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...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On the Frontlines of the Cold War: Voices of the Veterans Vol. I

“From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother” – Henry V, William Shakespeare 1598

The Cold War was an intense moment in world history where at the strike of a match the fragile peace could be engulfed in a sea of flames. Although the Cold War is referred to as a relative period of uneasy peace, there were numerous occasions of incidents where blood was shed by military forces of varying nations. In Europe, the British while maintaining numerous overseas deployments battled against the insurgency in Northern Ireland as well as dealing with troublesome skirmishes by terrorist groups on mainland Europe. The United States Army in Europe was also plagued by a number of attacks from radical terrorist elements like the Red Army Faction held bent on undermining the legitimacy of the Allied cause. Most often these groups were funded by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact groups to carry out strikes against NATO installations and forces. The sacrifices of military personnel throughout this tense period have often proven undocumented if not under documented and the stories of the conflicts gone unseen and or unheard by those outside of the entities that were there.

Operation Banner, the British military's operation in Northern Ireland for example is not as well known in the United States as it is in the United Kingdom, nonetheless they are stories that should be known and shared with the world. Men and women sacrificed so much to maintain the balance of peace that was the Cold War period and their exploits have largely gone unrecognized. While there were a vast number of conflicts that should be documented for historical purposes, this particular look is aimed at Europe and experiences documented will cover mainly the veteran’s experiences in Northern Ireland and West Germany.  It’s hard to say just how many lives were lost throughout the duration of the European Cold War period and every life has value. Losses across Europe from Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom to West Germany and across the rest of Continental Europe are hard to exactly pinpoint as well as they typical were inflicted in ones and twos rather than on a large scale as in a conventional scenario. Alerts went up and precautions were taken against terrorist elements accordingly. In an age where terrorism is a common phrase, soldiers in Europe were dealing with terrorism ever since a rogue group believed they could use violence and intimidation to gain a voice. 

The purpose of this writing is to document the stories of the veterans to preserve them and archive them for the future. To highlight the importance of the sacrifices bore by these individuals in the name of brotherhood. The unexplainable brotherhood shared uniquely by soldiers exposed to hostile areas. This writing is dedicated to the memory of the fallen who are forever fused into the history that has shaped our world, and to those who experienced it firsthand and live with their memories. These are the stories of those who were there. We salute them and We honor them. For security and privacy reasons I have altered the names of the individuals who have submitted their stories.
PTE M. Swift, British Army
1st Battalion, The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire
Ballykinlar, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland: I carried out patrols throughout South Armagh (Armagh County) known as Orchard Country to the world but commonly referred to as 'Bandit Country' to those that served there. These patrols took us close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. On one occasion the patrol base of Bessbrook Mill was mortared 3 days after I left. I was part of a protective cordon that was tasked with setting up and providing defense during the rebuilding and strengthening of the watch towers in and around Crossmaglenn. On that task, I heard an explosion while in a covert operations location. Later we were told that the IRA had murdered a Judge as well as his wife. Several years later during another tour they struck again at the exact same location. IRA groups were known as Active Service Units (ASUs) by us operating in Northern Ireland. While on this tour Provisional Irish Republic Army (PIRA) & Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) were feuding and doing tit for tat killings against one another. We were all pretty happy with that as it kept them busy and not attacking our forces. My first tour only lasted 3 months as the regiment then got posted to Catterick in North Yorkshire. Although short and relevantly uneventful, it was none the less an exciting tour and experience for a young 18 year old soldier.

CPL A. Steventon, British Army
252 Provost Company (Volunteers)
Royal Military Police
Hameln, Hannover, Sennelager, Paderborn, West Germany
Participated in Exercises Keystone & Keyflight in 1987 & 1988.

BAOR: I performed Provost operations in West Germany and some Police work mainly RTA accidents. I also performed border patrol along Berlin Wall and saw East German NVA troops and Soviet troops regularly. My main job was convoy movements. I used to sign up routes to get ALL the BAOR troops to the battle front or FEBA as we called it and to Brigade HQ's, rendezvous points etc. We set up TP's (traffic posts) IP's (info Posts) BDE HQ (Brigade HQ's) etc. We also secured areas in the infantry role using GPMG, SLR, SMG and Browning 9mm. I got the chance to work alongside US aggressor forces on enemy evade and capture exercises near Nordhausen. We captured them and handed over to intel for interrogation.

I dealt with a fatal road traffic accident in Unter Oldershausen in September when I was on guard duty at a Brigade Headquarters. A Regular Dispatch Rider of the Royal Engineers came to my Information Post (IP) looking for his Brigade HQ. He was fatigued and tired and got his grid reference, he then and drove up the road and was killed instantly by decapitation. I was the first to respond to him following the accident and the last to contact him when he passed away. It has haunted me ever since. It has been nearly 25 years and I've only now found out his name this year, Sapper Dougie Hogg 13th Postal Courier Squadron Royal Engineers 25 years old from Lancaster in Lancashire.

Another assignment I held was to look for Soviet Mission on the Rhine spies (SOXMIS whom used to drive around taking photos for intelligence purposes mainly of troop numbers, vehicles, strength, equipment, movements, locations etc. If we saw them we detained them under a special card we carried and handed over to Intel Corps.

I was nearly killed during an attack by the PIRA in 1988 whilst serving in the Royal Air Force (regular Forces). While in Hereford, the PIRA planted an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) outside of my barracks block but one of my mates found it in the trash can before it could be detonated.

My reflections on the Cold War period are that it was a very tense time with many occasions we thought we were going to war with the Warsaw Pact. Alerts were issued regularly for war footings. We lost hundreds of troops in accidents on the big exercises which people forgot and we never got any recognition for the sacrifices we made over there, not just in encounters with Warsaw Pact forces but also with PIRA in Northern Ireland.  They were very active and as a result many British troops were killed. The days were long but times were fun and enjoyable. The Germans were very good to us unless they held ties to the previous regime the Nazi party. I enjoyed my time spent over there and loved the country. I'll never forget it.

SPC S. Moore, United States Army
558th Military Police Company
Military Police
Rheinland Pfalz, West Germany
2 Years in West Germany

USAREUR: I pulled physical security on a NATO Missile site known as Site No. 107. During the duration of my deployment to West Germany, we were plagued by constant bombings and attacks at clubs mainly by the Red Army Faction which peaked in 1987.

My West Germany assignment was similar to dealing with modern day terrorism. Movements were always done on the high alert with the upmost suspicion of everyone. Between the Soviets and Red Army Faction encounters taking out small groups of service members, travel was usually done in packs for security. Whenever there was an incident it was briefed to all of United States Army Europe (USAREUR). Working on a Nuclear Compound, National Security concerning Nuclear Warheads was of utmost priority so the 24/7 security of the facility was monitored very closely. While I was assigned to Site No. 107, there was an incident at different Nuclear Facility where the perimeter had been breached, the guard house was infiltrated and all of the security forces were shot in their sleep. None of the nuclear materials were disturbed in the attack. It was just done to prove that the security of a sensitive NATO site was indeed penetrable.

RFN D. Harding, British Army
2nd Battalion, Royal Green Jackets
Belfast, Fermanagh, Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Multiple deployments from 1985-1996

Northern Ireland: I served as a military dog handler in Northern Ireland performing searches in the Palace Barracks area of operation around Belfast. Our Tactical Area of Responsibility which we covered included Fort Whiterock, North Howard Street Mill, Girdwood and Woodburn which was a Royal Ulster Constabulary station. My first two initial tours in Northern Ireland were fairly quiet. There were two occasions where there were attempts made to engage our patrols by enemy forces which were thwarted by our experience. As a result of the thwarting of their attempts, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) Active Service Units (ASUs) launching an attack and shooting up the Sanger of Clogher, Royal Ulster Constabulary Station. The second year, residential operations were quite hectic but again most incidents of attempts against the battalion were thwarted thanks to good scenario drills and patrolling techniques. Sadly, we lost seven members of the Battalion, due to accidents including a Lynx crash in Gortin Glen.

The period of 1993-1996 was hectic as well. There were incidents almost daily with an upsurge in shootings, bombings and sectarian murders. It was during this particular tour in Northern Ireland that I was blown up by a PIRA explosive device which resulted in the loss of the majority of the hearing in my left ear and half in my right ear. Due to the constant rotations into Northern Ireland I was diagnosed with complex combat related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The worst encounter during this tour was the aftermath of the Shakhill Bombing, when Fizzel’s Fish Shop was targeted for twenty one days. Following that attack I was lucky to get an average of three hours of sleep per day due to tit for tat murders carried out by rival factions.

CPL M.Sandham, British Army
Parachute Regiment/Royal Military Police
Infantry/Royal Military Police
Roberts Barracks, Osnabruck, West Germany, Aldergrove & Clooney Base, Northern Ireland
4 Years Regular Forces & 3 Years Reserve

BAOR: While assigned to the British Army of the Rhine I primarily performed Garrison policing duties. The experience of serving in West Germany also allowed me the opportunity to train alongside our allied military unit counterparts including American, West German and Dutch military police. I also participated in several large scale military exercises in Germany the primary two being Exercise Lionheart and Exercise Spearpoint.

Northern Ireland: In Northern Ireland I mainly performed mobile patrols, search and intelligence gathering operations, performed raids on suspected enemy strongholds which often including pubs, bars and clubs as well as escort duties. When performing operations in the Londonderry areas we were often brought close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. City Center security patrols were also another task we were frequently assigned. In Northern Ireland we were frequently exposed to enemy actions committed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) including shootings and bombings in Belfast. Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police stations were regularly targeted for attack by PIRA elements. Some operations yielded results such as search and seizure operations which led to discovering and capturing PIRA weapons caches in East Belfast. Riot control in the Londonderry City Center was also a regular occurrence during my tour in Northern Ireland. One encounter in particular stands out in my mind, one day following a PIRA operation, we were tasked to recovery a victim’s body from the River Lagan in Belfast.

My service in both BAOR and in Northern Ireland ultimately was a great training experience. For a young Non Commissioned Officer it was an amazing introduction to life in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Despite the exposure to conflict zones such as Northern Ireland, I believe young soldiers today would benefit from the experiences we had during the Cold War. We gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in a short period of time and I don’t regret any moment of my service. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. 

1 comment:

  1. An impressive and historically significant anthology. I do hope this series will continue! Thank you.