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  Updated: August 2014  
 
The Alert of 1968

The world in 1968 was a dangerous place, US troop strength in Vietnam was reaching its high point as men, money and equipment steadily flowed toward southeast Asia. In USAREUR and 7th Army, many units were at dangerously low levels of staffing, repair parts and new equipment were very slow in arriving; combat arms officers and NCOs were in short supply. At Bad Kissingen, the missions went on as usual. Lieutenants commanded Recon Troops and sergeants stepped up into leadership positions one or two levels above their grade. Although they heard about it every day, the Vietnam war seemed far away .... one night in August the unthinkable seemed perilously close.

Alert!!

Through 1967 and early 1968, Czechoslovakia was in political turmoil as dedicated communists and reform minded socialists fought back and forth for the political leadership of the country. They agreed on their loyalty to the Communist ideals but had vastly different versions of how to configure a working economy and non totalitarian state. When the "liberal wing" led by President Svoboda and Party Secretary Dubcek won control of the government and limited reforms began under the slogan "to give socialism a human face", the Soviets were not happy and began a series of measures to display their discontent. Visits by senior officials to Prague, a vocal campaign of severe criticism by leaders of other Warsaw Pact countries and a sudden and prolonged major military exercise involving thousands of Russian troops moving through Czechoslovakia were all part of the pressure campaign. The reform government did its best to assure the Soviets that they were only experimenting with limited reforms and for a few months in leading towards the late Summer, the Russians seemed unsure of how to control the "wandering child". On the night of August 20-21 they took the next step.

The Soviet invasion involved over 14 Russian divisions as well as token support from other Warsaw pact countries. Sweeping down from East Germany, seven divisions were moving closely along the West German border. In the West, diplomats and politicians soon determined the intent of these unexpected and massed troop movements and USAREUR went on alert as part of the measured reaction.

The 2/14 ACR, with a border responsibility running from west of Highway 19 to well east of Coburg, had been attached to the 2nd ACR for two years. The balance of the Regiment continued all along the German-Czech border and they were keenly aware of the moving of an unprecedented amount of Soviet armor within a few kilometers of the border. In their own words, the men of the 2/14 ACR recall that first night.

Col (Ret) John Byers, Squadron Commander:

"We had a general alert one night while the Czech fracas was going on, and went through the usual drill of preparing to move out to our alert stations when someone from our signal detachment handed me a piece of lined note paper. It said generally that VII Corps had a report that the East German forces were preparing to cross the border that night and, that although the report was classified F-2 (very
unreliable), this alert was not a drill; we were to move to battle stations and be prepared to fight! You can understand that this created some excitement! All of a sudden we were breaking open ammo boxes and distributing rounds to troops, and our men started getting very serious. At that time, How Battery was responsible for some nuclear rounds that were kept in a special, heavily guarded dump nearby. I don't recall that we were directed to load or secure those rounds, though that would have been SOP.

We moved out on schedule, moved to our ready positions and opened the net. Sometime shortly after, the word came down that the F-2 report really was F-2, and that there was no apparent hostile action about to take place in our area, and a few hours later we were directed to stand down."

Dr. Jolyon Girard:

"I recall that alert; the funny thing was that the S4, CPT Mike Dunn, and I had both begun to out process from the unit for a PCS move and we had both already turned in our TA-50. We rolled out the gate with just the clothes on our backs. I had been the S3 and recall when the Commander got that note; it certainly stated a discussion. I don’t recall taking the prospect of war that night seriously but then again, a lot of time has passed. May for a few minutes, we gave it some thought ..."

Richard Harrington:

"I do remember a meeting at HQ when we were trying to plan how to turn our orientation from North-South to West-East. Jolly (Girard) said that there used to be a camp or outpost somewhere to the East that the squadron used in former years. I think we planned to use that as our squadron's new command post. It’s funny that for years we trained to repel or slow an invasion coming down Route 19 from the north. I knew every town, bridge, cross road, church steeple and tree in that whole sector. I could tell where I was in the middle of the night by just looking at the tree line against the horizon. But when it almost came to real combat, we were sent to completely unfamiliar locations. I started right away studying the map and noting intersections and landmarks to use later as reference points for artillery fire. The night that Byers sent us out ( thinking an attack was imminent) he deployed the three cav troops in line E, F, G left to right. And he put me in reserve behind them in the middle. I was commanding H Troop, and had 17 M60A1 tanks. My assigned location was along a highway and I visualized seeing MiG after MiG flying down that line. I wasn't very happy with that assignment. Luckily we were called back."

CSM (Ret) Ernest C. Jeffries:

"I recall there was a lot of excitement down to our southeast, where the 2nd ACR was on alert and I recall that note that Col (Ret) Byers had as well as some other wild rumors. We moved to what was called the General Alert Order positions, sort of the standard drill but there was more of a sense of urgency that night. At the time, the unit had M114s and M60A1s, it was always great to see the little scout vehicles and the tanks moving out fast! As CSM, my role was to work with the S4 in organizing the consolidated trains of the squadron; it was that first night when maybe we felt a little unsure or what was going on. Later it calmed down into a standard three day alert. How ever it started, I felt we were ready to do our jobs."

MSG (Ret) Ken Rasor:

"I was the How Battery First Sergeant and I remember that alert well. The battery had its own GAO position and the XO got us set up fast and in good order. I don’t recall that we drew our ammunition from the ASP but we had the trucks set up in a hide area near the ASP to move on a moments notice. And, I’ll tell you this ... one of my jobs was to be on the TMOS Team, we were responsible for getting the nuclear rounds assigned to the battery. It’s all secret stuff but a lot of time has passed and the Army is out of BK so ... the team had a jeep and a couple of trucks and we were in that same hide position as the ammo carriers and if they went to the ASP to get the conventional rounds .... well we were going to that same location. That alert lasted for a few days and then it was over. I remember that first night after all these years."

Czechoslovakia and the Russians

The Czech government was "detained" and quickly moved out of the country for "intense discussions" while the population began a program of peaceful massed demonstrations and limited passive resistance to the Russian army. About twenty-five Czechs died during the first week as they tried to light parked tanks on fire or erect street barricades. Later, the demonstrators would argue politics for endless hours with their bored occupiers and sneak liquor and pornography into the troop camps in all the city parks to give the Soviets a "thrill". After a more acceptable government was established, most of the Russians returned to their garrisons outside of Czechoslovakia. Although hard-line politics would continue within the Soviet block for another twenty years, the younger leaders who had experienced the Czech intervention and would be in power when the system fell apart in 1989-89, began to realize that Communism delivered from the barrel of a gun could never survive as a political system.

 
"they invaded us and we surrounded them ..."
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View from my tank as we roll down Ring Strasse on
alert in 1968.
Richard Harrington
 
     
         
 

Squadron Main CP sets up on alert.
Richard Harrington

 
   

 

 
 


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