Recently I was asked to write something about the Cold War from the point of view of someone who served in Germany during the Cold War period. In my case, 1964-1966. Since this will be blog #601 in the WSF list of things not needed to be said, prepare for a long one.
Ground warfare is more than anything, logistics and movement. My assignment was to a Float Bridge Company. Between Madrid and Warsaw, per classes we attended, an army will encounter a water barrier (river, canal, wetlands) requiring specialized equipment every 50 miles, on average. A small view with equipment from the actual unit I served in:
The main focus of the units we supported was split into two areas. First, near Hanau, German, was staged all the equipment for a Division. All vehicles were loaded, fueled, and ready to go. The plan was to fly in a Division from the United States that could immediately go into the field.
The second area was the East German/Czechoslovakian border. Then,
Probably the best known area was around Fulda, Germany popularly known as “The Fulda Gap.” The terrain is mainly rugged with a few valleys and low areas (gaps). Invading and retreating armies have used these routes for centuries. Napoleon retreated through one. The US Army maintained a large presence in these areas. A long, but comprehensive, documentary can be found at:
My unit was often tasked with “shitty little jobs” along the border in support of various units. One engineer unit (not us) based at Gelnhausen was in charge of portable atomic demolition munitions (SDAM). One model, pictured below, was loaded into the back of a M 151 (jeep) and driven to a predetermined position where it was to be armed, timer set, and the crew to run like hell.
Access and improvements were needed to these positions, with many positions made so as to confuse the enemy. Hello, Ditch Boys, get to work.
We were called upon to investigate “strange” objects. We dug the remains of one of these out of some nasty bushes.
The Calvary units in the area had a particularly nasty atomic weapon called the Davy Crocket.
These were little more than a hand grenade as far as survival of the crews firing them was concerned. Again, access and improvements to the sites was needed so again, hello Ditch Boys.
Part of the Combat Engineer’s trade is land mines, both emplacing and clearing. From time to time we got to play with these:
The units stationed in the area had their own engineers. Why did they haul our happy little asses up there? My guess was to force the Soviets to find more spies to cover more bars, further away, to report drunken soldier talk.
Going back the first focus, the prepositioned equipment, our assignment was to bridge the Main River (assumed the fixed bridges would be destroyed/damaged) and hold the bridge head for troops retreating from the North, and then for use by the troops flown in. I had little faith in the plan (shouldn’t have known about it; way above my pay grade – bite me). We assembled next to the best airborne landing site in West Germany:
Goggle Earth N 50° 06’ 36” E 8
57’ 12” which was treeless in those days and
Whenever we had an alert (always one or more per month) we would load up for war and head out from our nearby Kaserne (if we weren’t in the field somewhere) to the assembly area. I always looked up expecting Russian airborne. As an aside, our ammo and demolition supply bunkers were in that area. A lovely place to walk guard with no live ammo, in the dark, with radical elements of the German population looking for bomb making supplies. With all the sand, wind, and precipitation, you came back muddy.
All in all, a lot better duty than Korea, or later, Vietnam.
I never understood the attitude of many in my unit. While I never bought into the whole Hoorah, I damn sure paid attention to those things that could get me killed or could keep me alive. I acquired, and carried with me, all kinds of maps. Had my own compasses and knew how to use them. Acquired my own .308 caliber rifle (early M-14s were not well made or reliable). Made it a point to really explore the area around Hanau and Wolfgang. Went to every school available (film projection, postal clerk, photography lab, Pathfinder, Mines/Demolition school, etc. This got me off a lot of shit details as the NCOs knew I went way past the Guard Duty/KP/Motor Stables daily grind in knowledge, ability, and reliability. Alcohol and temper remained an issue but made me fit right in with the career NCOs.
Just in case people don’t think the Army was prepared for an ugly war, look at the tank retriever below. Now, picture it with a heavy steel v shaped 6’ high snow plow. The plow wasn’t needed for snow. They were to be used to clear the roads of refuges and their vehicles.
Hopefully, this is what my reader wanted. I hope the other two or three of you weren’t bored.
Special note to any Brown Shoe soldiers still alive to read this. Look at the boots of the SFC in the Davy Crocket picture. With those shinny lace grommets, those must be brown boots redyed black. And who was going to tell him he couldn't wear them?