Tito's Underground Air Base

Bihac (Zeljava) Underground Yugoslav Air Force Base, 1964-1992

Bojan Dimitrijevic, Milan Micevski

‘Tito's Underground Air Base' is lavishly illustrated with exclusive photographs from numerous archives, museums, and private collections, and a set of authentic colour profiles and diagrams. It is a unique source of reference about one of most fascinating projects related to underground military facilities constructed during the Cold War.
Date Published :
July 2020
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Series :
Illustration :
136 b/w & 8 color photos, 12 color profiles, 7 b/w & 2 color maps, 1 b/w diagram, 6 tables
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781913118679
Pages : 72
Dimensions : 11.75 X 8.25 inches
Stock Status : Available


The air force of Tito’s Yugoslavia has had many different peculiarities - from a unique Cold War position of having operated a mix of US, Soviet, and indigenous aircraft and equipment, to the changeable strategies in case of war.

One such feature was an entire underground air base constructed inside a hill near the town of Bihac, in western Bosnia. ‘The Object’ was the core, the heart, of this air base: it housed four MiG-21 squadrons for nearly 25 years, until the civil war tore Yugoslavia apart.

‘The Object’ was built as the outcome of Yugoslav military efforts to build up its independent defence capabilities, especially the air force which was regarded as the strategic tool in keeping Tito’s Yugoslavia's independence from both Cold War blocks. There were a few other underground shelters built at Yugoslavia’s air bases, but Bihać underground air base remained the only underground facility which was permanently used.

Bihać Air Base was constructed directly on the border between two former federal states of Yugoslavia, now two independent countries: The Republic of Croatia, and The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed, their post-independence border runs between the former taxiways and underground entrances. Nowadays, its ruins are a place of pilgrimage by many aviation and military enthusiasts, and is known as ‘Zeljava’, after a nearby village on the Croatian side.

In its five chapters this book provides an in-depth account of the design and construction of the air base and its ‘underground object’, and a detailed account of the activities of its MiG-21 squadrons and everyday operations in the period between 1968 and 1991. The book concludes with an exhaustive description of combat operations during the final year of the existence of the Bihać Air Base in 1991-1992, under the conditions of the civil war.

Drawing upon exclusive archival sources – many of them classified until very recently – the authors have expanded the emerging story through interviews with dozens of officers and other ranks that served at this ‘underground aircraft carrier’, thus managing to fill the gaps in usage not covered by the documentation.

‘Tito’s Underground Air Base’ is lavishly illustrated with a huge collection of exclusive photographs collected from numerous archives, museums, and private collections, and a set of authentic colour profiles and diagrams. It is a unique source of reference about one of most fascinating projects related to underground military facilities constructed during the Cold War.

About The Author

Bojan Dimitrijevic is working as a historian and is Deputy Director of the Institute for Contemporary History, Belgrade, Serbia. Educated at the Universities of Belgrade and Novi Sad, CEU Budapest and the University of Bradford, he has also worked as the custodian of the Yugoslav Aviation Museum. During the period 2003-2009, Dimitrijevic served as advisor to the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the President of Serbia, and as Assistant to the Minister of Defense. He has published over 50 different books and more than 100 scientific articles in Serbia and abroad. His professional interest is in the military history of the former Yugoslavia and Balkans in World War Two, the Cold War as well as wars in the 1990s.

Milan Micevski is an entrepreneur from Belgrade, he has been exploring archives and collecting data on aviation history for more than three decades. He is considered one of the leading experts in the field of the Yugoslav Air Force as well as Soviet Aviation in former Yugoslavia. With Bojan Dimitrijević, he has so far co-authored seven books on different aspects of Yugoslav Air Force history, and has worked with other authors two other volumes. This is his first instalment for Helion.


‘’Lots of archive images throughout, many from personal collections of those who were based there, and who also contribute their memories of the period. Once a showcase for Tito's government while remaining a highly 'secret' facility, there is something fascinating about such a bold design for an underground base that was so large. Designed with one entrance plus 4 exits, this is interesting reading for any aviation enthusiast with reference to the Cold War period.’’

- Military Model Scene

"The level of detail is staggering, including accounts from those involved at the very start. […] This book is of special interest to each of them [military personnel] as well as to aviation buffs. Highly recommended."

- Miniature Wargames

Well-presented and well-illustrated [ …] Simply fascinating. 4/5.

- Aeroplane

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