Welcome to DECODED, a blog site for those interested in the period of history between the end of the Second World War and the final reunification of Berlin, Germany. This site is maintained by a Cold War history enthusiast, for other Cold War history enthusiasts and will be a source of information from both sides of the Cold War for history enthusiasts, political science fans, researchers, military history collectors and military veterans alike. Please visit the site regularly for updates. This site by no means is to represent or endorse any political agenda or ideology, information contained within is strictly used for the purpose of education and preservation of history for future generations. Thank you for visiting my blog, and welcome to the brink...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Wings of the Crown: The Royal Air Force Germany (RAFG)

The Royal Air Force in Germany or RAFG was a command of the Royal Air Force stationed in West Germany throughout the Cold War.  It consisted primarily of those units located in western Germany following the end of hostilities of the Second World War. The RAF in Germany was continually adapted, upgraded and transitioned later to become part of the RAF's growing commitment to the defense of Europe from communist expansion during the Cold War.

RAF Germany units participated in numerous Cold War engagements particular Operation Vittles known in the United Kingdom as Operation Plainfare, the resupply of West Berlin by air following the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948. Part of the success of this operation was the ability for RAF aircraft to be supplimented by aircraft flying directly from the British Isles. The RAF utilized its fleet of transport aircraft along with flying boats to assist in the massive resupply effort which finally ended on 12 May 1949 when the Soviet forces lifted the blockade. 40 British service members and eight RAF aircraft were lost during the duration of Operation Plainfare.

The command itself  was officially formed on 1 January 1959 by renaming the Royal Air Force's Second Tactical Air Force or 2TAF. It operated from numerous airfields and airbases across the former British zone of Occupation in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westfalia. Various fighter, reconnaissance, strike and transport aircraft  as well as their units saw service in West Germany throughout the Cold War prepared to defend against a Soviet or Warsaw Pact attack. RAF Germany also maintained a number of tactical nuclear weapons for deployment from strike aircraft at installations such as RAF Brüggen near Elmpt.

From 1954, Canberra bombers equipped six Royal Air Force Squadrons and flew primarily out of RAF Gütersloh. This realignment of forces was partially due to the overcrowding of suitable aviation facilities in the United Kingdom by not only Royal Air Force units but also their American counterparts. The Canberra bombers would later be removed from West Germany with the arrival of nuclear capable bomber aircraft thus providing the British nuclear contingent to NATO's massive retaliation doctrine in western Europe.

1955 saw a realignment of British forces in West Germany and many air bases were turned over to the newly formed West German Luftwaffe. Following the conclusion of the Suez Crisis in 1956, RAFG squadrons were reduced this was partially split between financial concerns and the growing nuclear deterrence in western Europe. The core of the Royal Air Force Germany contingent were with units assigned six Royal Air Force stations in West Germany:

  • RAF Bruggen
  • RAF Geilenkirchen
  • RAF Gütersloh
  • RAF Jever
  • RAF Laarbruch
  • RAF Wildenrath

Following policy review, after 1960 two Canberra bombers with their night fighting ability were equipped with tactical nuclear weapons and placed on alert prepared to be airborne within and headed into Warsaw Pact airspace within 15 minutes of receiving their initial alert. 1965 saw the arrival of one of the Royal Air Force's most capable interceptors the English Electric Lightning. These fighters would equip two squadrons No. 92 Squadron and No. 19 Squadron. 

1961 saw the closure of RAF Jever and RAF Geilenkirchen which were subsequently turned over to Luftwaffe control and remaining RAf units were relocated to RAF Laarbruch and RAF Gütersloh. British capabilities were increased greatly in the late 1970s with the introduction of the SEPECAT Jaguar and the Hawker Siddeley Harrier. Both aircraft would be utilized in the close support role in support of Army ground forces in the event that Warsaw Pact forces invaded West Germany. Able to operate from uimproved surfaces across Germany, the Harrier with its vertical take off and landing capability was a formidable weapon. This allowed the RAF to disperse its forces from vulnerable air bases. RAF Strike units would operate from camouflaged rough bases in West Germany and positioned to launch strikes against advancing Soviet armored columns approaching from East Germany.

The RAFG's air superiority capabilities were also enhanced in the mid 1980s when the English Electric Lightning was withdrawn and RAF fighter units were equipped with the variable geometry swing winged Panavia Tornado fighter aircraft.

The strength of Royal Air Force Germany like its American counterparts greatly fluctuated depending on the commitments of the time. Elements of RAFG were withdrawn from Europe and went to support military operations during Operation Corporate, the war against Argentina in the Falkland Islands.

RAF Stations in West Germany:

  • RAF Ahlhorn
  • RAF Bad Kolgrub
  • RAF Barrel Mountain 
  • RAF Blankensee
  • RAF Bruggen
  • RAF Bückeburg
  • RAF Butzweilerhof
  • RAF Celle
  • RAF Fassberg
  • RAF Fuhlsbüttel
  • RAF Gatow 
  • RAF Geilenkirchen
  • RAF Goch
  • RAF Gütersloh
  • RAF Hambühren
  • RAF Hehn
  • RAF Hustedt
  • RAF Husum
  • RAF Jever
  • RAF Laarbruch
  • RAF Lübeck
  • RAF Lüneburg
  • RAF Nordhorn .
  • RAF Nörvenich
  • RAF Oldenburg
  • RAF Plantlünne
  • RAF Rheindahlen
  • RAF Schleswigland
  • RAF Sundern
  • RAF Sylt
  • RAF Uetersen
  • RAF Wahn
  • RAF Hospital Wegberg
  • RAF Wildenrath
  • RAF Winterberg
  • RAF Wunstorf

Rhineland Warriors: The British Army of the Rhine (BAOR)

The British Army of the Rhine commonly referred to as BAOR was the main element of the British Army based in West Germany from the end of the Second World War up until 1994 when all military forces exited Berlin. It was tasked with being prepared to counter aggressive operations by Soviet and Warsaw Pact armored forces. At the end of the Second World War the British Army was drastically reduced in manpower to such an extent that the former British Rhine Army consisted of only two divisions, the 7th Armoured Division and the 2nd Infantry Division. These were based in various former Wehrmacht garrison barracks located across the Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westfalia regions of western Germany.

These two divisions were reinforced first by the 11th Armoured Division in 1950 and was soon followed by the 6th Armoured Division in 1952. Together they formed I British Corps, which was the British contribution to NATO and was also subordinate to NORTHAG or NATO's Northern Army Group. Throughout the Cold War and the subsequent collapse of the Iron Curtain, the four Divisions of BAOR were continually reduced, restructured, modernized and reequipped with new weaponry and equipment.

The BAOR force consisted of three main elements:

  1. The main force of I (BR) Corps which had its headquarters at Bielefeld.
  2. The British Rear Combat Zone headquartered in Dusseldorf, responsible for the resupply of the fighting formations.
  3. The British Communications Zone headquarters at Emblem, Belgium which was tasked to receive reinforcements from Great Britain and to coordinate their onward deployment to I (BR) Corps.

The fourth and final contribution to BOAR was the Berlin Infantry Brigade, which was a 3,000 strong force which although part of the British forces was not subordinated to NORTHAG. The Berlin Infantry Brigade fell under the control of a separate entity the Allied Control Council in Berlin.

The manpower strength of the BAOR fluctuated greatly throughout its existence ranging anywhere between sixty to twenty-five thousand troops. The troops of the British Rhine Army were commanded by a four-star general from the BAOR Headquarters at Rheindahlen, which also housed the headquarters of RAF Germany, NORTHAG and 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force.

I BR Corps consisted of Corps troops and four divisions. The 2nd Infantry Division was one of these divisions and was stationed at Catterick, ready to deploy upon a moment’s notice. The 24 Airmobile Brigade also belonged to this division. It was a fully air portable brigade capable of being transported by helicopter along with all its equipment. The main task of the three infantry battalions of this Brigade was anti-armor operations and they were equipped with the capable Milan anti-tank weapons system.

Two other brigades consisted of Territorial Army units maintaining highly trained and motivated personnel, with their senior ranks including many ex-regulars. The three other divisions were armored divisions and with the Corps troops, they were stationed in twenty areas across Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westfalia. The divisions had three brigades each, differing in strengths and capability ranging from armor, infantry, artillery, engineers, Long range reconnaissance, signals, pioneer and artillery regiments formed from divisional troops. Each division could call on air support from an Army Air Corps Regiment equipped with Gazelle observation and Lynx multi-purpose helicopters.

BAOR participated constantly in various exercises such as the REFORGER or Return of Forces to Germany alongside the United States and other NATO armies to ensure its readiness in time of a crisis. The units of the Territorial Army also carried out exercises across West Germany, with the battalion and brigade scale exercises carried out in joint NATO training areas. Live fire exercises at battle-group level were carried out in Canada at the BATUS training area, to enable a three-day exercises without having to use the same terrain twice.

The Challenger main battle tank was the British Army of the Rhine's tank of choice in planning the massive defensive operations against Soviet and Warsaw Pact armored forces in Germany.
Elements of the BAOR were regularly deployed to operate under UN command as part of BATT and UN peacekeeping operations and they also took part in regular deployments to Northern Ireland for tours of three or six months.

In the event that war had broken out, the BAOR would have come under NATO command. BAOR as 1 (BR) Corps would defend a sector of the North German Plain as part of Armed Forces Central Europe. BAOR forms part of Northern Army Group as part of AF CENT and NORTHAG and would be partnered by the Central Army Group. NORTHAG's operational area extended from Hamburg down to Kassel and from the Netherlands border to the Inner German border with communist East Germany.

In NORTHAG, BAOR was flanked by 1 Netherlands Corps to the far north, 1 German Corps to the immediate north, and 1 Belgium Corps in the southern most position. The 1 British Corps area extended from a line just north of Hanover down to a line just north of Kassel, and extended from the inner German border to a line just west of Soest but the BAOR boundary itself extended right back to Antwerp in Belgium. In the event of war, BAOR would become British Support Command, which would supply 1 British Corps and guard the rear areas.

It was planned that if the area of responsibility of I (BR) Corps came under threat the Corps would fight with two of its respective armored divisions forward deployed with one remaining in reserve. The 2nd Infantry Division, after its arrival, would defend vital military targets in the Corps rear and the 24 Airmobile Brigade would be ready to guard against any rapid enemy armored thrust which might develop.

As well as the members of the Armed Forces, there was also a significant British civilian presence in Germany with spouses and families living in dozens of small British townships, their streets named after members of the Royal family and they were sprawled across the northern plains and the fringes of the Ruhr Valley. Shopping complexes offered reminders of home such as marmalade, Bovril and tea bags and olive-painted military buses took army dependents to schools where Germany and its history were barely mentioned.

Within their towns and villages, the British forces had their own cinemas, bingo nights, pantomimes, hospitals, clothes shops, postal service and radio station. They were not as isolated as their Soviet counterparts in East Germany and many Anglo-German marriages occurred. It was not uncommon for British soldiers and their families to spend three years in Germany without learning more than four phrases of the language. There was little friction between the two communities except for the steady protests of locals against the noisy, low-flying British jets.

Following the collapse of the Iron Curtain and subsequent reunification of Germany, BAOR was officially disbanded on 28 October 1994 with the Prince of Wales paying final tribute to the Army. As a parade of soldiers from the Queen's Dragoon Guards alongside the Devonshire and Dorset Regiments lifted their caps and roared three cheers for the Prince as he took the last salute from the troops. The Prince said proudly:

"The momentous events in Russia, Central Europe and Germany have brought changes for all of us in Western Europe, almost all for the better. Here today we draw together one of the consequences of these events with the disbandment of the British Army of the Rhine."

Global Reach: The United States Air Force Europe (USAFE)

Since the defeat of Germany on 7 May 1945 the United States military has maintained numerous air bases across western Germany initially beginning as postwar occupation forces. During the Cold War period, the number of bases was expanded as commitments increased in support of the NATO alliance.

At the end of the Second World War, the United States Army Air Force bases in the U.S. Zone of Occupation in Germany were selected at a time when there were no requirements for tactical or defensive planning. Army Air Force planners simply selected suitable facilities which were left intact from the air campaign during the war. Many of these facilities were former Luftwaffe bases in the American occupation territory which were in turn repaired and used for accommodating increasing transport and occupation duties.

The initial airbases and units in the American Occupation Zone in 1947 at the time of establishment of the separate United States Air Force were:

  • Erding also known as Fliegerhorst Air Depot home of the 7485th Air Depot Group
  • Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base home to the 36th Fighter Group
  • Landsberg Air Base home of the 7280th Air Base Group
  • Kaufbeuren Air Base home of the 7320th Air Force Group
  • Neubiberg Air Base home of the 33rd Fighter Group
  • Frankfurt am Main Airport home of the 469th Air Base Group
  • Tempelhof Airport in the American Zone Berlin home of the 7350th Air Base Group

With the exception of Frankfurt am Main Airport and Tempelhof Central Airport, these bases were all located across southern Bavaria.

With the Berlin Blockade and the rapid chilling of relations with the Soviet Union by mid 1948 it became obvious to USAF planners that these bases were tactically unsuitable due to their close proximity to the East German and Czechoslovakian borders. A surprise attack on West Germany would leave these facilities in the direct path of advancing Warsaw Pact forces.

With the creation of NATO in response to Cold War tensions in Europe, United States Air Force Europe wanted its vulnerable fighter units in West Germany relocated west of the Rhine River to provide greater air defense warning time. France quickly agreed to provide air base sites within their zone of occupation in the Rheinland-Palatinate as part of the NATO expansion program. These new sites would all be positioned fifty miles or more west of the Rhein River and most were positioned on rolling hilltops in rural settings.

Land acquisition in the Rheinland-Palatinate region was rapid, and during 1951 construction began on six new air bases. These bases were not funded by NATO, but by USAF funds partially offset by German war reparation payments. Construction was performed primarily by West German contractors as a result completion was on time and the quality of these new facilities were high. Bases at Pferdsfeld and Zweibrücken were built with USAF funds, but were ironically assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1952.

In 1968 the RCAF moved its forces south to Lahr and Söllingen in Baden-Württemberg and facilities such as Pferdsfeld Air Base were turned over to the West German Luftwaffe, and Zweibrücken Air Base was returned to United States Air Force Europe command.

Major USAFE Air Bases and units in West Germany during the Cold War were:

  • Rhein-Main Air Base home of the 469th Air Base Group
  • Sembach Air Base home of the 601st Tactical Air Control Wing
  • Hahn Air Base home to the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing
  • Bitburg Air Base home of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing
  • Ramstein Air Base home of the 86th Tactical Fighter Wing
  • Spangdahlem Air Base home of the 52rd Tactical Fighter Wing
  •  Tempelhof Central Airport in West Berlin home of the 7350th Air Base Group
  •  Wiesbaden Air Base home of the 7100 Air Base Group
  •  Zweibrücken Air Base home of the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing

HQ USAFE was at Wiesbaden Air Base until 1973, when it was then relocated to Ramstein Air Base. Wiesbaden Air Base was turned over to the Army in 1975 in exchange for Army facilities in the Ramstein-Kaiserslautern area. The USAF, however, remained at Lindsey Air Station in Wiesbaden until 1993.

These bases served the USAF well for over 40 years, keeping the peace in Western Europe.

The Eyes & Ears of Democracy: The United States Army in Europe (USAREUR)

Plans for the United States Army to organize its forces in Germany began early on during the middle of the Second World War. On 8 June 1942 the War Department officially established the European Theater of Operations United States Army. This group’s mission was to conduct planning for the eventual retaking of Europe from Nazi control and to exercise operational control over all U.S. forces in Europe. Its headquarters has its roots in Europe in January of 1942, when American soldiers opened a command post located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fittingly, those first arrivals were the advance party that would later become the Headquarters units of V Corps which even still remains the centerpiece of USAREURs combat forces.

Headquartered in London, European Theater of Operations United States Army’s first commander was Major General James E. Chaney, an experienced Army Air Corps officer. At the time Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower who would eventually become Supreme Commander of Allied Forces Europe would replace MG Chaney in late June, but in July he departed England to assume new duties as the commander-in-chief of the allied forces in Operation Torch. Operation Torch was the successful Allied invasion of North Africa in the wake of fighting to retake the northern part of the continent from Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Eisenhower would return to England later in January 1944 and the following month he was officially appointed the position of the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He also maintained his leadership of European Theater of Operations United States Army, serving in a dual role until the end of hostilities with the German capitulation in May 1945.

European Theater of Operations United States Army expanded rapidly with more men and equipment being added under its authority. At the end of January 1942 there were 4,000 American soldiers stationed in the United Kingdom, this number would grow to 55,000 soldiers by the time the command was established in June, and by the end of the year 135,000 Americans were assigned to Great Britain to train for the assault on the continent that would take place two years later on the beaches of Normandy, France. When the invasion codenamed Operation Overlord was launched on 6 June 1944, more than 1.5 million United States Army personnel were available to land in France. In addition to overseeing the buildup and training of combat forces, European Theater of Operations United States Army was also responsible for logistics and administrative services, these functions would be inherited by United States Army Europe in today.

By the time of the German capitulation on 8 May 1945, the European Theater of Operations United States Army headquarters was transferred to Versailles, France just outside of Paris. With the war over, General Eisenhower and his support staff began to make preparations for the occupation of the defeated Germany. Plans were made and the headquarters staff was soon relocated to Frankfurt, Germany and situated along with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces and the Office of Military Government, United States. The command was soon redesignated as United States Forces, European Theater on 1 July 1945, with its headquarters remaining in Frankfurt.

Now in a state of peace in the postwar years, the total United States Army strength in Europe was numbered at nearly 1.9 million soldiers: organized into two Army groups, the 6th and 12th, complete with four field armies, the First, Third, Seventh, and Ninth, 13 Corps headquarters, and nearly 62 combat ready divisions of 3 infantry, 16 armor, and 3 airborne. The year 1946 brought about a rapid restructiuring of forces which brought the occupation forces available for occupation duties in the German territory was  down to fewer than 290,000 personnel. Many of the larger combat formations departed elsewhere or were inactivated. The United States Seventh Army headquarters would remain in control of the western portion of the American zone of occupation, and the Third Army controlled the eastern portion. Back in November 1945, the two field army commanders in Germany had organized district "constabularies" based on cavalry units, and on 1 May 1946, the United States Constabulary headquarters in the American zone was activated at Bamberg. From the establishment of the Constabulary headquarters in 1946 up until the early 1950s the structure of the American occupation forces revolved primarily around the 1st Infantry Division, a separate infantry regiment, and the U.S. Constabulary of 10 cavalry regiments.

On 15 March 1947, United States Forces European Theater was reorganized as the European Command (not to be confused with the present joint command, USEUCOM), and between February and June 1948 the headquarters of European Command was relocated to Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, where it remains in the present day.

Tensions heightened in the postwar years when the Soviet forces in eastern Germany initiated the Berlin Blockade on 24 June 1948. The Soviet Union mobilized its military forces to install a blockade tasked with blocking the Western Allies' railway and land access to the sectors of West Berlin under Allied control. The theory was to effectively cut off the flow of supplies to West Berlin and force the western Allies out of Berlin completely. Outnumbered by odds of roughly 50-1, the Allied forces in West Berlin began to formulate plans to defy the Soviet forces. General Lucius D. Clay, the commander in charge of the United States’ Occupation Zone in West Germany, gave the order to initiate the aerial resupply of beleaguered West Berlin in an operation that would become the Berlin Airlift. The humanitarian effort codenamed Operation Vittles was headquartered out of Wiesbaden Army Airfield in Wiesbaden. Throughout the duration of the operation, the Allies delivered almost 9,000 tons per day of supplies including food, fuel and medicine amongst other necessities to the beleaguered city until the Soviets relented and the blockade was finally lifted on 12 May 1949. 31 American personnel were killed and 17 aircraft were lost during the resupply operation.

From 1948 to 1950 the Cold War began to heat up and by the outbreak of hostilities in Korea when communist forces in North Korea invaded the South. This event heightened East-West tensions further in Europe. The Seventh Army which had been lying in inactive status was effectively reactivated at Stuttgart in November of 1950 and the V and VII Corps headquarters were established soon after. Four divisions were alerted for transition to Europe from the United States. The first to arrive in Europe were elements of the 4th Infantry Division in May of 1951, followed soon after by the 2nd Armored Division and the 43rd and 28th Infantry Divisions during summer and fall of 1951.

A new joint United States European Command known as USEUCOM for short was established in Frankfurt, West Germany on 1 August 1952. On that day, the Army headquarters located in Heidelberg that was formerly known as EUCOM effectively became Headquarters, United States Army Europe.

With the cease of hostilities on the Korean peninsula in 1953, and the signing of the Korean War Armistice tensions began to ease somewhat in Europe. There were about 13,500 soldiers assigned to each of the corresponding USAREUR divisions. New equipment fielded at the time included the latest tanks such as the M-48 Patton tank, the M-59 family of armored personnel carriers and tactical nuclear weapons. On 15 July 1958 USAREUR forces were deployed to assist the Lebanese government. The contingent known as Task Force 201 was the Army component of Operation Blue Bat. USAREUR rapidly deployed more than 8,000 Soldiers from Europe to Beirut by air and sea. The situation in the Middle East improved subsequently and forces were redeployed to Europe within a spectrum of only four months.

Although the open East-West conflict had ended, political tensions remained high in Europe. Particularly troublesome was the friction between the Federal Republic of Germany known as West Germany, the former British, French and U.S. zones of occupation and the German Democratic Republic known as East Germany, the former Soviet zone of occupation. Berlin posed an additional problem in itself; as it was surrounded by the territorial integrity of East Germany, but Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union all occupied sectors in the city. Up until the 1960s, travel between the corresponding sectors of Berlin was unrestricted and unregulated. By the time Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev announced in June 1961 that the Soviet Union was planning to conclude a peace treaty with the East German government almost 3,000 East German refugees fled into West Berlin from the East daily.

Overnight on 12 August 1961, the East German government and their Soviet supporters closed the border crossing points into West Berlin and construction began on the long standing symbol of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall. The construction of the Wall effectively isolated the three western sectors of the city both from East Germany and its neighbor the Soviet sector of East Berlin. This made West Berlin an enclave of democracy deep within the communist sphere of influence and soldiers of the United States Army Berlin Brigade held the unique distinction of being positioned deep behind enemy lines.

In response to the construction of the Wall, the United States deployed an additional armored cavalry regiment to Europe, along with additional support units. USAREUR strength reached a high of almost 277,342 soldiers in June 1962 as the crisis in Berlin deepened. The Army command dispatched a reinforced infantry battle group to West Berlin to strengthen the existing garrison in place.

The crisis cooled in Berlin from 1962 to 1963, and augmenting forces that were sent in response to the increasing crisis were redeployed to the United States. Because of the situation in Berlin, a period of equipment modernization programs began and new equipment was fielded in Europe. Some of the new introductions to troops in West Germany included the M-113 series armored personnel carrier, the M-14 rifle, the M-60 machine gun, the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk fixed wing observation aircraft, the Bell UH-1B Iroquois helicopter, the M-151 Military Utility Tactical Truck, and the M-60 Main Battle Tank.

On 1 December 1966, the separate headquarters of Seventh Army was disbanded, and USAREUR became Headquarters, United States Army Europe and Seventh Army. At the same time, due to disagreements of force projection France withdrew its forces from the military structure of NATO, and American forces were ordered to leave France. The communications zone headquarters was relocated from Orleans, France, to Worms, West Germany, and later to Kaiserslautern, where as 21st Theater Support Command it remains today. USEUCOM itself was moved to Stuttgart.

The first Redeployment of Forces from Germany took place in 1968, with the removal of about 28,000 military personnel from Germany. The units and personnel withdrawn remained committed to NATO and during REFORGER I the first ‘Return of Forces to Germany’ military exercise was conducted in January 1969, more than 12,000 soldiers were redeployed to Germany for the exercise using pre-positioned equipment. The REFORGER exercises would continue in subsequent years until the late 1990s.

The 1970s saw USAREUR continuing to improve its firepower and combat capabilities when its forces received the new M-16A1 assault rifle, the BGM-71 TOW wire guided anti-tank weapon, the Bell OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter, and the Bell AH-1G Huey Cobra attack helicopter.

The needs of the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and into the 1970s saw a reduction of USAREUR's assigned personnel strength, sometimes drastically. As the war began to wane, and U.S. commitments in Southeast Asia were lessened forces began to be redeployed to Europe, and USAREUR adopted a new doctrine based upon the community commander concept. In 1974, efforts to streamline the headquarters resulted in the deactivation of the United States Theater Army Support Command, and its replacement by a smaller organization, the 21st Theater Army Area Command which would be known as the 21st TSC.

During the 1970s, force protection concerns grew as the threat of international terrorism began to appear across Europe. Palestinian groups brazenly conducted terror operations in Europe, such as the kidnapping of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics, and the Baader-Meinhof gang and Red Brigades (often funded and equipped by East German sources) targeted American facilities and personnel with coordinated bombings, kidnapping and assassinations. In May 1972 bombs exploded at V Corps headquarters in Frankfurt, killing an Army lieutenant colonel, and in nearby Heidelberg at Campbell Barracks, killing three Soldiers. American installations were attacked sporadically throughout the remainder of the decade, including a failed 1977 attack on the United States Army post in Giessen. On 15 September 1982 an assassination attempt was made on the USAREUR commander General Frederick J. Kroesen and his wife as they were driving through Heidelberg. The attack failed when the automobile trunk lid deflected the RPG-7 anti-tank projectile fired at the vehicle. Incidents continued and in 1985, a soldier was lured out of a Wiesbaden nightclub and murdered for his ID card which was then used to enter Rhein-Main Air Base the following day to plant a bomb that would kill two. In 1986 a bombing at a West Berlin disco frequented by American service members killed two Soldiers although this was later tied to terrorist sponsors in Libya leading up to the military response against Libya, Operation El Dorado Canyon.

With increased combat and support components emplaced in West Germany, the command undertook a wide-ranging modernization in the decade of the 1980s. More than 400 new systems were introduced to American forces, including individual weapons, the transition of field rations from C Rations to the new Meal Ready to Eat or MRE, the M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank, the M2 and M3 Bradley series Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System known as MLRS, the MIM-104 Patriot air defense system, the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter and the McDonnell Douglas AH-64A Apache attack helicopter.

In Defense of the Republic: The Grenztruppen der DDR

The Grenztruppen der DDR or Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic were a military force of East Germany tasked with guarding the Berlin Wall and the border areas between East and West Germany. The Border Troops numbered at their peak approximately 47,000 troops. Other than the Soviet Union, no other Warsaw Pact country had such a large border guard force. Its main mission was to prevent East German citizens and government officials, including military personnel from escaping from East Germany. Its secondary role was to serve as part of the primary line of assault forces in the event of an attack from the West.

The Grenztruppen often nicknamed 'Grenzers' by allied forces in the west, were responsible for many deaths along the Berlin Wall and frontier areas as well as suffering from numerous casualties of their own in the line of duty.

By December 1945 within six months of the end of the Second World War each of the five states in the Soviet zone of occupation had a central police force. This mobilization of police forces was seen as a clear violation of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements. In early January of 1946, the term Volkspolizei or the People's Police was applied publicly to the new police forces in eastern Germany, and in August of the same year these forces were placed under the central control of the newly created German Administration of the Interior commanded by Erich Reschke. In November 1946, the Sowjetische Militäradministration in Deutschland (SMAD), the Soviet Military Administration in Germany directed the organization of the Deutsche Grenzpolizei, the German Border Police actually formed on 1 December 1946. The initial 3,000 recruits were organized and trained from Volkspolizei resources and by April 1948 the branch numbered 10,000 strong, the total reaching 18,000 soldiers by 1950. The Grenzpolizei were armed and organized along the lines of a police force and were subordinate to the Main Administration of the Border Police and Alert Units of the German Administration of the Interior. Eventually, the East German regime demanded a reorganization of the force along military lines, similar to their Soviet counterparts, the USSR Border Troops. In 1961, the Grenzpolizei were reorganized and renamed as the Grenztruppen der DDR, the Border Troops of the German Democratic Republic. As part of the reorganization, the Grenztruppen der DDR was moved from the control of the East German Ministry of the Interior to the control of the Ministry of National Defense. Although the Border Troops were originally part of the Nationale Volksarmee, in 1973 they were separated from NVA control and reported thereafter directly to the Ministry of National Defense.

While they wore standard NVA uniforms, members of the Grenztruppen had their own dark green branch of service color, and their service and dress uniforms bore a green cuff title with white lettering reading 'Grenztruppen der DDR'  on the left arm. From 1973 onward service in the Grenztruppen der DDR was voluntary. No draftees involuntarily served in its ranks after 1973 as opposed to the mandatory service obligations of the Nationale Volksarmee. In contrast to the massive efforts along the borders with the West, there were only about 600 members of the Grenztruppen assigned to guard East Germany’s borders with neighboring Czechoslovakia and Poland. On 1 July 1990, the border control regime along the borders with West Germany and West Berlin were effectively ended. In September 1990 shortly before the reunification of Germany, the Grenztruppen der DDR was disbanded and its border patrol duties along united Germany's eastern frontiers were assumed by the former West German Bundesgrenzschutz.

For most visitors to East Berlin and East Germany, including persons who utilized the land transit routes both roadways and railways between West Germany and West Berlin, their exposure to the Grenztruppen der DDR consisted of dealing with the members of the Pass and Control Units known officially as the Paß- und Kontrolleinheiten. They processed travelers passing through East Germany's Grenzübergangsstellen the numerous border crossing points. Although they wore Grenztruppen uniforms, the members of the Paß- und Kontrolleinheiten were essentially members of the 6th Main Department of Hauptabteilung VI assigned to the East German Ministry of State Security officially known as the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit der DDR or more notably the ‘Stasi’.

The units of the Grenztruppen der DDR were essentially organized in the same manner as ordinary Landstreitkräfte der NVA units.

The Grenztruppen der DDR was organized as such:

  • The headquarters of the Grenztruppen der DDR was located at Pätz, a small village southeast of Berlin in the present-day state of Brandenburg, near Königswusterhausen.
  • The Grenzkommando Nord or Border Command North was headquarters at Stendal in the present-day state of Saxony-Anhalt. It was responsible for the northern sector of the East German border. The GKN consisted of six frontier troop regiments, two training regiments, a helicopter flight and several smaller support units.
  • The Grenzkommando Süd or Border Command South was headquarters at Erfurt. It guarded the southern border sector of East Germany. The organizational structure of the GKS was similar to that of the GKN, with six frontier troop regiments, two training regiments, a helicopter flight and several smaller support units.
  • The Grenzkommando Mitte or Border Command Center was headquarters at Berlin-Karlshorst. This unit manned the crossing points into West Berlin and guarded the entire border perimeter surrounding West Berlin. The GKM consisted of six frontier troop regiments, one border crossing point regiment, two training regiments, an artillery regiment and several smaller support units.
  • The Grenzkommando Küste or Coastal Border Command was headquarters at Rostock. It deployed a coastal brigade known as the Grenzbrigade Küste consisting of twelve marine battalions and several maritime battalions and companies to guard East Germany's relatively small coastline along the Baltic Sea. For command and control purposes, the GKK was incorporated into the East German Volksmarine.

In accordance with a June 1989 decision of East Germany’s National Defense Council, the Grenztruppen der DDR were extensively reorganized by 30 November 1989. By 1989, the Grenztruppen der DDR had 44,000 soldiers under arms, a dramatic shift in personnel strength which saw the Grenztruppen reduced by approximately 17 percent. This reduction also changed the number of headquarters units from 50 to 24.

In the place of the previous command structure, six border district commands known as Grenzbezirkskommandos, 16 border county commands or Grenzkreiskommandos and two border training centers or Grenzausbildungszentren were established. The Grenzbezirkskommandos reported directly to the national headquarters.

The two training centers reported directly to the national headquarters, along with the training schools for Grenztruppen officers, officer candidates and non commissioned officers

Upon reunification the Grenztruppen der DDR fell to the control of the Bundeswehr. The Grenztruppen’s numbers were rapidly reduced. Half of its personnel were dismissed within five months of the opening of the border with West Germany. The border itself was transitionally unmanned and the Grenztruppen der DDR was officially deactivated on 1 July 1990. All but 2,000 personnel were dismissed or transferred to other jobs in varying other agencies. The Bundeswehr gave the remaining members of the Grenztruppen and other former Nationale Volksarmee soldiers the task of clearing the border fortifications, which would not be completed until 1994 a testimony to the extensive measures taken by the East German government to prevent defection into the West. The scale of the task was immense, as not only did the fortifications have to be cleared but hundreds of roads and railway lines had to be rebuilt.

Grenztruppen regiments were trained similar to regular infantry of the Landstreitkräfte, but were much more lightly equipped than comparable Landstreitkräfte infantry formations, with the heaviest weapon being the RPG-7 grenade launcher. To increase their capability to search for persons attempting to flee from East Germany into the West, most units employed German Shepherd dogs. Each regiment consisted of around 1,500 men divided into three battalions of four companies each. These regiments also had a subordinate anti-tank battery, a mortar battery and an engineer company. The units comprising of the Grenzkommando Mitte were mechanized equipped with PSzH-IV and FUG armored vehicles.

Training for Grenztruppen soldiers was provided by four training regiments. After the reorganization of 30 November 1989, the four regiments were consolidated into two training centers. Training for noncommissioned officers was held at the Unteroffiziersschule der Grenztruppen der DDR ‘Egon Schultz’ located in Perleberg. Training for dog handlers was conducted in Wilhelmshorst. Grenztruppen officers and officer candidates were trained at the Offiziershochschule der Grenztruppen der DDR ‘Rosa Luxemburg’ in Suhl. This school had been previously located in Plauen.

Undoubtedly the most controversial aspect surrounding the Grenztruppen der DDR concerns those who were killed or wounded while attempting to flee East Germany into the West. Even today, the topic of the "shoot-to-kill order" known officially as Schießbefehl is quite sensitive in Germany, both East and West. According to information released by the " Arbeitsgemeinschaft 13. August e.V. on 13 August 2004, 1065 persons were known to have been killed along East Germany's frontiers and coastline, including 37 Grenztruppen soldiers killed during escape attempts into the West. Many more were wounded or maimed.

The Berlin Public Prosecution Department estimates that about 270 'proven' deaths on the border were due to acts of violence by East German border security guards, including deaths caused by mines and automatic firing devices. However, the Central Assessment Group for Governmental and Organized Crimes, which existed from 1991 to 2000 as a branch of the Berlin Police, registered 421 suspected cases of killings by armed members of the Grenztruppen.

To encourage the troops to carry out their duties, the East German government gave distinctions including extra liberty and premiums to a soldier who had used his gun in earnest at the border. In the event he had killed a refugee attempting to flee into the West, he received a gold watch, but was also transferred to another unit to avoid bullying from others in his unit.

There were 29 confirmed in the line of duty deaths of Grenztruppen agents. The first three deaths occurred at the time of Soviet occupation zone. After the founding of the German Democratic Republic in October 1949 until its end in 1990 there were a further 26 border policemen and border soldiers that were killed. Of these 29 deaths, 20 were killed along the inner-German border, eight were killed in Berlin at the Wall and one was killed on the border with Czechoslovakia. A firm prediction on the individual perpetrators and their motives is not possible for determination in all cases. The perpetrators were from the following classes of persons:

  • Deserters of the Grenztruppen, Volkspolizei , Nationale Volksarmee (or their predecessor organizations) and members the Soviet Armed Forces
  • Other East Germans attempting to defect into the West
  • Citizens of West Berlin and West Germany (generally while serving as escape helpers)
  • Members of the West German Bundesgrenzschutz, the West Berlin Police and the United States Army in the line of duty

The Grenztruppen also maintained its own Air Patrol tasked with assisting Grenztruppen ground units with air support, especially airborne surveillance. The approximate size of the unit is unknown but its personnel wore the same uniform as standard Grenztruppen personnel but were distinguished by the wear of green Air Force style collar tabs.

A Navy of the People: The Volksmarine

The Volksmarine or People's Navy was the official designation of the maritime forces of the German Democratic Republic. It was tasked to serve as a forward naval and amphibious transport component of the Warsaw Pact Fleet in the Baltic Sea. It was part of the Nationale Volksarmee established in 1956.

Soon after the end of hostilities and the conclusion of the Second World War, the Soviet Union began initiating the rearming of its satellite state in East Germany. This included the gradual formation of maritime forces which would become the future Volkspolizei See. Beginning in 1950, Soviet naval officers helped to establish the Hauptverwaltung Seepolizei (Main Administration Sea Police), which was renamed Volkspolizei-See (VP-See) or People's Police - Sea on 1 July 1952. At the same time parts of the erstwhile maritime police were reorganized into the new Grenzpolizei-See, Border Police Sea, to guard the sea frontiers and maritime borders. The Grenzpolizei-See was later incorporated into the Deutsche Grenzpolizei, German Border Police that would later become the Grenztruppen der DDR that had been set up in 1946. By 1952 the VP-See is estimated to have numbered some 8,000 personnel.

One of the traditions carried into the formation of the future Volksmarine was the commemoration of the sailor’s revolt in during the Kiel mutiny at the end of the First World War. The Kiel Mutiny in which German sailors refused to follow orders to engage the British Royal Navy fleet at the end of the First World War which then saw an alliance between the sailors and the workers back at the port in Kiel and was championed by Soviet authorities and championed as part of the greater socialist November Revolution in 1918 which led to the overthrow of the German monarchy and the rise of the Weimar Republic.

On 1 March 1956, East Germany formally created its Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) (National People's Army), and the VP-See became the Verwaltung Seestreitkräfte der NVA (Maritime Forces Administration of the NVA) with a strength of about 10,000 men. In November 1960, these maritime forces of the Nationale Volksarmee were officially designated as the Volksmarine effectively the ‘People's Navy’. Over the next several years the navy gradually received a number of new ships, primarily built in shipyards across East Germany. Only the coastal protection ships and some of the fast torpedo boats were provided by the Soviet Union, as were all helicopters, and some auxiliary craft which were purchased from neighboring Poland.

Following the construction of the Berlin Wall on 13 August 1961 the Grenzbrigade Küste der Grenzpolizei (GBK) or Coastal Border Brigade of the Border Police was incorporated into the Volksmarine. Command was assumed under the Ministry of National Defense on 15 September 1961. Volksmarine authority over naval coastal patrols began on 1 November 1961. In 1962, the Volksmarine was mobilized with a common knowledge between the East German government and Soviet authorities in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The movement of missiles and military personnel to Cuba had been known as Operation Anadyr but the mobilization of Volksmarine forces ended on 21 November 1962 and by the 28th of November the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba had begun. With the reorganization of 1965; all attack forces, including, the fast torpedo boats, were combined into a single flotilla designated as the 6th Flotilla was stationed on the Bug peninsula of the island of Rügen. In the 1970s the People's Navy had grown to about 18,000 men.

In the 1980s some of the ships were replaced and the People's Navy acquired Soviet-built fighter-bomber to equip a naval aviation unit which was designated as Marinefliegergerschwader 28 which was established in August 1985. The unit was granted the title ‘Paul Wieczorek’ in standing communist tradition. MFG-28 was stationed out of Laage and operated a force of 24 Sukhoi Su-22M-4 Fitter fighter bombers. Initially it fell under the command of the Luftstreitkräfte / Luftverteidigung with operational subordinate status to the Volksmarine. MFG-28 was tasked to provide tactical air support for joint fleet operations with the Soviet Navy, including anti-submarine warfare. It maintained pilots and ground crews for a squadron of jet fighter-bombers and two squadrons of helicopters. Its personnel wore Navy dark blue tunics with unit-distinctive insignia.

From 1986 up until 1988, the Volksmarine had a brief hostile confrontation with Polish naval forces over a maritime border dispute in the Oder Bay region. The confrontation ended peacefully when a treaty was signed following subsequent negotiations on 22 May 1989 when the first boundary correction was made since 1949 and about two thirds of the disputed maritime areas were allocated to the German Democratic Republic. This was recognized again on 14 November 1990 with the German-Polish Border Treaty following German reunification.

The Volksmarine was officially disbanded, like all other branches of the National Volksarmee, on 2 October 1990 the day before the official reunification of Germany. Some of the Volksmarine staff were absorbed into the Bundesmarine which was henceforth redesignated as the Deutsche Marine and others were incorporated into the German Border Police, the Bundesgrenzschutz. Most of the ships and other equipment were scrapped or sold as military assistance to other countries.

During its existence, the Volksmarine was operationally incorporated into the United Baltic Sea Fleets of the Warsaw Pact states. Its designated area of operations was the Baltic Sea and the entrances to the Baltic Sea. Its primary task was to keep the sea lanes open for Soviet reinforcements and to participate in offensive actions against the coasts of hostile nations in the Baltic Sea. For these purposes, it was equipped with light forces such as anti-submarine ships, fast torpedo boats, minesweepers as well as landing craft. Routine duty was heavily focused on extensive reconnaissance and surveillance activities, carried out covertly mainly by the minesweepers and specialized electronic surveillance boats.

The 6th Border Brigade Coast had a special responsibility in carrying out the prevention of Republikflucht the term used to refer to ‘Desertion from the Republic’. With effect from 1 November 1961 it was subordinated to Volksmarine command. It had a substantial number of small patrol boats in its inventory along with a network of surveillance posts along the coast, and its task was to prevent anyone from leaving the German Democratic Republic without official exit permission.

The Grenzbrigade Küste or Coastal Border Patrol maintained a force of about 2,750 sailors, out of the Volksmarine's total force complement of 16,300 personnel. Included 8 patrol boat groups and land units for patrol of littoral regions. Its personnel wore standard Navy uniforms, with unit-distinctive insignia.

The Volksmarine was equipped with a number of vessels of varying displacement the larger of these ships being Frigates and various other types including Amphibious Landing Craft, Minelayers and minesweepers, Fast Torpedo and Missile Boats, Coastal Defense Ships, Submarine Hunters, Intelligence Ships, Training Ships, & Support Craft. The Volksmarine also maintained three squadrons of combat helicopters as well as the fighter-bombers of MFG-28.

The Volksmarine maintained a force of about 16,300 sailors of which about 50% were draftees performing their compulsory military service.

Officers and petty officers of the Volksmarine wore dark blue gabardine tunics with gold (brass) anchor-design buttons and dark blue unpiped trousers. Lower enlisted men wore a variety of blue and white outfits, determined by season and type of duty.