Hungary has experienced much instability throughout its history. It was occupied by the Germans during World War II and later the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It sits in the center of Europe, a strategic position for the foreign military forces that have stationed troops there over the years. Tököl Airbase is one such installation to see international occupation over the years.
World War II
Tököl is located in Pest County, Hungary. It’s south of Budapest, the country’s capital, and is home to Tököl Airbase, a largely abandoned military installation.
During WWII, the airbase housed Danubian Aerospace, which produced Messerschmitt Bf 210s and Bf 109s for the Luftwaffe and the Hungarian Air Force. As the war progressed, a Hungarian military unit was stationed at Tököl, tasked with protecting the country’s airspace.
Due to its affiliation with Nazi Germany, Tököl was targeted by Allied forces. On April 13, 1944, the United States Air Force launched an air raid on the airbase, dropping 200 tons of munitions on the airport and its factory. This was the start of a long summer of Allied bombings on the facility.
The Soviet Army captured Tököl Airbase in November 1944. However, they chose not to make use of it until after the war. This meant it largely stayed under Hungarian control, under which a 2,500-meter runway was built. Two years later, it became home to newly-acquired MiG-15 and Yak-18 aircraft.
Unfortunately, the Hungarian Revolution in the fall of 1956 saw the Soviet Union capture the aircraft stationed at Tököl. They also expelled the Hungarian forces, who were not allowed back onto the airbase until 1968. You can learn more about the Soviet bases in Eastern Europe – specifically in Germany – in Carlo R.’s book, Soviet Ghosts in Germany.
The Cold War
Tököl Airbase was seen as a major military asset by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It housed a number of squadrons from the Soviet Army and Air Force, and was an operational hub for helicopters and transport aircraft.
The Soviets built large air shelters in the 1980s to house MiG-29 aircraft. The five shelters were designed to allow an aircraft to start its engines inside in the event of a scramble. Each featured a large exhaust deflector tunnel, bent toward the side, with a metal door that stayed closed when not in use. The front gates were also blast-proof.
When the Cold War came to an end, the last Soviet Air Force unit, 201 Squadron, made its exit in April 1991. Tököl was left in the hands of the Hungarian armed forces, and its Air Force made use of it for several years.
Tököl Airbase today
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tököl Airbase has been largely abandoned. The main hangar used by Danubian Aerospace was demolished and replaced with a Tesco supermarket, meaning the company can’t function as an overhaul center.
In the early 2000s, a plan was introduced that would see the airbase become a location for cheap international travel. However, the proposal was rejected by local councils.
Tököl is now used by private citizens. The government has divided and rented out most of the hardware, including the former aircraft shelters and aprons, to those connected to the aviation industry and not. These individuals are largely limited to using the airfield, meaning the surrounding buildings and service roads have been left to return to nature.
Many of those who rent Tököl’s hangars are small aircraft enthusiasts, including the operator of an Aero L-29 trainer from the Soviet era. Due to complaints from local residents, its runway has been reduced to 1,000 meters, preventing it from being trafficked by larger aircraft.
Tököl Airbase has also made cameos in a handful of films over the years, most notably as Fürstenfeldbruck, Bavaria in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, and as a Chinese prison in Tony Scott’s Spy Game.