For more than a month and a half, the members of the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society "Secrets of the Amber Land" conducted search operations on the territory of the former German airfield in the Kaliningrad Region. Our article is about their research and findings.
“At the end of September, when I was with Kaliningrad local historian Alexander Sokolovsky on the Baltic Spit at the Old Lunette Park and Museum Complex, his staff showed us typographic sorts discovered by local residents in the area of the former German military airbase from World War II. This find interested us,” says the head of the expedition of the Russian Geographical Society "Secrets of the Amber Land" Andrey Ivanov.
Neutief Military Airbase was located on the Frische Nehrung Spit, located across the strait from a Kriegsmarine base, city of Pillau. The airfield was built in 1939 and during the Second World War was considered one of the most modern in Germany. It had two heated runways and a seaplane base and, accordingly, could receive both aircraft with wheeled landing gear and seaplanes, or flying boats, as they were then called. After the end of the war and the annexation of East Prussia to the USSR, the airfield was used by Soviet military aviation until 1995.
“Local residents showed us the place where they found the typographic sorts,” Andrey Ivanov continues. “We conducted a reconnaissance on the ground and confirmed the presence of a large number of sorts in the ground, after which we decided to set up a tent camp on the edge of the surveyed area. We were joined by the military personnel of the Baltic Fleet. They helped with the delivery of equipment and food and ensured the safety of the expedition work.”
Volunteers, including students from the MIREA – Russian Technological University, the Moscow Technical Fire and Rescue College, the Chernyakhovsk College of Agrotechnology and Environmental Management, as well as Kaliningrad State Technical University examined the site of the former German airfield in the harsh conditions of the Baltic autumn, when it is squally, stormy, it snows and rains, and the temperature drops at night sometimes to zero degrees. During the work, sorts with German, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, and English letters of various sizes and styles were found. In addition, typographic stereotypes have been discovered.
“So far, we cannot say for sure which printing house the found letters belonged to. There is a version that they are from Rautenberg Printing House, one of the oldest printing houses in East Prussia," explains Andrey Ivanov. “Emil Rautenberg descended from a family of book printers: his grandfather was also in this trade. When the building of his printing house in Konigsberg was partially destroyed during the bombing, he probably tried to take the surviving letters to the central part of Germany. Rautenberg was captured by Soviet troops at the end of April 1945 on the territory of Neutief Air Base. Perhaps he brought the typographic sorts to the airfield. At that time, the Soviet aviation was doing everything to prevent the departure of Nazi aircraft, and mercilessly bombed it. Most likely, Rautenberg's cargo also was bombed –the sorts are scattered over a fairly large area. After several years of captivity, Rautenberg returned to Germany, where he continued to engage in book printing until his death in 1982.”
To find the small sorts, the volunteers had to sift through a sieve every shovel of the removed soil. It was wet from rain and snow, which made the work extremely difficult. Nevertheless, the expedition participants managed to establish the boundaries of the area where the sorts are scattered and collect them from a significant part of it. With the onset of winter, the camp had to be closed, and it was decided to resume the search work in the next season of the expedition. The researchers are confident that the Baltic Spit still holds many wartime artifacts of historical interest and awaiting their researchers.