, the forum is open.

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Czechoslovakia was split into Czech Republic and Slovakia through a Velvet Divorce, which happened on January 1, 1993. On January 1, 2021, the Czech Republic was renamed Czechia.

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