Few wartime artefacts are discovered still in their original wrapping paper, but this was the case for one Soviet spy radio, which was found recently by archaeologists in Germany.

The researchers had been digging for the remains of a Roman villa in the Hambach Forest, 32km west of Cologne. The area had been cleared recently for construction of a surface mine.

The Soviet spy radio. The device could transmit and receive messages across extremely long distances. Image: Jürgen Vogel/LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn.

Instead of ancient curios, however, the researchers were surprised to hit on a large metal box, sealed with rubber rings and metal screws. Inside sat modern piece of technology that appears never to have been used.

The radio – a model R-394KM transmitter and receiver – was manufacture in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Codenamed Strizh, meaning ‘swift’, it would have been capable of transmitting and receiving messages over a distance of 430km.

As such, it was possibly carried by Soviet agents in the final years of the Cold War, in order to send messages to cities such as Warsaw, then still part of the Soviet bloc.

The location of its burial is also important. Nearby is the Jülich Nuclear Research Centre, as well as the military base at Nörvenich, where US nuclear missiles were based until 1995.

Remarkably, it appears that the radio was never used: the box hissed with inrushing air when it was opened by archaeologists at the Rhineland Regional Association (LVR).

Although the batteries had long since run down, the device remained otherwise in pristine condition. ‘Everything in the box was carefully encased in wrapping paper – it is a factory-fresh radio,’ said LVR archaeologist Erich Classen.

The model was most likely buried by the Stasi, the East German state security service, in the late 1980s, and either forgotten or deliberately left as a back-up.

Intriguingly, while most models were labelled in Cyrillic, this radio’s controls are in the Roman alphabet, suggesting the intended user was from Western Europe. The wrapping paper in which it was preserved, on the other hand, had text in Russian.


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