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...

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Generalmajor Landstreitkräfte Gesellschaftanzug - German Democratic Republic

The uniform shown here is comprised of the Gesellschaft jacket and trousers. The Gesellschaftanzug or Social Dress was authorized for wear during formal or social occasions. The Gesellschaft uniform was worn by both officers & generals and was worn with white shirt, gray Nationale Volksarmee tie, the stone gray trousers with the red stripe or colored waffenfarben of the respective service branch, dress shoes and visor cap. The wear of the visor cap varied depending on the occasion or event attended by the General.

There were two basic ways of wearing the Gesellschaft uniform: the Kleiner Gesellschaftsanzug 'Lesser Social Dress Uniform' was a variant of the Gesellschaft uniform which was worn with ribbon bars and the officer's academy badge. The second variation of the Gesellschaft uniform was known as Grosser Gesellschaftsanzug or 'Greater Social Dress Uniform' which was worn with the four highest ranking medals, gold General's aguillette and General's parade dagger. The jacket itself was the same for both the Kleiner & Grosser Gesellschaftsanzug, only the accoutrements worn differed.  The Landstreitkräfte Generalmajor Gesellschaft jacket pictured here is outfitted for the Kleiner Gesellschaftsanzug. The tunic has a four button double breasted arrangement made with a very light gray colored material which was almost white in appearance. As in the case of many Generals and Admirals in the Nationale Volksarmee, each General's Gesellschaft uniform was completely custom tailored and made. It has the shoulder board insignia of a Generalmajor of the Landstreitkräfte similar to the insignia depicted on the previous Generalmajor Dienstuniform.

 The Generalmajor rank is denoted by a single five pointed silver star mounted on a gold and silver braided shoulder cord set against a bright red base. On the left of the jacket, a ribbon bar or medal bar would be worn each individually suited to the General officer wearing the uniform, with the cloth ribbons being assembled in the proper order of precedence and then stitched onto a cloth backing that matches the overall material of the jacket. The whole thing is then stitched down onto the surface of the jacket.

 The triangular shaped academy badge designates that the wearer was a graduate of one of East Germany's many service academies. The Nationale Volksarmee had a vast assortment of military academies with the Friedrich Engels Academy serving as East Germany's premier military academy. Although some graduates of the Friedrich Engels Academy did rise through  the ranks to attain the rank of the General officers, it was way more common to see East German general officers wearing Soviet academy badges as many were sent to the Soviet uniform for higher education.

The pants of the Gesellschaftanzug, which are generally the same stone gray trousers worn by National Volksarmee personnel with the red striping running along the length of the leg signifying the wearers status as a General officer. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Generalmajor Landstreitkräfte Dienstuniform - German Democratic Republic

The uniform displayed here is the Dienstuniform or Service Uniform of a Generalmajor or ‘Major General’ of the East German Landstreitkräfte, the land forces of the East German armed forces. The rank of Generalmajor in eastern militaries is equivalent to that of an American one star Brigadier General or in British rank equivalents a Brigadier.  The uniform jacket is the standard stone grey color of all Nationale Volksarmee uniforms with the red colored piping of the shoulder insignia and collar bars known as kragenspielen denoting the wearer's affiliation as a General Officer of the East German armed forces. Generals in the East German armed forces were signified by the wearing of the color gold in their uniform insignias. Gold denoted a General, and silver a commissioned officer. The pants are also the standard stone gray color as well with the reflecting red striping running along the length of the pant leg.

As members of  the 'Parteiarmee" or Army of the Party tasked with defending the people and the Party, all officers were required to be members of the ruling SED communist party in East Germany. Political officers charged with indoctrination of the troops on subjects reflecting ideological, military, and global affairs formed an essential part of Nationale Volksarmee daily routine. These courses were known as Politische Hauptverwaltung or 'Political Main Administration'. Like the Communist parties of other allied socialist states, the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands  known in English as the 'Socialist Unity Party of Germany', or SED, assured complete control over the ranks by appointing loyal party members to top positions and organizing intensive political education for all ranks. The proportion of SED members in the officer corps rose steadily after the early 1960s, eventually reaching almost 95 percent of the total officer corps.

The tunic would be worn with a white dress shirt or standard grey issue service shirt along with a dark gray tie. During periods of warm weather, officers were presented the option of omitting the tunic, or in authorized adaptation omitting dress shirt and tie with only the jacket being worn over service trousers with the Dienstuniform.  The winter service uniform featured a tunic with four large buttoned-down patch pockets, a gold brockade belt, the service cap, riding breeches, shirt, tie, and pants belt along with high boots. A long, heavy, belted greatcoat was also part of the winter uniform.

The jacket also has a hidden loop on the interior lining for mounting the hangers for the General officer's parade dagger for certain events.

Here is a picture of the stone grey pants with the red General officer's striping along the leg.

The visor cap is made of the same gabardine material of all East German uniforms. Unlike West German uniforms denoting branch as the central insignia and then flanked by the national roundel, East German visor caps used the East German national insignia as the centerpiece with the national insignia of a hammer and compass surrounded by wreaths of wheat and German flags. Surrounding the roundel on this example are laurel wreaths and applied with a felt background against the face of the hat. This is unique to all General officer hats as other officers junior in rank wore silver metal insignia. Rather than wear wreaths on the visor like the West German's, East German officer's wore braided cords around the cap reminiscent of styles of previous German armies. The gold coloring of the braid and national insignia specify the wearers status as a General officer.

Shown here is the gold metal Kragenspiegeln or collar insignia of the General Officer Corps. They are nearly identical to the types of Kragenspiegeln worn by General officers of the earlier Nazi Wehrmacht of 1935 - 1945. The East German armed forces borrowed heavily from the previous regime in terms of uniform style and influence all while maintaining a sense of embracing Germanic tradition in the heavy usage of  the Prussian influence.

This picture depicts the shoulder board insignia of a Generalmajor of the Landstreitkräfte. The Generalmajor rank is denoted by a single five pointed silver star mounted on a gold and silver braided shoulder cord set against a bright red base. East German officer ranks were modelled heavily on the existing Soviet rank structure. In German military doctrine, the rank of Generalmajor was generally that awarded to a junior divisional commander.  

The picture shown here displays the intricate design of the  gold buttons of a General officer in the Nationale Volksarmee, bearing the national hammer and compass insignia of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.  The Dienstuniform consisted primarily of a single breasted tunic with four buttons along the centerline and corresponding buttons mounted on the pockets.

A picture of the General Officer Corps red waffenfarbe stripe embroidered around the cuff of the uniform sleeve.

On the right side of the chest is an Academy badge denoting the officer school that the General attended. The Nationale Volksarmee maintained an extensive network of schools and academies focused on improving the technical expertise of its commissioned officers. One of the main areas of focus with increasing responsibility was increased focus on political reliability and the teachings of Karl Marx. Officers becoming Generals in the East German rank structure were often sent to educational institutions in the Soviet Union for enhanced training and language training to become fluent in the Soviet Cyrillic language. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Tarnished Legacy: The F-104 and the Starfighter Crisis

When the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter first flew in 1954, it was a state of the art interceptor capable of achieving speeds in access of Mach 1 or the speed of sound. The single seat, single engined fighter and its sleek slender silhouette would go on to serve with a number of Air Forces worldwide including not only the United States Air Force, Italian Aeronautica Militare, Royal Canadian Air Force and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. Nowhere would the reputation and service of the F-104 be more diverse and defined than in the service of the West German Luftwaffe. In West Germany, the Starfighter would be developed into a fighter bomber with nearly 35% of all F-104s produced by Lockheed being manufactured for Luftwaffe service.

The aircraft was designed as a high altitude interceptor by legendary Lockheed aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson. Part of the appeal of the aircraft was its radical wing design utilizing a small trapezoidal shaped wing positioned midbody of the fuselage versus the standard swept wing design of most fighter aircraft. The stabilator was mounted atop the vertical tail fin to reduce the effects of inertia coupling in high speed flight and the type utilized the power of the General Electric J79 turbojet engine to propel it to supersonic speeds. As a result of its design, the Starfighter had excellent acceleration capabilities, rate of climb and top speeds however the aircraft had poor turn performance at sustained speeds and was sensitive to control inputs which could prove unforgiving in the event of pilot error. Under license from Lockheed, F-104s would be manufactured by some of Europe’s finest aeronautical firms including Dornier, Fokker and Messerschmitt of West Germany, Fiat of Italy and SABCA of Belgium. A total of 915 F-104s would be delivered to the Luftwaffe with 30 of these airframes being F-104F standard, 444 being F-104G models operated as multirole fighter bombers, 136 TF-104G trainers and 355 RF-104 reconnaissance variants

The first F-104s to be operated by the West German Luftwaffe were F-104F models, two seat versions of the Starfighter used in the United States to train Luftwaffe instructors on the aircraft type. These initial airframes carried United States Air Force livery and serial numbers and were operated out of Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. After the initial pilots graduated from flight training, the airframes were turned over to Waffenschule 10 based out of Nörvenich in North Rhine-Westphalia. Upon arrival in West Germany, the airframes received a new Luftwaffe paint scheme and serial numbers and thus began the conversion of Luftwaffe pilots from the earlier F-84 Thunderstreak and F-86 Sabre airframes to the new F-104G Starfighter.

The first unit to begin operational conversion to the type was Jagdbombergeschwader 31 ‘Bölcke’ of Fighter Bomber Wing 31 ‘Bölcke’ also based at Nörvenich. Type conversion began in July 1960 with the Wing being declared fully operational in 1963. Following the fielding of JBG-31 with F-104Gs, additional units equipped with the type were Jagdbombergeschwader 32 based in Lechfeld, Jagdbombergeschwader 33 based at Buchel, Jagdbombergeschwader 34 based at Memmingen and Jagdbombergeschwader 36 located at Rheine-Hopsten. These units operated the type as multirole fighter bombers with two fighter wings being designated to use the type as solely interceptors. These units were Jagdgeschwader 71 located at Wittmundhafen and Jagdgeschwader 74 located at Neuberg. The RF-104G reconnaissance variant was operated by two Aufklärungsgeschwadern or Reconnaissance Wings. These units were Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 located at Manching and Aufklärungsgeschwader 52 located at Leck. The West German Marineflieger operated two naval air wings of F-104Gs these were Marinefliegergeschwader 1 at Schleswig and Marinefliegergeschwader 2 at Eggebeck. Marineflieger F-104G’s were operated in the reconnaissance and anti-surface warfare roles.  

The F-104G would also be a main weapon in the Luftwaffe’s nuclear delivery component. The nuclear weapons under the control of the United States, would be leased to the West German military for use. In the event of a nuclear strike, an F-104 would mount a single B43 one kiloton nuclear weapon along the centerline of the fuselage. Nearly 250 Luftwaffe Starfighters were committed to the NATO nuclear deterrent force with each wing maintaining six nuclear armed F-104s on twenty four hour alert status as part of NATOs Quick Response Force. As part of the QRF, Luftwaffe aircraft would be fueled and ready for launch within seventeen minutes of receiving the order to strike Warsaw Pact or Soviet targets. In this mission, Luftwaffe pilots utilized the Starfighter’s high speeds reaching operating speeds of Mach 1.4 to penetrate hostile airspace and deliver its deadly payload. After delivering their weapons, pilots would return to airfields in West Germany and be rearmed with additional nuclear weapons and redirected to secondary targets for further nuclear deployment.  

In the conventional strike role, the F-104G would typically carry the Lepus flare bomb, CBU-33 cluster munitions, 500lb iron bombs and LAU-3A unguided rocket pods. Marineflieger Starfighters would mount the Kormoran anti-ship missile on underwing pylons. The Kormoran had a range of nearly 23 miles and utilized delayed fuses for penetration of a ship’s hull structure before subsequently detonating deep within the vessel. The weapon was intended to detonate just above the ship’s waterline in an effort to inflict the maximum damage possible.

Problems began to arise almost from the beginning of the introduction of the aircraft into Luftwaffe service. At the time of the introduction of the Starfighter in 1961, there were two crashes. An intensification of flying regimens saw an increased accident rate with the type. As the years progressed, so did the number of crashes in the type. The year 1962 saw seven crashes, 1964 saw 12 F-104s lost, and in 1965 nearly 28 aircraft were lost in accidents. The lost rate calculated to nearly two aircraft lost each month. In 1966, sixty one F-104Gs would crash claiming the lives of thirty five Luftwaffe pilots. The alarming rate of loss of the aircraft soon became known as the ‘Starfighter Crisis’ with alarming records surfacing. The Crisis would peak with a loss rate of 139 aircraft for every 100,000 flying hours. The unsafe nature of the aircraft in Luftwaffe service sent the German media into a feeding frenzy giving the type derogatory nicknames such as Witwenmacher ‘Widowmaker’, Fliegender Sarg ‘Flying Coffin’, Fallfighter ‘falling fighter’ or Erdnagel ‘Ground Nail’. The surrounding controversy over the accident rate of Luftwaffe Starfighters also led to the rather unflattering joke of How does one own a Starfighter? Just buy property anywhere in West Germany and wait and sooner or later one would crash into the property.

The problem of the Starfighter Crisis, lie in the fact that the aircraft was extremely unforgiving in cases of pilot error and was extremely sensitive to control inputs. At the time of the types introduction, the F-104G was one of the most technologically sophisticated designs to enter service with the fledgling Luftwaffe and many of the pilots and ground crews of the Luftwaffe were accustomed to civilian jobs at the end of the Second World War. The lapse in aviation operations threw many pilots beyond the learning curve and they failed to keep up with the technological advances of jet powered aviation. As a response to this Luftwaffe pilots were sent to relatively short refresher courses in first generation jet aircraft which were underpowered in terms of the supersonic plus Starfighter. Luftwaffe ground crews were also introduced to the type with minimal to no maintenance experience on turbine engines, a reflection of the problem of national conscription into military service. As crews would come up to speed in learning to maintain the type, their service obligations would be completed and they returned to civilian life requiring a new technician to learn the maintainers course from the beginning.

Terrain and weather differences were also a factor. Luftwaffe pilots flying out of Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and Luke Air Force Base in Arizona grew accustomed to operating the aircraft in the relatively favorable weather of the southwestern United States. When they returned to West Germany, many pilots found the north western European weather to be relatively poor. Flights in inclement weather coupled with flying at relatively high speeds, at low level through the hilly terrain of West Germany attributed to a great number of accidents designated as controlled flight into terrain or water.

On the airframe side, the F-104G was an improved version of the standard Lockheed F-104 Starfighter with a strengthened fuselage and wing structure. Other modifications included larger fuel tanks for increased fuel capacity, an enlarged vertical tail fin, strengthened landing gear complete with larger tires, revised flaps for improved control in combat maneuvering, as well as improved avionics suites like the Autonetics NASARR F15A-41B radar which was capable of both air to air and air to surface mapping capabilities, Litton LN-3 Inertial Guidance System and an infrared targeting sight. With the improvements to the airframe, it did not change the fact that the intended purpose of the aircraft was to be a high supersonic high altitude interceptor. In Luftwaffe service, the type was operated as a fighter bomber which often took the aircraft out of its intended element placing it in the unusual confines of low altitude operations. For operations in the low altitude environment the aircraft relied on the inertial navigation system which added additional weight to the airframe thus hampering its performance. The inertial navigation system was widely criticized as being a cause of distraction for the pilot as he would be monitoring the status of the system in low level rather than paying attention to the terrain around him in the low altitude structure. German media outlets often referred to the Starfighters as overburdened by technology and labeled F-104 pilots as overstrained and overburden aircrewmen.

Further damage to the Luftwaffe Starfighter fleet would come when the German media accused officials in the West German government of accepting bribes in the acquiring of the F-104 in West German service. The fallout and frequent scandals revolving around the crisis would lead to the passing of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 by the United States government which restricted any American businesses, trading securities, citizens, nationals or residents from engaging in any corrupt practices regardless of whether or not they are present on United States soil and it governed payments of anything of value involving foreign officials, candidates, dignitaries or parties that could effectively involve national interests. 

Not to say that all loses of the type were induced solely by the pilot many accidents were also attributed to many causes which burden all methods of aerial transportation.  Many accidents were attributed to bird strikes where a bird ingested into the engine could cause problems, lightning strikes, pilot spatial disorientation, hypoxia and mid air collisions. Other causes included technical issues involving the J79 engine itself with its variable afterburner nozzle, contamination of the pilot’s liquid oxygen system for high altitude operation which led to loss of consciousness and malfunctions of the aircraft’s automatic pick up limiter system.

Compared to the NATO average of Starfighter pilots flying twenty hours per month, West German Luftwaffe pilots received roughly only thirteen to fifteen hours per month. The F-104 required thirty eight to forty five hours of maintenance for every hour flown and with hastily often poorly trained maintenance crews, the aircraft typically did not receive the required level of maintenance and the results were catastrophic.

One of the most notable accidents involving the Starfighter in Luftwaffe service occurred on 19 June 1962 at Knapsack, North Rhine-Westphalia when a formation of four F-104F two seat variants of the Starfighter were practicing formation flying to celebrate the types introduction into active service. The aircraft crashed together following a descent through a cloud formation killing three Luftwaffe pilots and one United States Air Force pilot. The cause of the crash was determined to be spatial disorientation of one of the inexperienced Luftwaffe pilots causing his aircraft to fly into his wingman. All four aircraft were destroyed and this incident resulted in the Luftwaffe instituting a policy of forbidding an aerobatic formation flying display team.

In 1966, Johannes Steinhoff, a veteran Luftwaffe pilot of the Second World War accredited with 176 aerial victories took over command of the Luftwaffe as the Inspekteur der Luftwaffe ‘Chief Inspector of the Air Force’. One of Steinhoff’s first moves following his instatement as the head of the Luftwaffe was to ground the entire F-104 fleet. He was determined not to release the aircraft back into active service until he felt the underlying causes to the high loss rate of F-104 Starfighters was resolved if not eradicated. During his investigation, Steinhoff noted that F-104s of the United States Air Force and other non-German Air Forces had significantly lower accident rates in the aircraft. With further investigations, Steinhoff and his Deputy Inspector Günther Rall also a fellow World War II veteran would journey to the United States to learn to pilot the F-104 Starfighter under instruction and supervision by the type’s designers at the Lockheed facility in Burbank, California. During their period in the United States, Steinhoff and Rall annotated the lack of inclement weather and mountain flight training combined with the handling characteristics such as sharp high G turns could lead to accidents.

Upon return to West Germany, Steinhoff and Rall introduced a redesigned training regimen for Luftwaffe Starfighter pilots and as a response loss rates dropped to being comparable to those of other Starfighter operators.  With an improved safety record, a new problem soon emerged in the form of structural failure in the wing structure. The F-104 design calculations had not taken into consideration the high number of G force loading cycles that would be exerted on the airframes operated by the Luftwaffe. Another issue that Steinhoff and Rall noted lie in the ejection seat operated in Luftwaffe Starfighters. Lockheed had initially supplied the Luftwaffe F-104Gs with the C-2 ejection seat which used a powerful 10100 booster rocket manufactured by the Talley Corporation. The use of the Talley rocket was said to give the ejection seat a zero-zero capability however they caused a destabilizing effect following ejection from the aircraft. On 8 March 1967, the F-104 fleet was grounded again and all C-2 series ejection seats were replaced with improved Martin Baker Mk-GQ7A zero-zero ejection seats.

Initial successes in the improvement of the Starfighter’s safety record were soon overshadowed with F-104 crashes climbing to between fifteen to twenty aircraft each year between 1968 and 1972. The attrition rate would continue at a 9:11 ratio each year until the type was phased out and replaced by the Panavia Tornado. The subsequent jump in the loss rate of the aircraft led to the West German government in Bonn to approve the order of 50 additional F-104Gs to replace aircraft lost in accidents. Finally in 1971, the decision was made to begin the retirement of the F-104 from Luftwaffe service. The first units to withdraw the F-104G were the Reconnaissance Wings AKG 51 and AKG 52 which adopted the McDonnell Douglas RF-4E Phantom II in its Wild Wiesel configuration for tactical reconnaissance. These were followed by JG71 and JG74 in 1972 and 1973 when they received F-4E Phantom IIs as air superiority fighters and JBG36 received Phantoms in 1976.

The first Marineflieger unit to phase out the F-104G was MFG1 which phased out its F-104s in favor of the Panavia Tornado in July 1982. The F-104G training school at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona was closed down and by the middle of the 1980s, the Luftwaffe had relegated the F-104G Starfighter to secondary roles. The last Luftwaffe unit to operate the F-104G Starfighter was JBG34 which finally retired its Starfighters upon receiving the Panavia Tornado in 1987. Only a handful of F-104Gs and TF-104Gs remained in Luftwaffe service operated out of Manching for various test, development and research programs. The last flight of the F-104G in Luftwaffe service would occur on 22 May 1991 when the F-104G a formidable airframe flew into history as part of the resurgence of Germany’s defensive capability.

By the time of its retirement, the Luftwaffe would lose some 270 F-104s to accidents, equaling roughly 30 percent of West Germany's entire Starfighter fleet. Even more costly is the irreplaceable human toll of the deaths of nearly 110 German pilots at the controls of the Starfighter. The Starfighter's legacy in German military service is one of admiration, intrigue and in certain circles discontent. Many pilots had a love-hate relationship with the type, but in the end it would be the lack of proper training, maintenance, unforeseen technical issues and operating the type in environments it was not designed to operate in that would tarnish the image of the supersonic interceptor. While certain circles champion the F-104, others still hold the aircraft in negative light unable to move past the derogatory titles such as 'lawn dart' or 'tent peg'.   

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Uniforms of the West German Bundeswehr

West German military regulations regarding uniforms were laid out in the Zentralen Dienstvorschrift ZDv 37/10 "Anzugordnung für die Soldaten der Bundeswehr" or Joint Service Regulation ZDv 37/10 "Dress Code for Soldier's of the Bundeswehr. Chapter 2 of the regulations divided the uniforms of the armed forces into several categories: Dienstanzug or Service Dress was covered in Section III, Kampfanzug or Combat Dress was covered in Section IV, Gesellschaftsanzug or Formal Dress was covered under Section V and Sportanzug or Sports Uniform was covered under Section VI. Each uniform section is differentiated between the respective services of the Bundeswehr.

The Dienstanzug in its basic form is authorized for wear outside of military installations and as a lesser version of a dress uniform when worn within military installations, command posts and at other special events and services. There are also specialized modifications authorized for the Dienstanzug such as different headgear or raincoats all of which is further outlined in the ZDv 37/10.

Heer Uniforms

The Dienstanzug of the Heer in its basic form differs between men and women accordingly. For men, the Dienstanzug uniform consists of a beret or Bergmütze which is the specialized cap worn by the Gebirgsjägertruppe, light grey service jacket known as a Dienstjacke or grey skibluse or the Mountain jacket for the Gebirgsjägertruppe, dark gray trousers, long sleeve service shirt, gray-blue necktie, smooth black belt for wear with the trousers, black socks and black service shoes.For women the only differentiation is the wear of a gray skirt, long sleeve service blouse, a blue necktie, and light gray stockings. A special variant of the Dienstanzug known as the Sommerdienstanzug or Summer Dienstanzug is authorized for wear outside of West Germany and was typically designated for wear south of the 40th parallel north latitude line. This uniform typically worn by personnel on assignment to locations such as Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico or assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas in the United States consists of a sand tan colored uniform variation of the service gray uniform. 

A specialized version of the Dienstanzug known as the Großer Dienstanzug or Great Dienstanzug is only worn on command and special occasions. In this form of the service uniform, boots are worn with the trousers bloused accordingly. A black leather belt is also added worn over the service jacket. In cold weather scenarios, a greatcoat is authorized for weather over the service jacket with the black leather belt over it. In certain scenarios, the beret may be substituted with a helmet.

The primary uniform designated for the Kampfanzug or Combat Dress of the West German Bundeswehr is the Feldanzug, Olivfarben or Olive colored field uniform. This uniform was introduced in the early 1960s to replace the poorly received Feldanzug, jagdmeliert which consisted of a three piece olive-yellow suit which had a goretex like lining and caused discomfort and annoyance amongst the troops. The Feldanzug, Olivfarben was inspired by the olive green service uniforms worn by uniforms of Germany's NATO partners such as the OG-107 uniform worn by the United States Army. The uniform itself consisted of field trousers, a field jacket, field shirt, field cap which could be substituted by a side cap or beret and combat boots. For winter operations a combat field jacket was authorized as well as knitted and leather gloves authorized for wear. In the 1980s an olive green sweater was authorized for wear over the field shirt inspired by the sweaters of the British Army.

In 1990, the Feldanzug, Olivfarben was phased out for the introduction of the Feldanzug, Tarndruck or camouflaged field uniform. This uniform which utilizes the 'speckled' pattern referred to as 'Flecktarn' is the camouflage battle dress of the Bundeswehr.

For social occasions, the Gesellschaftsanzug or evening dress uniform is authorized for wear. This is designated as the Ausgehuniform. It is only authorized for wear by non-commissioned as well as commissioned officers accordingly. Male soldiers Gesellschaftsanzug  consists of a jacket with chain closure, trousers with a black silk dress stripe running along the leg known as a 'Seidengalon', a black 'Torerobund' waist sash or black cummerbund, and a white dress shirt which has concealed buttons, collar, ruffles and embroidery as well as a black bow tie, and black dress shoes. As a variation of the Gesellschaftsanzug, a black silk smoking jacket with a black collar and black silk-covered shoulder epaulettes is authorized for wear. This jacket is worn with miniature versions of awards and decorations. For women, the Gesellschaftsanzug consists of a long dark blue skirt, a white blouse with the federal Bundesadler insignia on the right collar with a long scarf worn across the chest and over the white blouse a dark blue, short velvet jacket is worn. As a modification to the female Gesellschaftsanzug, a short white silk jacket is worn in conjunction with a blue blouse.

The Sportanzug or Sports Uniform is worn primarily during physical training events and in its basic form consists of a blue tracksuit available in two variations. One variation consists of a pair of blue shorts and a blue shirt and the second variation a blue pair of sweatpants and a windbreaker jacket. Different forms of the Sportsanzug are also available in regards to the type of activity being conducted. Other variations include a  swimwear / swimsuit, sports jersey, sports shorts, sports socks, sports shoes for indoor and plastic-coated sports facilities and sports shoes for the terrain.

Other uniforms are authorized for wear by specialized branches within the Army such as the Sanitätsdiensttruppe who when serving in military hospitals wear uniforms similar to civilian doctors consisting of a consisting of a white shirt and white trousers. Rank insignia is worn on the shirt.  Medical personnel in the field environment are authorized the wear of the white armand with the red cross insignia on the left arm of the uniform. Aviators assigned to the Heeresfliegertruppe are authorized the wear of the Flugdienstanzug, or flight service dress consisting of an olive green one piece Nomex flight suit and soldiers assigned to armored units such as the Panzertruppen are authorized the wear of the Panzerkombination or Panzerkombi, a one piece uniform with pockets secured by zippers rather than buttons. The Panzerkombi is made of flame retardant Nomex material similar to the  Flugdienstanzug which is fire retardant in the event of  direct contact with fire, taking several seconds to catch fire, thus increasing the chance of survival by the crewmember in the event of a vehicle fire. On the back of the Panzerkombi, is an internal rescue loop, which is hidden under a Velcro slit where a wounded crew member can be saved easily in an emergency without assistance from the vehicle.

Luftwaffe Uniforms

The Dienstanzug for the Luftwaffe is similar to that of the Heer instead differentiating by color utilizing the colors of the Luftwaffe. For men, the Dienstanzug consists of a blue sidecap, a blue service jacket, blue trousers, a long sleeve service shirt, a blue necktie, smooth black trouser belt, black socks and a pair of black shoes. For women, the Dienstanzug consists of a similar uniform but authorizes the wear of stockings. As with the Army versions, there are specialized variations which include a greatcoat, with black gloves and a visor cap as well as a version with a blue jacket or blue pullover sweater with West Germany's flag on the shoulders of the sweater.

The Luftwaffe also has a form of the Sommerdienstanzug, or Summer Dress uniform of the sand tan color which is authorized for wear in overseas postings. It is essentially the same as the Army variation worn with Luftwaffe insignia and Luftwaffe issued headgear. The Luftwaffe also maintains its own variation of the Großer Dienstanzug as well as the Gesellschaftsanzug. Others uniforms worn by Luftwaffe personnel include Air Force approved versions of the medical service uniform as well as a blue gray version of the Flugdienstanzug for those on flight status.

Bundesmarine Uniforms

The Dienstanzug for the Bundesmarine is similar to that of the other branches of the Bundeswehr yet more reminiscent of Navy's around the world. It however differs amongst enlisted personnel and non-commissioned and commissioned officers. For enlisted personnel or Mannschaften, the uniform consists of a white service middy with blue collar and black tie, worn with black trousers and the white round 'Donald Duck' style sailors cap with a black cap tally with gold lettering denoting the service of the sailor. This uniform is available in a white or dark blue version for wear during summer or winter accordingly. The Dienstanzug for Non-Commissioned Officers or Commissioned Officers consists of a white peaked cap, dark blue service jacket, dark blue trousers, a white long sleeve service shirt, a long black tie, a black trouser belt, black socks and a pair of black shoes. For females, a dark blue skirt and long sleeve white blouse is authorized for wear with the Dienstanzug as well as stockings.

Like the Heer and Luftwaffe, the Bundesmarine has an alternate version of the Dienstanzug authorized for wear depending on the order of the day which may include a jacket, greatcoat, sweater or Colani coat.

The Bundesmarine also maintains a version of the Sommerdienstanzug but also maintains a secondary specialized uniform unique to its service. The weiße Sommerdienstanzug or White Summer Dress Uniform is authorized only for wear by the personnel of the Bundesmarine and consists of a white jacket and trousers, along with a white long sleeve shirt and dark blue tie. For women a white skirt is authorized for wear with the weiße Sommerdienstanzug.

Unlike the other services of the Bundeswehr, the Bundesmarine signifies rank with insignia embroidered onto the lower sleeves of the uniform rather than utilizing shoulderboards. Shoulderboards are however worn on uniforms such as the Sommerdienstanzug or weiße Sommerdienstanzug. On the enlisted personnel the rank insignia is usually sewn halfway upon the middy sleeve.

The Bundesmarine maintains its own Kampfanzug referred to as Bordgefechtsanzug or Board Battle Uniform. This uniform consists of a dark blue zipper jacket, a light blue shirt and dark blue trousers with leg pockets. The uniform is made of fire retardant aramid materials for better protecting the wearer from fires. Specialized board shoes and headgear are authorized for wear with the Bordgefechtsanzug. For cold weather operations there is a dark blue parka authorized for wear. For use during wet weather there is an orange wetsuit authorized for wear as well as specialized cold protective clothing. Soldier of the U-boat service also maintain their own specialized protective clothing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Lost Ranks: The Specialist Grades of the United States Army

The United States military came out a well organized and formidable fighting force at the end of the Second World War. It maintained one of the most well disciplined and distinguished cadre of soldiers in the world. With experiences garnered throughout the wartime period, the Army in particular had a large enlisted force of tradesmen that specialized in varying fields of service. At the time soldiers not bestowed the leadership title of non-commissioned officer could attain the ranks of Technician. This rank was formally established on 8 January 1942. The establishment of the grade of Technician gave technical specialists greater authority by ranking them as non-commissioned officers rather than differentiating them as senior enlisted personnel.The Technician grades paralleled the standing pay grade of the time with a Technician 5th Grade being equivalent to a Corporal, Technician Fourth Grade being equivalent to a Sergeant, Technician Third Grade being equivalent to a Staff Sergeant and finally a separate grade itself known as Technical Sergeant being established. Technicians were paid according to the grade scale, but was however outranked by his non-commissioned officer counterpart. A Technician was however senior to the next lowest pay grade and had no direct supervisory authority outside of their assigned specialty.

Technician grades were differentiated from existing non-commissioned officer grades by the authorization of a 'T' to be embroidered below the upper chevrons. Technicians existed in the United States Army pay scale from 8 January 1942 and were officially discontinued on 1 August 1948 in the years following the conclusion of the Second World War. With the discontinuation of the Technician grades, the United States Army began developing a new system to distinguish specialized soldiers from their non commissioned officer counterparts and this was completed on 1 July 1955, when the United States Army introduced four new grades which were designated Specialist. Specialist ranks effectively replaced the Technician grades and initially were Specialist Three which was equivalent to a Corporal, Specialist Two which was equivalent to a Sergeant, Specialist One which was equivalent to a Staff Sergeant and Master Specialist which was equivalent to a Sergeant First Class. The Specialist grades carried with them several distinctions which differentiated them from the Non-Commissioned Officer grades.

The essential Specialist rank in itself displays the eagle from the Great Seal of the United States. It depicts a bald eagle with its wings outstretched holding a bundle of 13 arrows in its left talon which represent the 13 original colonies, and an olive branch in its right talon. Together the arrows and olive branch symbolize the United States's desire to maintain peace, but it will always maintain a state of readiness in preparation for war. The olive branch depicts 13 leaves and 13 olives, again representing the 13 colonies. The eagle has its head turned towards the olive branch, which reflects its preference for peace. In its beak, the eagle clutches a scroll with the motto 'E pluribus unum' which means "Out of Many, One" in Latin. This eagle rests against a 'shield'. In the higher grades chevrons were added similar to the sergeant ranks of the non-commissioned officer corps.

Non-Commissioned Officers retained special privledges not afforded to the Specialist grades. These were not to reduce the privledges of Specialists but to augument the privledges and bolster the prestige of the Non-Commissioned Officer Corps. Non-Commissioned Officers primary duties were leading troops, a privledge not afforded to the Specialty grades, however Specialists were paid equivalent to their Non-Commissioned Officer counterparts. The Specialist grades were proficiency grades presented to soldiers who knew their military occupational specialties but did not want the responsibility of leadership.  Promotions were based on merit and the point system, so a soldier that excelled in his duties but wished to remain excelling, expanding his experience level and technical knowledge could advance the Specialty grade ladder rather than assume the command responsibilities or command authorities of a Non-Commissioned Officer. Different military occupational specialties which were the soldier's assigned jobs had varying transition periods where a soldier would transfer from a Specialist grade to a Non-Commissioned Officer or in other cases their course track and rank was determined by the 'slot' which was required to be filled in their organization.

Although senior to all enlisted grades, all Specialists regardless of their grade were outranked by all Non-Commissioned Officers from Corporal through to Sergeant Major. This and the lack of command authority are what differentiate the grades of Specialist from the Non Commissioned Officers commonly referred to as 'Hard Stripers'.

In 1958, the Department of Defense added two additional Specialist grades which were commonly referred to as 'super grades' to allow soldiers expanded opportunities to advance their careers. With these the Specialist grade went from four ranks to six and the pay grades changed to reflect the rank designation. Specialist Three became Specialist Fourth Class which was commonly referred to as SP4, Specialist Two became Specialist Fifth Class or SP5, Specialist One became Specialist Sixth Class or SP6, and Master Specialist became Specialist Seventh Class or SP7. With the addition of the two new ranks, Specialist Eighth Class or SP8 and Specialist Ninth Class or SP9 completed the Specialist grade charts.

In 1968, the United States Army established the rank of Command Sergeant Major and subsequently abolished the two 'super grades' of Specialist Eighth Class and Specialist Ninth Class without anyone having ever been promoted to these grades. Now, the pay scale was back to how it originally was prior to the 1958 changes. In 1978, the grade of Specialist Seventh Class was abolished and finally in 1985, the ranks of Specialist Sixth Class and Specialist Fifth Class were discontinued. Soldiers holding these ranks at the time of their abolition were afforded the opportunity of converting over to a corresponding Non-Commissioned Officer grade. With the dissolution of all other Specialist grades, Specialist Fourth Class simply became known as 'Specialist'  and it was henceforth changed from SP4 to SPC to reflect this new designation.

Although the designation has changed, the SPC titled is commonly still referred to as SP4 because of how similar the abbreviation of SPC is to SFC which is that reflecting the rank of Sergeant First Class. Today only the Specialist rank remains of the Specialist grades with all others having been relinquished to but footnotes in the history of an Army. Specialist is now generally the next rank on the path of career progression for enlisted soldiers in between the path of an enlisted man to that of a Non-Commissioned Officer. It is the equivalent in the civilian world of an apprentice progressing into the position of a journeyman in their respective field. With the abolishing of all other Specialist ranks their was no further method of identifying enlisted specialists from the Non-Commissioned Officers in leadership positions over them. Typically a Private First Class is promoted to the grade of Specialist after two years of satisfactory service and is typically more commonly presented over the rank of Corporal, with soldiers being promoted to Sergeant from the rank of Specialist who have passed significant leadership development courses or assigned to low level supervisory positions. 

Conflict between Comrades: Tension along the Oder-Neisse Line

Although the military forces of the German Democratic Republic were never deployed outside of East Germany's borders, they maintained a high state of readiness prepared to engage in acts of warfare against the western aggressors at a moments notice. In the event of an attack from NATO or on the orders of Moscow, the Nationale Volksarmee would be the tip of the spear being the vanguard force to engage the enemy. In the event of war, the NVA would essentially be absorbed into Soviet command structures operating in support of friendly Warsaw Pact military units. The Soviets under the banner of promoting socialism and unity amongst the allied nations of the Warsaw Pact held vast military exercises influencing what was known amongst the East Germans as 'waffenbruderschaft' or armed brotherhood. After the signing of the Warsaw Treaty Organization of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance by eight communist nations in eastern Europe on 14 May 1955 as a direct response to the formation of NATO , the Warsaw Pact went into effect promising mutual defensive assistance among the signing nations. The only problem was that not everything was as it seemed amongst two 'allies' the German Democratic Republic and the People's Republic of Poland.

The cause for the friction between the two nations was a disputed border line between East Germany and Poland drawn in the aftermath of the Second World War known as the Oder-Neisse line. The line was comprised primarily of the Oder and Lusatian Neisse Rivers which flow into the Baltic Sea to the north of both nations. The Oder-Neisse line was determined during the final months of the Second World War and it was designated that all territory east of the line which Germany has historically held would be turned over to Poland. Under this plan, much of the territory that had comprised the former Weimar Republic and traditionally East Prussia were to be divided up with the majority going to Poland and northern East Prussia was to be turned over to the Soviet Union. Before the Second World War, the border was recognized partially along the historical borders of the Holy Roman Empire and Greater Poland with appropriate adjustments made to accommodate ethnic compositions beyond the traditional provincial borders.

By the latter months of the Second World War, thought had already been taken into how not only post-war Germany would be divided up, but also how it's borders were to be drawn as well as those for the rest of eastern Europe. Originally Germany was to retain the town of Stettin on the Baltic Sea, while Poland was to annex the territories of East Prussia and Königsberg. The idea behind the East Prussia absorbing was that East Prussia's positioning effectively undermined the territorial and defensive integrity of Poland. The Polish government also wanted the transfer of the Silesian region of Oppeln, along with the Pomeranian regions which included Danzig, Bütow and Lauenburg. Finally to complete their claims, Poland demanded a straightening of the border in the territory of Western Pomerania. As Soviet armies swarmed across eastern Europe headed west towards Germany, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin decided that the USSR would claim the region of Königsberg which would be used as a warm water port for use by the Soviet Navy. In exchange for Königsberg, the Soviets argued that Poland should receive the town of Stettin. The Poles insisted on retaining the city of Lwów but Stalin rejected this idea, offering that all of Lower Silesia along with the city of Breslau be given to Poland.

With an undetermined border being disputed amongst differing parties, the Western Allies generally accepted that the Oder River would be Poland's western border, but it remained undetermined if the border should be based upon the eastern or western Neisse River and whether or not Stettin which traditionally served as a port to Berlin would remain German or Polish. The Western Allies pushed for the border line to be along the eastern Neisse River at Breslau however, Stalin rejected this proposal. The final decision on the border line came at the Potsdam Conference in 1945 when it was decided that Stettin would be renamed Szczecin and turned over to the Poles and the boundary would be drawn between the western Neisse River and the Kwisa River. With the finalized Potsdam Agreement of 2 August 1945, it was decided that all German territories east of the Oder-Neisse line would be turned over to Poland and that all Germans inhabiting land in the new and old Polish territories would be expelled from the region. The new acquisitions to Poland's territory was known as the 'recovered territories' and the border concession was agreed to primarily because it was the shortest border between Germany and Poland at only 293 miles in length stretching from the estuaries of the Baltic Sea to the northernmost point of Czechoslovakia.

When the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands 'Socialist Unity Party of Germany' was founded on 21 April 1946 by the merger of two former communist parties in the section of eastern Germany under Soviet administration, the SED initially refused to accept the Oder-Neisse line as the border area. With Soviet troops occupying its territory and with heavy pressure coming from Moscow, the SED relented and the term Friedensgrenze or 'Border of Peace' was developed to reference the area. On 6 July 1950, the German Democratic Republic now its own state, had signed an agreement known as the Treaty of Zgorzelec with the People's Republic of Poland which recognized the Oder-Neisse line as the official boundary. With preliminary offers of German reunification eing formulated, Josef Stalin propsed that the recognition of the Oder Neisse line be but one of many conditions which would be grounds for reunifying the divided nations. West Germany's Chancellor Konrad Adenauer rejected the offer under West Germany's policy of not recognizing the sovereignity of the German Democratic Republic or the communist government of the People's Republic of Poland. The border line was seen by many in West Germany as unacceptable as West Germany had received some 12 million displaced refugees from their expulsions from Poland's annexation of former German territories.

With the land border between Poland and East Germany effectively settled by the Treaty of Zgorzelec, the maritime borders remained disputed. The port city of Szczecin became highly contested with the SED in East Berlin declaring East Germany's territorial waters extended twelve miles out into the Baltic Sea rather than only three miles into the Baltic Sea. By 1985, it was rumored that naval forces of East Germany's navy, the Volksmarine and Poland's navy, the Marynarka Wojenna clashed several times over the rights of their respective nation's fishing boats, yachts and freighters crossing the Pomeranian Bay to reach Szczecin's ports. It was said that on several occasions gunfire was even exchanged between forces of the two navies. Leaders of the People's Republic of Poland claimed the Szczecin issue was an economic matter involving rights to use the Bay of Pomerania which the East German's were undermining at a time when the Poles were reinventing the harbors of Szczecin into a free trade zone. East Germany's claims to the Bay of Pomerania and access to Szczecin's ports were largely seen as an extension of the rift between East and West Germany.

East Berlin asserted that the presence of the Volksmarine was to soley protect its territorial integrity. Naval forces of the Volksmarine frequently detained fishing boats that it felt had violated East Germany's waters and impounded them. On many occasions the Marynarka Wojenna would hasten to the scene in an attempt to deter the incident at hand. Official recognition of the naval clashes was never publicly announced however on one occasion it was documented that in February of 1984 a freighter from Turkey had been stopped by East German warships. The ship had mistakenly strayed from its designated sea lanes and in response to the East German seizure of the vessel, the People's Republic of Poland deployed its own warships confirmed to be armed with live ammunition and rockets to retrieve the freighter from East German custody. It would not be until 1988, that the maritime border issue would be resolved when it was determined that two thirds of the disputed maritime border area where to go to the German Democratic Republic.

It would not be until shortly before reunification in 1989 that a treaty would be formally implemented to acknowledge the new maritime border between the two nations. It would be but one of several fractures in the facade of socialist unity during the latter years of the Cold War as reformist governments set to implement new policies and work in their own best interests. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Man with a Smile that lit up the Cold War: Yuri Gagarin

Coinciding with the massive arms buildup that became symbolic of the Cold War, was an increasing international interest in space exploration. Whether the motives behind the interest in space were to progress weapons technology, develop ways to gather intelligence on opponents without their immediate knowledge or to increase national prestige will never be precisely known however, the Cold War era drastically paralleled the often tumultuous series of events known as the Space Race. Both the United States and the Soviet Union launched a series of missions some manned or unmanned, some successful and some meeting with tragedy in hopes of outdoing the other to increase the national image of their nation. With the launch of the first artificial satellite known as Sputnik I on 4 October 1957 by the Soviet Union, there was no turning back. The stage was now set for the exploration of space, a realm which would come to be deemed 'the final frontier'. With a satellite in orbit, the Soviets soon turned their attention towards putting the first human in orbit around the Earth. The man that would be selected for the mission would be a young Russian by the name of Yuri Gagarin.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino near the town of Gzhatsk, Russia in the Soviet Union on 9 March 1934. His parents worked on a collective farm in socialist fashion endorsed by the Soviet government. His father Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin was a carpenter and bricklayer by trade, and his mother Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina was a milkmaid. Yuri was the third of four children born to the Gagarins. The family suffered greatly when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. Gagarin's hometown of Klushino would fall to Nazi occupation in November of 1941 as the German Wehrmacht advanced towards Moscow. During the occupation, a German officer took over the Gagarin's residence and forced the family into a mut hut on the land behind the family home. The family would spend nearly a year and a half living in the tiny mud hut before advancing Soviet forces liberated the village but not before Yuri's older brother Valentin and older sister Zoya were deported by the Germans to Poland for slave labor in 1943. With the end of the Great Patriotic War in 1945, and the Soviet victory over fascism, Yuri's older siblings returned home and in 1946, the family moved to Gzhatsk where Yuri would advance his secondary education.

In 1950 at the age of 16, Yuri was enrolled into an apprenticeship as a foundryman at the  Lyubertsy Steel Mill near Moscow. Along with his apprenticeship, Gagarin took evening classes for young workers to advance his education. He graduated vocational school in 1951 with honors in the trades of moldmaking and foundry work where he was then enrolled into the Saratov Industrial Technical School, where he studied tractors and other farming machinery. It was here where Gagarin's future would ultimately begin to take shape when he volunteered for weekend training as an air cadet in a local Soviet aeronautics club. It was from here that he developed an interest in aeronautics and flight. While earning extra money as a dock laborer on the Volga River, he paid for flight lessons first flying biplanes before progressing to the Yakovlev Yak-18 Max two seat training airplane.

When he graduated from the Saratov Industrial Technical School, Yuri Gagarin was drafted into the Soviet Army in 1955, where upon recommendation he was sent to the First Chkalov Air Force Pilot's School located in Orenburg, in southern Russia close to the border with the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. It was here that in 1957 he learned to fly the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15 Fagot jet fighter. He would graduate from Orenburg on 7 November 1957. After graduation, Gagarin and his new bride Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva a graduate of the Orenburg Medical School were assigned to the Luostari airbase in the Murmansk Oblast located not far from the Soviet border with Norway. Harsh weather conditions at the Luostari airbase made flight operations difficult and dangerous but nonetheless Gagarin was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force on 5 November 1957 and on 6 November 1957 he was promoted to the rank of Senior Lieutenant.

Following the successful launch of the Sputnik I satellite a month earlier in October, the Soviets began focusing on the next step of preparing to put a man in orbit around the Earth. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev began planning for the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution that had brought communism to power in the Soviet and wanted a spacecraft to be launched on 7 November 1957. A more advanced satellite was under development however it would not be ready in time to meet Khrushchev's deadline so instead a new craft would be built to partake on a mission that would again bring the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to the forefront of the world as they would repeat the championing of the Sputnik I launch. This would lead to the launch of Sputnik II. As little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living organisms at the time, and methods for reentry had not been developed at the time, a stray dog named Laika was chosen to partake in the mission. Laika became the first animal to orbit the Earth, however she would die within hours of the launch from overheating.

The success of the Sputnik II mission proved to Soviet officials that a living passenger could survive being launched into space and endure weightlessness. The journey to human spaceflight was now underway.

In 1960, Yuri Gagarin along with 19 other candidates were selected for the Soviet space program. From here he along with five others would graduate to become members of the elite Sochi Six which would go on to become the first cosmonauts of the Vostok program. After submitting to rigorous tests examining their physical and psychological endurance the selection came down to two candidates Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov as to whom would be the first man into space. With his physical prowess as an avid player of ice hockey, and basketball as well as his small stature, Yuri Gagarin was chosen to be the Soviet Union's first cosmonaut to orbit the Earth.

The launch into Earth's orbit would be conducted on 12 April 1961, when aboard the Vostok I space craft, Yuri Gagarin would be propelled into history becoming the first human to enter outer space as well as orbit the Earth while Vostok I conducted the first orbital flight of a manned vehicle. Vostok I was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. When he returned to the Soviet Union from outer space, Gagarin was hailed as a national hero to the Soviet Union. For his accomplishments in the advancement of the Soviet space program, Gagarin was made a Hero of the Soviet Union on 14 April 1961.

His fame skyrocketed worldwide as he toured the world visiting both Germanies, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Egypt and Finland to promote the Soviet feat. He also would visit the United Kingdom touring both London and Manchester. It was a great propaganda victory over the West for the Soviet Union. With his sudden fame, Gagarin suffered a series of setbacks which took its toll on the young pilot including bouts of alcoholism and on atleast one occasion he was caught having an affair with a nurse by his wife. The encounter and subsequent flight of Gagarin resulted in a permanent scar above his left eyebrow after he hit his face on a kerbstone while fleeing the room.

On 12 June 1962, Yuri Gagarin was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet Air Force and on 6 November 1963 he would be promoted to the rank of Colonel. He would be restricted from any further flight activities as it was feared the national hero of the Soviet Union would be lost. He would be a backup pilot for his friend Vladimir Komarov, when he would be launched into space aboard the Soyuz I space craft. The launch was contested by Gagarin who argued that the appropriate safety measures had not been taken and ultimately the launch ended terribly when upon reentry the Soyuz I space capsule crashed to Earth following a parachute failure. Komarov would become the first human to be killed during a spaceflight. The death of Komarov took its toll on Gagarin, and Soviet authorities permanently barred Gagarin from any further space flights. With no further spaceflights in his future, Gagarin began focusing on requalifying as a fighter pilot.

On 27 March 1968, the Soviet Union's worst fears were realized when Yuri Gagarin was killed during a routine training flight from Chkalovsky Air Base near the town of Shchyolkovo in the Moscow Oblast. Yuri Gagarin and his flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin had been flying a Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-15UTI, the two seat trainer variant of the MiG-15 jet fighter. It was reported that a Sukhoi Su-15 Flagon fighter, a much larger aircraft than the MiG-15 was flying a test in the vicinity of Gagarin's flight plan although it was to fly at an altitude well above the course Gagarin and Seryogin were to fly. The weather on the day of the crash was poor with heavy rain and a low cloud formation which severly limited visibility. At the time of the crash, Alexei Leonov who was a friend of Gagarin's was scheduled to perform parachute jump training when he heard two large booms. The first boom was determined to be the sound of an aircraft breaking the sound barrier and the second to be the sound of an aircraft colliding with the ground. The booms were within seconds of each other followed by an abrupt silence.

When the crash site was located investigators first found Seryogin's body but Gagarin's was nowhere to be found. It wouldn't be recovered until the following day thus dashing Soviet hopes that he had atleast ejected and survived the crash. Leonov identifed Gagarin's body by a mole on Gagarin's neck. Witnesses to the crash told an investigation board that they had seen the Su-15 streaking from the cloud formation with its tail section ablaze and smoking however it was flying much lower than the mission profile had authorized. According to witnesses it was flying closer to 2,000 feet not the 33,000 feet filed in the test report. A larger aircraft like the Su-15 has the power to roll a smaller aircraft like a MiG-15 over if they come too close to each other. The timing between the two booms indicated that the aircraft were about 30 feet apart at the time of the accident. The momentum of the Flagon flying at nearly supersonic speeds shook Gagarin's MiG from the sky, forcing it into a spiral dive and the aircraft impacted the ground at a speed of some 470 miles per hour killing Gagarin and Seryogin instantly. There was only 55 seconds between the pilot's last communication and the impact with the ground.

The identity of the other pilot was never identified and official reports covered up the incident blaming the crash on a bird strike, or alcoholism amongst other theories. Regardless at the age of 34, the man who was said to possess a smile 'that lit up the Cold War' was dead.