Connecting the Troopers of Today with the Veterans of Yesterday.
A bit of hyperbole in the header. But not really. I won’t use names even though everyone involved is still active in Armor and Cavalry Associations and Groups.
Sometime around '85 (Or so), we were headed out on Patrol. Completed our overlay and turned it in, when we picked it up prior to the Pre-Patrol Brief, Op's had added a two hour OP. Everything about the position was bad.
First it was bad because I hated OP's to begin with. Then it was up near an area I (we) had avoided in the past and knew there was not only nothing there, but it was a hard area to get into. Then the position they gave us was on the downhill side of a forward slope backed up by dense Forrest completely exposed. On top of all that they put the OP in a position I had to leave the Assistant Patrol Leader back probably 2 1/2 Km to cover the road, (Normally 500 meters to 1Km) and there was two feet of snow on the ground. And they placed the OP right after a checkpoint that would force us to go through the woods or find a way around, even though there was a small road parallel to the Border, to get to it using roads I would have to drive half way around Germany.
After studying the map and the worst OP position I had been sent on, I knew what that meant. ROC INSPECTION!. That OP was laid out to test every single skill a Patrol Leader would need to be an effective Patrol Leader, except for one. Actual Observation and Reporting. I thought.
We head to the OP after the checkpoint. Turned out there was an opening about like you see where there are power lines run through a Forrest here in the States. The APL set up way back and we skirted the tree line through the snow until we pulled up to the grid they gave us. Found a hide spot but still a crappy position and exposed. The Border was about 200 meters to our front and the only thing there was big open fields and a Barn.
Shortly after getting into position we began hearing these loud BOOM's. I couldn't figure out where they were coming from, I scanned all over then noticed we would hear these Boom's and clouds of smoke would rise out of the forest to the northeast. I waited a little bit and observed the smoke and the smoke seemed to be timed with the Boom's. The only thing I knew that could do that was Artillery. The problem was the Boom’s were coming from the east, but when I worked up the grid for the smoke, it was in the West. Well you have to report what you see and Op’s wants details so I reported to what amounted to “Observing Artillery”. Except I wasn’t actually observing artillery because I had not actually SEEN artillery.
I get the Charlie Mike and continue to report from Op’s and about that time the ROC Inspector, 2nd ACR, pulls up like I knew they would. But he just sits there off to my left. Five minutes after he pulls up, out of the barn rolls a BTR-60. 2nd ACR doesn’t have any BTR-60’s! This BTR-60 is on our side of the Border, sitting dead in the center of the road to our front. I call it up and of course at the same time I am still calling in the “Booms” and smoke. As far as I was concerned this was not an inspection, this was the real deal. Artillery off to our northeast and a BTR-60 with weapon mounted sitting dead in front of me. Op’s gave me no indication at all this was anything other than the real deal. Especially since, once everything was rolling, I was no longer on the radio with OP’s, now I was on the radio with both the Squadron and Regimental Commander.
As far as I was concerned, serious “stuff” was going down. I seriously considered busting open the Set Box and calling in a FLB. But thought about it and decided to do what I was there for. Observe and Report. Per SOP I called the Assistant Patrol Leader to move forward into a position he could observe off to my right. He did a good job maneuvering through the woods and staying concealed, except when he pulled out he was not in a position to observe what I couldn’t see and couldn’t move because of all the snow. He ended up twenty feet or so off my right, AND STUCK and also FULLY EXPOSED. There was enough Rank on the other end of that radio if an FLB needed to be called, then they would call it…and blow every Unit on the Border out and possibly even alert Divisions for all I knew.
Well if it wasn’t real up to that point, it got real because the Czech Air Force turned it real. At that point everything was sort of going crazy with nonstop radio talk. No indication AT ALL that this was not real. Then the ROC NCO comes up to my 151 and says “Look up”. I did, there were two fully armed Mig-21’s running in sort of an orbit. I looked up and those Boom’s were coming from those Mig’s, they were flying no more than 1000 to 1500 feet. Right up to the Border, sharp turn and “boom” take off, then the next one behind that. As they were flying up to the Border, their pointy parts were pointed in the direction of the BTR, no doubt whatsoever they were trying to figure out what was going on. And also no doubt they were fully capable of destroying a Defecting BTR and crew.
All during this, unbeknownst to me, Op’s had been maneuvering two other Patrols into our area to see if they could identify the smoke I had reported. But I am watching these Mig’s and one of them does what I was hoping they wouldn’t do. He crossed the Border and flew very near the BTR, which was still sitting there not moving and was a very nice target being surrounded by snow and painted black. He flew above but behind the BTR, then turned around and flew back, followed by the next Mig who did not cross the Border.
I didn’t care, at this point I will not lie. I was “very concerned”. But knew I couldn’t go anywhere. So I did something that was the one and only time I ever did it on the Border. I flashed the Net (Cleared all radio traffic) and called up a Fragrep Larum Bell. (War). That definitely cleared the Net, because we had a good twenty seconds of Radio Silence. That was followed by my buddy in Op’s, Cpl. M, on the radio in a very calm voice saying “Patrol, (Whatever my call sign was that day), we need to know, is this a ROC scenario or a real world situation?”. I informed them this was a real world situation and that I had a real BTR-60 sitting right in front of me and two Mig-21’s flying right in front of me. Once identifying the Mig’s, ROC had left.
Well that BTR-60 was ours. It was one of the OPFOR Display vehicles from Graf that we had got from the Israeli’s and was set up as part of the ROC Inspection scenario, the crew was 7th ATC guys and they were buttoned up and completely oblivious as to what was going on. But when I informed Op’s this was real world and I had two Mig’s in front of me. Well that is when “all hell broke loose”. I was, very quickly, given the BTR’s freq and instructed to contact them in the clear and instruct them to get back in the barn. There was a very real danger they would be engaged by one of the Mig’s. But…they didn’t have any Commo.
I could not get them on the radio. They were only a couple of hundred meters in front so I was then instructed to go to the vehicle and “GET THAT BTR BACK IN THE BARN!”. So I drove down the hill to them, and almost as soon as I pulled up, they drove off. They didn’t have comm’s, what they had was a written timeline to coincide with the ROC Inspection timeline, the timeline was time for them to start rolling and that is what they did. The problem was the Mig’s were still on the scene and when they began moving, and I was instructed to follow them, make contact and get them into a hide position, something I was unable to do, as long as they were on that road those Mig’s continued to fly up and sort of shadow the movement then peeled off until finally they flew off for good.
I followed the BTR, per my instructions, as far as (I think the town name was) Altenstadt, whatever it was it was close to Graf. Assistant Patrol Leader caught up and we were ordered to immediately report to the Operations Cell. When we got there, there was a lot of Rank there. And some upset people, at the very least, it gave the Czech’s a “Basis for Diplomatic Protest”, I would think. Would the Czech’s have engaged the BTR if ordered? No idea, but I would like to have talked to those Czech Pilots after the Cold War to know what they were thinking that day. It would not have started a War if they had engaged. East Germans and Czech’s engaged plenty during the Cold War, never started hot WWIII. Plus there were procedures in place that would allowed the Ops Cell to get word to the Czechs that was not their vehicle. I don’t know if they did, I wasn’t in the Op’s Cell. But I know for a fact Ops would (or should) have immediately been on the phone with the BRO and the BRO would have immediately been on the phone with the Czechs. But those Mig’s hung around for an awfully long time.
I also know I made one major error, which wasted valuable minutes. There was no requirement for a Fragrep Larum Bell in order to send a Flash Precedence report. Until I sent up the FLB, Flash Precedence, everyone in Op’s was still under the impression this was a developing ROC Inspection scenario. The Czech’s did not in fact commit an act of war. In order for it to have reached that level both Mig’s would have had to cross at the same time. What they actually did was commit a Border Violation. The appropriate report would have been to send up a Fragrep in Flash Precedence so Op’s would know it was real world rather than a ROC Inspection scenario. In those few minutes, Ops and our Commanders were completely in the dark about what was really going on.
Could have been really bad, but fortunately it didnt turn out that way. .
We earned those Spurs - Border Ops was Chaos with rules and sometimes short on rules....