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  SGT Rick Laws, while assigned to Fox Troop, could certainly read the small print on the various US Army publications that were available to soldiers; Blackhorse, Stars and Stripes and EurArmy were always looking for interesting stories and pictures that soldiers submitted. Rick wrote and sent in this article in 1982 and did a great job telling the story of the border – remember, the vast majority of US soldiers never had the chance to get within the 5 K zone. As his career progressed, Rick served two tours with the Eaglehorse, a tour in Korea, became a Warrant Officer, served in various Engineer units and deployed to Desert Storm with the 20th Engineer Battalion from Fort Campbell. Once more back to Germany and then retirement; along the way he earned an undergraduate and Master’s degree. Still very active, he currently is a civilian logistics program leader, working for a private company, in support of US forces in Afghanistan.

Look Both Ways
EurArmy Magazine, June 1982


The Iron Curtain, patrolled by the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment and other USAREUR units, is the most visual and vivid reminder of the division of Germany into two nations. In thought and deed, the building of the Iron Curtain began immediately after the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany. The foundation of the Iron Curtain is built upon the Soviet Union's belief that both people and resources must be controlled. Western powers, especially the German people, viewed the Soviets' restrictive program as extremely repressive and a violation of their rights. After the political division became a physical reality, the only acceptable alternative to life under the oppression of the Soviet Union was escape. The Soviet Union's action to stop the mass flight of the refugees in-creased in intensity as the tide of refugees swelled. The most infamous and easily remembered Soviet action, which nearly plunged the world into war again, was the Berlin Blockade.

With Soviet logic, the physical building of the Iron Curtain was inevitable. By 1953 nearly three and one-half million East Germans had fled to the West. Even with new births, at the 1953 rate of escape, it would have taken less than a generation to depopulate the Soviet Zone. The Soviet conclusion was inescapable: in order to keep this satellite country populated, its citizens had to be prevented from fleeing.

The communist East German Border Command, over 40,000 strong, patrols the border 24 hours a day. Its orders are to shoot first and ask questions later if anyone, including another guard, looks as though he is attempting to escape. The East Germans and the Soviet Union say the Iron Curtain is there to protect them from the West. As you look at the physical barriers and all of the protective measures, take careful note of the construction. The barriers are built to serve only one purpose-to prevent the flow of people traveling west.
 
     
      The border's double fences and a ground sensing device in the winter snow  

The barriers that have evolved from simple barbed-wire fences in the 1960s to the elaborate metal grid fence of today, still under construction and 4 modification in many areas, have made escape more difficult. People in several towns and villages near the border in East Germany were forced to relocate elsewhere. People working in fields and facilities within five kilometers of the border must have special passes authorizing their presence in the area.

If you are in East Germany and walk west toward the border, you will come upon a chain of observation towers built in vast, open areas and at other visual vantage points. There are also bunkers on hilltops adjacent to the towers. Communications lines 0 poles connect the towers. A patrol road runs parallel to the towers, the entire length of the border. Several meters west of the patrol road are anti-vehicular ditches. If you cross these ditches you come within reach of the first fence. The fences are made of metal grid fence plates and cement poles. The fencing now most common along the border frontier is about three meters high with a heavy diamond pattern cut into the grid plates. The communists are thorough-the nuts and bolts that hold the plates together are removable only from the west side of the fence.

From the first fence, again continuing west, you would next encounter the heavy-concentration mine-fields about 50 meters deep. These minefields have anti-vehicular and anti-personnel mines. They are followed by a second fence, made the same as the first.
All these barriers are in the East German sector of the marked inter-zonal boundaries. Fifty meters west of the second fence are the actual border markers, which stick one meter above the ground. These markers are white poles with either a blue or a red stripe painted around the upper part of the marker. Beyond these markers, on the west side, are other markers warning persons in West Germany that they're approaching the inter-zonal boundaries.

In several areas of the border are many mobile monitoring sites which frequently appear and disappear at various points along the border section. Soviet and East German communications sites monitor Western activities. These monitoring units are in position a few days, pack up and then reappear again in a new location. Work crews continually move through the perimeters to repair eroded fence sections and replace older fence portions.

As of 1979, the double-fence configuration is being replaced in some areas with a higher, single-fence system. This system has the same features as the first, with the addition of shotgun-type personnel mines attached to the fence in vulnerable areas. And reinforced concrete anti-vehicular ditches are being constructed which are wider and have steeper sides. There are two types of East German watchtowers. The box-type towers are replacing the round "tube" towers in many areas along the border and in most newly constructed tower sites. Both types of towers are equipped with communications lines, high-intensity spotlights and, of course, automatic weapons. The round tube towers are mostly outdated and presumed most expensive in construction. Allied border patrols have reported that some of these towers have fallen over, weakened by erosion around the foundations.

     
  A gate to access the border. The fence is East German, occasionally maintenance personnel use the gates.   US Army OH-58 observation helicopter near the East West German border. An older round style guard tower in the background.  

The mission of the 11th ACR is to conduct active reconnaissance and surveillance of the inter-zonal boundary, and thus serve as the eyes and cars of NATO. In conjunction with other surveillance systems, this unit would give the earliest possible notice of an enemy attack. The 11th handles the mission by assigning different company-sized units to rotational border tours of 20 to 30 days each. The unit on border duty is responsible for conducting vehicle patrols and manning field radar and observations 24 hours a day.

Alarm trip wires are placed in many areas 500 meters east of the first fence. In construction areas there are increased guard forces, stretches of concertina wire and dog runs. Dogs are chained to long lengths of cable, and the animals patrol up and down the length of the cable. This security method is excellent for deterring and/ or destroying would-be escapees. In areas of suspected crossings and escapes, the shotgun-type fence mines and surveillance devices protect the people in the East. In most cases where the terrain permits, there are wide, plowed strips so guards can watch for footsteps of persons walking in the area.

Three West German agencies patrol the west side; they are the Federal Border Police (Bundesgrenzschiutz) Customs (Zoll) and the Bavarian Border Police (Bayerisehe Grenzpolizei). Assisting the German authorities is the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, nicknamed the Black Horse Regiment during the 1916 expeditions in Mexico. The 11th maintains the defensive watch for all of the NATO nations,

The 11th ACR has three squadrons, which conduct the actual border ground patrols. A command and control squadron provides rotary wing and support missions. The patrolling squadron (battalion) has several separate functions. A Squadron Border Operations Center, controlled at the main garrison, is tied in with the border camp and the Regimental Headquarters Border Operations Center (BOC). The border camp is the operating base for a six-man border patrol, a six-man reaction force, a standby patrol, observation point teams, air surveillance patrols, field radar teams and armored surveillance platoons.

One of the many newer styled East German guard towers.

The border camp is home for the border personnel during the border tour. This camp has the bare essentials for soldier comfort. Free time is scarce during a normal border tour, and nearly non-existent during a busy one. Professional support soldiers of the l1th ACR work hard to keep all the patrols, headquarters operations centers, observation points and aircraft running smoothly. It's a tough job, but they measure up. A unit such as the 11th ACR has many personnel and much equipment in its arsenal In this geographical location, manning the tanks, mortar carriers, I5Smm self-propelled howitzers, M901 combat vehicles (TOW) and armored personnel carriers with anti-tank missiles is a big responsibility. These men are the first con-tact defensive force in the event of hostilities.
A well-known principle stated by many European war experts is the importance of time and speed to the communist spearhead in the event of a Western Europe invasion. Each Black Horse trooper works to deny Warsaw Pact forces the time and speed they need to accomplish their objectives west of the inter-German border. That's what the training and prepared-ness of the 11th ACR is all about.

The East-West German border is marked with much more care than those border areas in East Asia. Instances of individuals unwarily crossing the German border are very rare. But observers have sighted many areas where East Germans have dared the concertina wire and minefields while risking their lives for possible freedom. The accounts of such escapes could fill volumes of books. Many persons concealed in transport crates and in the trunks of cars go undetected. But those who have succeeded are far outnumbered by those who have failed. They risked their homes and livelihood in a quest for a life without the restraining power of communism. Socialistic ideals of communism have spread beyond the geographic boundaries and man-made barriers of the communist Western front. Nevertheless, the spirit of free men has withstood the temptations of the so called Workers Society. The strength of the free Western world lies cradled in the valleys of Europe, the foothold of the new frontiers of freedom.

(SGT. Laws is assigned to F Troop, 2/11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (at the time of publishing)

 
 


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