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...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Behind Enemy Lines Part III: Forces françaises à Berlin: Napoleon's Guard of Honor in West Berlin

The French contingent of the occupational forces in West Berlin were known as the Forces françaises à Berlin. The Forces françaises à Berlin were a subordinate detachment of the greater Forces françaises en Allemagne or French Forces in Germany. Like the Americans and the British, the Forces françaises à Berlin arrived in Berlin in July 1945 after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Initially, France was not going to be allocated a portion of Germany nor Berlin to occupy in the post war years however after objections to this plan were made by de facto French leader General Charles De Gaulle, an agreement was made and portions of both the American and British zones of Occupation were taken and designated as French zones of Occupation. With the granting of these areas, a section of Berlin was designated for the French. French military forces would be given the northern portion of the city comprised of two boroughs to administer. The boroughs of West Berlin which would be granted to the French were the boroughs of Reinickendorf and Wedding. The Potsdam Agreement granted the French equal rights and access to West Berlin and thus the Forces françaises à Berlin would maintain a status as counterparts to both the American Berlin Brigade and the British Berlin Infantry Brigade.

Soldiers assigned to West Berlin wore a distinctive shoulder patch much in the manner of their American and British counterparts. The French patch originated in 1949, and depicted the French tricolor flag of blue, white and red flying over a gold circle with an 'N' in the center representing their facilities at the Quartier Napoléon. This is positioned inside the shape of the French zone of Occupation in West Germany with a gold border around the zone with light blue interior and a darker blue exterior with 'BERLIN' in gold over the top of the patch and a gold border framing the entire shoulder insignia.

Initial French troops to arrive in Berlin were members of the 1re armée française '1st French Army' which established their headquarters at the Julius Leber Kaserne in the borough of Wedding. The Julius Leber Kaserne had previously been occupied by elements of the Nazi Wehrmacht utilized by the Luftwaffe's Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1. Hermann Göring or 'Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division 1.' The 130 building facility was arranged around a central axis and included a sports field, running track and an outdoor pool. Upon French arrival at the facility in August 1945, the area was redesignated as the Quartier Napoléon. The facilities had been heavily damaged during the Battle of Berlin and subsequent occupation by Soviet Red Army forces and underwent significant reconstruction and repairs from 1945 to 1955. Immediately south of the area, the French military constructed the Cite Joffre condominiums to house its troops and their families. Also initially located at the Quartier Napoléon was a detachment of the Armée de l'Air, the French Air Force however, they were repositioned to nearby Tegel Airport, which would become the French's primary point of arrival and departure for forces entering the city.

On 2 November 1947, the 46e régiment d'infanterie de ligne or  '46th Infantry Regiment' was assigned to the Quartier Napoléon. Prior to arrival in Berlin, the 46e régiment d'infanterie de ligne had participated in the occupation of the Rhineland following the initial German surrender on 8 May 1945. They would remain in position as the primary combat ready force until 31 December 1954, when French strength would be bolstered by the arrival of the 11e régiment de chasseurs or '11th Chasseurs Regiment'  essentially an armored cavalry regiment which provided armored capabilities to the Berlin garrison. Like the 46e régiment d'infanterie de ligne, the 11e régiment de chasseurs had previously conducted occupational duties in the Palatinate region until 30 April 1947 when it was intially inactivated. It was reactivated in West Berlin and absorbed elements of two other French formations. Together the 46e régiment d'infanterie de ligne and the 11e régiment de chasseurs would comprise France's contribution to the defense of West Berlin.

Additional units assigned to the  Quartier Napoléon garrison included engineers, a supply battalion, military police detachment, and security directorate that was responsible for sector security along the French zone's border with the German Democratic Republic. Like their allied counterparts the French maintained their own radio station known as Radio Forces Françaises de Berlin or French Forces in Berlin Radio commonly abbreviated as FFB. The FFB began its initial broadcasts on 8 May 1957 and provided radio broadcasts initially for the French servicemen in West Berlin. In the 1980's it picked up television and began broadcasting television programming for French forces assigned to West Berlin.

 The Tegel Airbase facilities initially did not exist and it wasn't until the Americans launched Operation Vittles and the British launched Operation Plainfare essentially the Berlin Airlift as a response to the Soviet blockade of the city in 1948 that the French began construction of the new air facility. The construction of the airport facilities involved the use of over 19,000 people utilizing 400 trucks and materials taken from the war torn city of Berlin along with asphalt flown into the city by the United States Air Force. On 5 November 1948, a detachment of the l´armée de l´air known as DA 04165 was activated at the new facility when a U.S. Air Force Douglas C-54 Skymaster transport arrived at the base carrying among its dignitaries General William H. Tunner, the chief architect of the Berlin Airlift. The Tegel Facility was designated as 165 Air Base Berlin-Tegel and officially opened for operations on 15 November 1948. Regular operations commence by 1 December 1948, and upon learning of the construction of a facility in the French zone of Occupation, the Soviets demand the withdrawal of French forces from the village of Stolpe. All French forces vacate Stolpe by 18 December 1948.

By the time of its operation, and the height of the Berlin Airlift, the French have become embroiled in the First Indochina War, however they supply several Junkers Ju-52 transports for the effort in 1949. In 1958, the French estalish SEA 02054 an electronic warfare squadron which conducts signal intelligence gathering (SIGNET) operations in West Berlin.  The SEA 02054 unit utilizies antennas at DBLS Foch located in the local vicinity and also two twin parabolic antennas positioned to monitor the area north of Berlin, in the limit of Frohnau beside Oranienburger Chaussee and Jäger Stieg located on the other side of East Germany. SEA 02054  operates in conjunction with the station Schalke positioned in West Germany and with the SEA 03054 and EE 21054 Goslar, detachment of the 11 th Company Transmissions, which were transitioned to the headquarters Berlin from 30 June 1966 to 1 January 1991. The Escadrille Electronics EE (Electronic Warfare Unit) was designated 21,054 with specialized Puma helicopters in 1986.

Elements of the French  ALAT 'Light Army Aviation' arrived at Tegel in 1987 succeeding several previous light aviation entities operating light aircraft for intelligence gathering operations and support operations in support of the French Army units of the Quartier Napoléon.

The French staff will remain in position at Tegel until 31 December 1992,  when at the request of the German government command of the airport is turned over from French control to German control where it is redesignated as Berlin International Airport - Tegel by the German civilian personnel. Up until that point since 1974, the French crew at Tegel had checked more than one million aircraft carrying some 90 million passengers in conditions of maximum security in and out of Tegel.

In 1993, the first part attributed to the Allied Museum in Berlin began construction and a Cessna L19 from the Forces françaises à Berlin was retired from service and turned over to the museum on April 21. The 165 Air Base would be decommissioned along with the 46th and 11th RI Hunters on 14 September 1994.

With the removal of all allied forces from Berlin following the agreement of 1994, the Quartier Napoléon was also closed and the German government took control of the Julius Leber Kaserne on 5 January 1995, and positioned Bundeswehr units in its facilities. The 46e régiment d'infanterie de ligne having successfully completed it's mission was inactivated on  14 September 1994. The 11e régiment de chasseurs would follow the previous day being inactivated on 15 September. Both units colors were cased and returned to France having successfully represented France and providing a contingent that stood alongside its British and American counterparts in maintaining the peace and security of West Berlin.

French Units in West Berlin

French Combat Units assigned to Quartier Napoléon in West Berlin:

11e régiment de chasseurs '11th Cavalry Regiment'
46e régiment d'infanterie de ligne '46th Infantry Regiment'
110e compagnie du génie '110th Engineer Company'
Centre d'entraînement commando (CEC no 10) 'Commando Training Center'

French Support Units assigned to Quartier Napoléon in West Berlin:

11e compagnie de transmission '11th Signals Company'
Gendarmerie Berlin 'Berlin Police'
Hôpital Louis-Pasteur 'Louis-Pasteur Hospital'
Base aérienne 165 Berlin Tegel 'Airbase 165 Berlin Tegel'
Groupement de soutien 'Support Group'
Quartier général 'Headquarters'
Direction des transport et de la circulation de Berlin 'Directorate of Transport and Traffic in Berlin'
État-Major 'Command Staff'
Détachement de l'Aviation légère de l'armée de terre (DETALAT) 'Detachment of the Light Army Aviation'

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