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
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
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
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
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
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)