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...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Behind Enemy Lines Part II: The Berlin Infantry Brigade: Britain's Lions in West Berlin

Initially British troops stationed in western Berlin were known as the British Troops Berlin from November of 1946, which administered to the occupational duties in the British designated zone of occupied Berlin. The first British unit to arrive in Berlin was the 7th Armoured Division, the notorious 'Desert Rats' which had garnered a reputation for ferocity in fighting the German Afrika Korps led by Erwin Rommel in North Africa. The unit would remain known as British Troops Berlin until all British occupational forces in West Berlin were redesignated as Area Troops Berlin in February of 1949. This formation would stand until October 1953, when it was reorganized into a force known as the Berlin Infantry Brigade Group. Under the reorganization, the force would maintain a strength of 3,100 soldiers assigned to one of three infantry battalions, an armored squadron and respective support units. Unlike its American counterpart, the British Berlin Brigade rotated entire units in and out of West Berlin for a specified period of time rather than rotating individual personnel in and out of the units assigned to the British zone of occupation in West Berlin. With the division of Berlin, the British would receive the central section of West Berlin, a sector comprised of four boroughs to occupy in the post war era. The four neighborhoods under British control was comprised of the boroughs of Charlottenburg, Tiergarten, Wilmersdorf and Spandau.

Being positioned in the exclave of West Berlin, deep within the heart of the German Democratic Republic the Berlin Infantry Brigade was organized separate of the British Army of the Rhine forces positioned in the Federal Republic of Germany. Rotations into West Berlin varied by unit; the single armored squadron was deployed to West Berlin after being detached from an armored regiment which was already in West Germany assigned to I British Corps. Infantry battalions were rotated in and out of West Berlin every two years. The only permanent units in West Berlin were comprised of  7 Flight, Army Air Corps, which was based at RAF Gatow, the Royal Air Force station which had served as the Third Reich Luftwaffe's staff and technical college known as the Luftkriegsschule 2 'Air Warfare School 2' under the previous regime. 7 Flight provided the Berlin Infantry Brigade with aviation support assets. Other units permanently assigned to West Berlin included the 62 Transport and Movements Squadron Royal Corps of Transport, 14 Field Workshop Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 504 Commander Royal Army Service Corps (CRASC) (Overseas Deployment Training 'ODT'), 131 DID Royal Army Service Corps, Det No 2 Independent Petrol Station Platoon Royal Army Service Corps, 31st Quartering and Barracks Office Royal Army Service Corps,121 & 122 Barracks Stores, 38 (Berlin) Field Squadron Royal Engineers, 229 Signals Squadron and 3 Squadron 13 Signals Regiment Royal Signals, 3 Intelligence and Security Coy Intelligence Corps, 247 Provost Coy Royal Military Police, 248 German Security Unit and the British Military Hospital (BMH) Berlin.

The British Forces Post Office which maintained a branch in West Berlin designated the British sector with the postal code BFPO 45.

The British maintained their forces in five barracks across its sector of the city, primarily in the borough of Spandau. The five British facilities were known as Alexander Barracks, Smuts Barracks, Brooke Barracks, Wavell Barracks and Montgomery Barracks. Three of the barracks were positioned in close proximity to the Spandau Prison where British troops along with elements of the other western Allies and the Soviets rotated standing guard over Rudolf Hess. Montgomery Barracks was positioned in close proximity to the border with East Berlin, and maintained a single infantry battalion. Brooke and Wavell Barracks both maintained single infantry battalions, while Smuts Barracks maintained the armored squadron assigned to West Berlin. Alexander Barracks was primarily an administrative and logistics facility. Units rotated in and out of West Berlin from across the United Kingdom including units from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Many soldiers assigned to West Berlin had combat experience having come to West Berlin from operational service during Operation Banner in Northern Ireland.

Initially the first incarnations of the British garrison, the British Troops Berlin and Area Troops Berlin would maintain its headquarters in a facility at the Fehrbelliner Platz in the borough of Wilmersdorf. Upon redesignation as the Berlin Infantry Brigade Group, the headquarters was relocated to a facilitiy located adjacent to the Olympic Stadium in the district of Charlottenburg. It would remain at this location until the dissolution of the Berlin Infantry Brigade in 1994.

Soldiers assigned to the Berlin Infantry Brigade wore a distinctive insignia. The unit's shoulder sleeve insignia was comprised of a red circle over a black background with the word 'BERLIN' in red on a black background arched across the top of the circular insignia. Although initially not assigned to British Army of the Rhine, by the 1980s it was considered a secondary component of BAOR after the I British Corps contingent which was positioned in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, West Germany.

 The British maintained a large training facility in the Grunewald borough of West Berlin, where they would often train alongside soldiers of the American Berlin Brigade. The Grunewald complex was comprised of several training facilities including the American urban warfare training center known as Parks Range or more affectionately as "Doughboy City" as well as the British urban warfare training center known as Ruhleben Fighting City or 'RFC'. Further military training was conducted across the Grunewald borough along the shores of the Havel River, and along the Schildhorn peninsula. Other training areas included the Schildhornweg, Am Postfenn, around the Teufelssee or 'Devil's Lake', Saubuchtweg, Grunewaldturm area, Havelchausee which ran adjacent to the Havel River, and all the way down to the Avus. For woodland combat exercises, British forces utilized the wooded areas of Spandau, Gatow, Kladow, Tegel and Jungfernheide. Their primary range area was also located at Ruhleben however it was adjacent to the RFC compound. Later on in the Berlin Infantry Brigade's stay in West Berlin, additional live fire exercises were conducted in Gatow.

As a response to the British maintaining their firing rains in such close proximity to the border with East Berlin, the Soviets maintained a large armored vehicle training facility on the East German side of the Berlin Wall opposite of the British ranges.

The armored squadron assigned to Smuts Barracks was primarily tasked with armored reconnaissance and conducting mounted security patrols along the length of the Berlin Wall which spanned the British sector.

For ceremonial events, the British often utilized the Maifeld 'May Field' as a parade ground which was located across from the Olympic Stadium known as the Olympiastadion. The Maifeld was used annually to celebrate the Queen's Official Birthday for reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II every 21 April. Formations of British troops and military vehicles would conduct a parade and review in honor of the Queens Birthday and would render honors such as honor salutes fired by tank mounted cannons and infantry rifles utilizing blank ammunition. Various members of the royal family would attend the celebrations including Queen Elizabeth II herself, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Princess Anne and the Queen Mother. West Berliners were encouraged to attend these events alongside their British counterparts and partake in the festivities. Another largely popular event was the yearly 'Grand Tattoo' which was a large military show hosted by the Corps of Army Music. The Grand Tattoo was usually held at the Deutschlandhalle near famous Funkturm Berlin radio tower. The Deutschlandhalle is famously known for the 19 February 1938  indoor flight of German test pilot Hanna Reitsch in her Focke-Wulf Fw 61 helicopter, the first such flight of its kind.

For aviation support, the British Army stationed elements of the Army Air Corps at RAF Gatow. RAF Gatow was the primary airfield utilized by Royal Air Force transports bringing in supplies from West Germany during Operation Plainfare, the British codename for the Berlin Airlift. Following the Airlift, most offensive aircraft from the Royal Air Force were withdrawn and mostly transports and light aircraft were stationed at the facility apart from British Army aviation elements. A military formation known as the RAF Gatow Station Flight operated two  De Havilland Chipmunk T10 light aircraft in reconnaissance roles in cooperation with the The British Commander-in-Chief's Mission to the Soviet Forces of Occupation in Germany more commonly known as BRIXMIS. Intelligence flights were carried out beginning in 1956 under the codename Operation Shooner and later Operation Nylon, where the RAF aircraft would fly over the airspace of both West and East Berlin, as well as the air corridors to and from West Germany into West Berlin. These flights were legally guaranteed to the British under the Potsdam Agreement and they were often conducted to carry out covert photographic reconnaissance flights over East German territory.

A Royal Corps of Signals signals unit designated as 26SU was also assigned to RAF Gatow and on the Teufelsberg, a 260 foot artificial hill north of the Teufelssee which was made of the heaped rubble of Berlin following the Battle of Berlin in 1945 in the Grunewald borough. 26SU would serve as a specialized Signals Intelligence unit operated by the Royal Air Force on behalf of Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ Cheltenham tasked with monitoring Warsaw Pact and Soviet military communications and activities over and around the German Democratic Republic and neighboring People's Republic of Poland. RAF Gatow was the site of a defection on 15 July 1987 when a young East German named Thomas Krüger flew a Zlin Z-42M light aircraft to RAF Gatow from Schönhagen near Trebbin, East Berlin.

Like the Americans who operated a branch of the American Forces Network in Berlin, the British maintained a branch of their British Forces Broadcasting Service 'BFBS' and they maintained their own facilities similar to the Americans to maintain their garrisons and the families of soldiers.

In December of 1963, the Berlin Infantry Brigade Group became simply the Berlin Infantry Brigade and would remain as this designation until April of 1977 when it became the Berlin Field Force and then from January 1981 it was redesignated as the Berlin Infantry Brigade. Despite its various incarnations it was always referred to as the Berlin Infantry Brigade. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Infantry Brigade was reduced to two standing infantry battalions in 1992 and it was further reduced to a single infantry battalion in 1993.

The last British infantry battalion to be stationed Berlin following reunification would be the 1st Battalion of The Queens Lancashire Regiment being assigned to Wavell Barracks from 1992 until the Berlin Infantry Brigade was disbanded in September of 1994. The disbanding of the Berlin Infantry Brigade was marked by a final parade through the former British sector which was attended by Prince Charles. With this, the British Berlin Infantry Brigade like the other members of the western Allies marched into history having stood vigilant watch over West Berlin through some of the most tense points in world history. Peace reigned and the Cold War was over, a victory for democracy worldwide.

British Army Units assigned to the Berlin Infantry Brigade

Montgomery Barracks - Sakrowerstraße, Kladow (A suburb of Spandau)

Worcestershire Regiment – February 1948
Gordon Highlanders Regiment – May 1949
Black Watch Regiment – September 1950
East Yorkshire Regiment – November 1951
Royal Scots Fusiliers Regiment – July 1953
Grenadier Guards Regiment – March 1954
Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regiment – March 1955
Royal Welsh Fusiliers – July 1956
Royal Scots Regiment – February 1958
1/2 East Anglian Regiment – February 1960
Durham Light Infantry Regiment – July 1961
Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire – June 1963
1/1 Green Jackets Regiment (Royal Green Jackets) – April 1965
Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Regiment (2nd Light Infantry) – April 1967
Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Regiment – April 1969
Queens Regiment – July 1970
Worcestershire & Sherwood Foresters Regiment – July 1972
Parachute Regiment – August 1974
Green Howards Regiment – August 1976
2 Royal Anglian Regiment – August 1978
Kings Own Royal Border Regiment – January 1981
3 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – March 1983
Royal Highland Fusiliers – March 1985
Black Watch Regiment – March 1987
Royal Welsh Fusiliers – July 1989
Royal Welsh Fusiliers – July 1992

Brooks Barracks - Wilhelmstraße, Spandau

2 Royal Scots Fusiliers – February 1948
2 Queens Royal Regiment – February 1949
Royal Fusiliers Regiment – December 1949
Kings Liverpool Regiment – February 1951
Welsh Guards Regiment – June 1952
Royal Irish Fusiliers – July 1953
Royal Lincolnshire Regiment – June 1954
Cheshire Regiment – May 1955
South Lancashire Regiment – January 1957
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Regiment – January 1958
Kings Own Scottish Borderers Regiment – February 1959
Welsh Regiment – April 1961
Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry Regiment – October 1963
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Regiment – October 1965
Gloucestershire Regiment – October 1967
2 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – October 1969
Duke of Edinburgh Royal Regiment – July 1971
Kings Own Scottish Borderers Regiment – May 1973
Royal Regiment of Wales – May 1975
2 Parachute Regiment – May 1977
Royal Irish Rangers Regiment – June 1979
2 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers – April 1981
Prince of Wales Own Royal Regiment – June 1983
Devon & Dorset Regiment – April 1985
Kings Own Scottish Borderers Regiment – February 1987
1 Light Infantry Regiment – January 1989
Gordon Highlanders – June 1991
Gordon Highlanders – August 1993

Wavell Barracks - Wilhelmstraße, Spandau

Royal Norfolk Regiment – January 1948
Royal Welsh Fusiliers – May 1949
Manchester Regiment – September 1950
Durham Light Infantry – April 1951
Royal Scots Regiment – May 1952
Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Regiment – July 1953
Manchester Regiment – September 1954
Black Watch Regiment – January 1956
Border Regiment – December 1957
York & Lancaster Regiment – July 1959
Kings Royal Rifle Corps (2 Green Jackets) – December 1960
Kings Regiment – July 1962
East Anglian Regiment (3 Royal Anglian) – July 1964
Queens Own Highlanders Regiment – August 1966
Staffordshire Regiment – September 1968
Cheshire Regiment – November 1970
Coldstream Guards Regiment – December 1972
3 Royal Green Jackets – January 1975
Welsh Guards Regiment – January 1977
Grenadier Guards Regiment – July 1979
2 Royal Irish Rangers Regiment – December 1981
Royal Hampshire Regiment – December 1983
Gloucestershire Regiment – February 1986
Kings Regiment – February 1988
Irish Guards Regiment – January 1990
Queens Lancashire Regiment – March 1992
Queens Lancashire Regiment – August 1994

Smuts Barracks - Wilhelmstraße, Spandau

11th Hussars Regiment & 8th Hussars Regiment – July 1945 - October 1945
11th Hussars Regiment & 1st Royal Tank Regiment – October 1945 - February 1946
1st Squadron, Life Guards Regiment – July 1946 – September 1946
1st Squadron, 13/18th Hussars Regiment – November 1946 – February 1947
1st Squadron, Inns of Court Yeomanry Regiment – February 1947 – May 1947
1st Squadron, Royal Horse Guards Regiment – May 1947 – January 1948
1st Squadron, 11th Hussars Regiment – February 1948
A Squadron, Royal Dragoons Regiment – May 1949
A Squadron, Royal Horse Guards Regiment – March 1950
1st Squadron, 3rd Hussars Regiment – February 1951
1st Independent Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment – February 1952
2nd Independent Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment – July 1953
B Squadron, 14/20th Hussars Regiment – February 1958
1st Squadron, 4th Royal Tank Regiment – November 1960
1st Independent Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment – November 1964
1st Squadron, Queens Own Hussars Regiment – February 1965
1st Squadron, 1st Royal Tank Regiment – July 1968
1st Squadron, 9/12th Lancers Regiment – December 1969
1st Squadron, Queens Dragoon Guards Regiment – December 1970
A Squadron, 4th Royal Tank Regiment – December 1972
B Squadron, 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Regiment – December 1974
B Squadron, 1st Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regiment – December 1976
D Squadron, 1st Royal Hussars Regiment – April 1979
D Squadron, 4/7th Dragoon Guards Regiment – February 1981
D Squadron, 1st Queens Own Hussars Regiment – April 1983
B Squadron, 14/20th Hussars Regiment – May 1985
D Squadron, 14/20th Hussars Regiment – December 1987
C Squadron, 14/20th Hussars Regiment – September 1988
C Squadron, 14/20th Hussars Regiment – September 1991

Alexander Barracks - Hohenzollernring, Spandau


  1. 26SU was never a Royal Corps of Signals i.e. a British Army unit! It was always a Royal Air Force unit commanded by an RAF Wing Commander. The original RAF signals unit in Berlin was 5 Signals Wing Detachment which was redesignated 26SU in September 1969.

  2. No mention of 6 Troop Royal Artillery. Attached to the armoured sqn. in Smuts barracks. a small unit giving Air defence cover to the tanks. They were there from 1985 until the end in 1991. Officially part of 46 AD Bty.