(U) You can live in West Germany and not be aware of the Iron Curtain, or -- more specifically -- the inner-German boundary and the Czechoslovak-Federal Republic frontier. Unlike Berlin, where the wall seems to be forever coming into view, the average American in West Germany could easily pass a complete vacation or tour of duty without ever visiting the eastern border. I know because I did it for over two years. Yes, you know it is there, much as one knows the Canadian and Mexican borders are north and south of where one lives in the United States, but you do not really "know" this border if you have not seen or visited this outer edge of the Communist world. My first encounter with the border was by accident. I was on a trip to Hamburg from southern Germany when suddenly I could see it across a small valley. From a distance, it looked like the outer part of any number of prisons or work farms I had passed before, only this one continued on for miles and miles. I had not realized the train would skirt the border and became fascinated with the way the barrier system looked so commonplace and yet so formidable.
(U) It seemed impossible that an individual could safely climb the fence without being detected by one of the numerous watchtowers or setting off one of the notorious mines placed on the fence. Seemingly, the only safe time would be to climb over at night when it would be difficult for the watchtower guards to see, but then one would be playing a modern-day version of Russian roulette with the unseen mines. Add to this the Communist authorities' efforts to keep their citizens ignorant of the exact nature and depth of the border barrier system, and it becomes easy to imagine how formidable it must appear to a citizen of an East Bloc country contemplating an unauthorized emigration to the West. One tragic story tells of a father and son who thought they had safely escaped when they climbed over an inner fence only to be wounded and captured as they accidentally stumbled into the outer fence, apparently unaware there were two fences.
(U) As was mentioned in the preface, this study came about because a former USAREUR headquarters DCSOPS wanted to have in one document as much information as was available about the US Army's border operations in Germany. After a short period of research, it became obvious to the author that there was a very interesting story to be told about the evolution of border operations from the end of World War II to the present. The study became a combination of a narrative account of US experience on the border and an attempt to be almost encyclopedic in its coverage of this important subject. The
reader who is following the narrative account may be somewhat distressed by the mass of information that breaks up the flow of- the story, and the researcher who is trying to get complete answers for specific questions will sometimes discover holes in the information presented. Although a comprehensive research effort was conducted, and many border operations personnel were interviewed, this study is not the final word on the subject. There remain gaps in its coverage because the information was not available. It is hoped that these gaps will be filled by future research and by information provided by readers of this study.
(U) Some o the gaps in coverage were by intent. No attempt was made to cove East Bloc border agencies or intelligence activities along the order. These organizations and activities were covered extensively in various excellent intelligence documents. Nor was there coverage of other US elements' operations in the area unless they impinged directly on US Army border operations. And finally, due to the classified nature of this study and its intended readership, the author assumed a certain amount of familiarity with the US Army. For example, it was assumed that the readers had some understanding about basic types of US Army organizations and they were given information primarily on how the border units differed from the norm due to their border missions. Hopefully, a balance was struck between telling the reader too much and not enough.
(U) The original tasking for this study thought it ought to address the following topics:
- A history of US units that operated along the border as well as their operational methodology.
- Legal agreements, protocols, decisions, treaties, and amendments that initiated and required continuation of the United States involvement on the Federal Republic's eastern border.
- An examination of German border operations, both as an occupied territory and as a sovereign power.
- The level of participation by other Allied forces, especially the British and the French.
Essentially, that outlines the overall parameters of this study, but it should be pointed out that the sequence of events and organizational changes did not happen in a vacuum. As a consequence, a great
deal of effort went into placing the different changes and events in a USAREUR and European historical context.
(U) The first question asked by most Americans -- those few who are even aware that the US Army carries out extensive border operations in Germany -- is why we are doing this rather than the Germans. First of all, German agencies do conduct their own border patrols, and, in fact, their more extensive border operations are carried out by some of the most highly professional border patrol personnel in the world. It is not a matter of the Federal Republic really needing the US Army to guard the border; rather it is a political commitment -one not lightly taken, and one not lightly put down. In this sensitive area where everything seems to have political significance -especially if your country is one of the major participants -- and everything is closely scrutinized to see what political 'message is being sent, to abandon US border operations, or even to reduce their scope, has been seen as being politically unacceptable almost from the beginning.
(U) Therefore, the question of whether to continue border operations, or at what level, has rarely been determined solely on the operational requirements of the US Army in Germany. Actually, there are very solid operational reasons for continuing US Army border operations. In addition to providing necessary surveillance of enemy forces, conducting border operations provides a training environment that is excelled by few places where the US Army stations its forces. This perception of operating in the "real world" is clearly evident in the morale and professionalism of the units that perform this duty.
(U) The primary business of current border operations is surveillance pure and simple. Each side watches the other and collects detailed intelligence information. This ranges from the use of highly sophisticated aerial surveillance systems to direct visual observations by soldiers on patrol. One American soldier recalled a situation in which his patrol came across an East German border patrol supervising a work party on its side of the border. Each side went into the ritualistic dance of observing and noting the most minute information about the other. Apparently, the other patrol leader was having trouble making out the name tag of the American patrol leader through his field glasses and yelled across the border, "What name?" The American replied, "John Smith," and watched in amusement as the innocent patrol leader dutifully wrote down a name no American motel clerk would ever record.
(U) Although there are occasional border incidents today -- some that become shooting incidents -- it is difficult to imagine the state of anarchy that reigned on the border at the dawn of the new "peace" in 1945 as the former Allies began almost immediately to seal off the boundary between their zones of occupation. At that time, there were no walls and few fences -- just a tremendous geopolitical and psychological distance emerging between the former Allies. Never very friendly, now that they had disposed of their common foe, all of the old rivalries and suspicions reemerged almost immediately. Even though there was a pretense of maintaining a common front in the early years, it was clear almost from the first that a division was taking place, and both sides seemed helpless to prevent this potential tripwire for future conflicts from being set up.
(U) It is here that we begin the story of US Army border operations in Germany.
page created 23 July 2002
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