INTERCEPTION AN AMERICAN VIEW
An anonymous document culled from the Internet
I didn't wear a cloak or carry a dagger. I didn't
have a James Bonds' double-oh rating.
I wore an Army uniform and used what was then
state-of-the-art radio equipment for my spy
craft during the peak of the Cold War. I
listened in whenever the generals of the Soviet
Third Shock Army in Magdeburg, East Germany, talked with
their Moscow supervisors. I listened when
they gave their unit commanders orders to move
their tanks. I listened when their tank
commanders practiced firing their big guns, or
crossed rivers underwater or battened down for a
simulated gas attack. And everything I did was a
classified secret... and against the law.
Spying on another nation's military radio
transmissions was a violation of the Geneva
Convention. At least I think it was a violation.
They always told us it was. And they never
lied to us unless
they had a perfectly good reason to do so.
I joined the Army Security Agency (ASA) in 1963,
attended the Russian program at the Defense
Language Institute in Monterey,Calif., and was
stationed just outside of Washington,
D.C., at ASA Field Station No. 1 at
Vint Hills Farm, Va., for
my spook training. It was at Vint Hills Farm
where they told us our jobs would violate
international treaties -- a necessity to protect
the security of the United States. It also was at Vint
Hill Farms where I was introduced to a
sophisticated piece of American technology. It
was a radio provided by the NSA that could
receive an exceptionally narrow bandwidth signal
in the FM range. Attached circuit boards allowed
it to decode the signal as it was received.
Our code name for the system was "Mercury
Grass." The Soviets didn't know we had the
technology, which was good. That exceptionally
narrow bandwidth FM signal was how the Third
Shock Army commanders communicated with Moscow.
They didn't believe we knew about their new
coded signal. They didn't believe we could
detect it. And they believed that if we did find
out about it and did intercept it, it would take
us weeks to break the code. Instead, whenever a
field officer would talk secretly with his
commanders in Moscow, an American spook would be listening in.
Of course if the Soviets ever found out about
this secret spy program, it would become
We also used less sophisticated radios to listen
in on what the tank companies were doing. In
case of an actual war, that would become our
sole mission. We would monitor the tank units,
plot their locations, block their communications
and even slip in false messages. But the NSA
wasn't interested in any of that tactical
information. It was interested in the "Mercury
Grass" strategic product and any civilian
Russian radio messages we intercepted. I got out
of the service in 1967, but kept in touch with a
few friends for a few years.
One was from Massachusetts.
He eventually made a career out of the Army and
saw a lot of changes in how our old job got
done, and some of those are relevant today.
Spying on electronic communications was getting
more sophisticated even back in the closing days
of the Cold War. There were
fewer radio operators needed than before. The
NSA was designing equipment that would seek out
designated words and then automatically record
that portion of the conversation.
The ASA merged with Army Intelligence in 1977
into the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security
Command (INSCOM), but military units still
shared their high-level intelligence with the
The mission continued to change for my friend.
By the end of his career, he said monitoring
radio and telephone signals for the Army still
resembled our old job, but the work for the NSA
was done totally by arcane, automated equipment.
It's my understanding that's how things are
being done today, as the NSA's secret mission is
being disclosed for the world.
It's automated equipment is programmed to seek out certain
"hot" words. Only then do the recorders come on
and only then does it draw the attention of a
The question I've heard posed on TV news and in
newspapers is does the president have the
authority to direct the NSA to spy on Americans
without a warrant? The question, itself, is
designed to anger you and make you feel
violated. It would be fairer to ask: Does the
president have the authority to direct the NSA
to pursue foreign terrorist links when they lead
to locations within the United States without seeking new warrants?
We have laws that prevent the police from
entering your home without a court-issued
warrant. However, if a police officer is chasing
a robbery suspect, who climbs through an open
window at your house, the policeman isn't
required to sit down and await a warrant. "In
hot pursuit" allows the officer to enter your
home without a warrant and protect you and your
That's what the NSA is doing. Critics say the
president should take these cases to the FISA
court, designed specifically to grant warrants
for overseas surveillance. But the FISA court
still demands "reasonable cause" before issuing
a warrant. And the president believes that
limitation could cost several thousand Americans
their lives in the case of an imminent terrorist
"Reasonable cause" isn't an impossible standard
to reach. But all of these cases would fall
short. These are phone numbers, names, email
addresses found in suspected or known
terrorists' address books or computers. And
"association" frequently isn't sufficient for
"reasonable cause." A stateside telephone number
found on a captured terrorist laptop
computer, might be for a pizza parlor in Boston.
Or it might be for a deranged mullah waiting
for the terrorist to bring him a biological
agent. That's the point of this. The phone
numbers could be very important, but just as
likely aren't. There will be no evidence to
provide "reasonable cause" unless the NSA
listens in. And as soon as the terrorists learn
that these phone numbers and email addresses
have been compromised, they will stop using them
(except to order pizza). The information is
valuable for a very brief time. If the NSA uses
this information only to thwart terrorist
attacks, there is no violation of the
Constitution. However, if the NSA discovers
other non-terrorist crimes under the program,
and shares that information with enforcement
agencies, that would be a clear violation of
civil liberties. Like "Mercury Grass" was
effective only as long as it was a secret, so
too was this monitoring program effective only
as long as the terrorists didn't know about it.
Now they know better than to trust the public
air waves with non-coded messages. Our civil
liberties never were threatened -- or at least
there's been no evidence presented that the
program was used for anything other than
protecting national security. But now this
effective method of monitoring what terrorists
may be doing within the United States has been leaked -- it's
effectiveness irrevocably damaged; our
intelligence gathering limited. We are in
greater jeopardy now than we were before The New
York Times published the story. Critics want an
investigation of presidential abuses, as they
demanded an investigation of who leaked Valerie
Plame's name to the media. Too bad they are not
as concerned about who leaked this NSA program
to the Times and actually damaged our nation's
security in the process.
JOHN RICHARDSON BRINGS HIS PERSONAL MEMORIES TO A CLOSE
I returned to 14 Sigs from the German Interpreter Course at
Higher Education Centre, Mülheim an der Ruhr at the end of March 1990.
I knew as soon as I arrived at Celle, that the Regiment’s
character had changed since I left
in 1985. I arrived at the guardroom just before 1 pm
to collect the key to my new married quarter. Just in
time, as the SSO bloke was just leaving. “Thought you
were never coming“he said. I replied that I had handed
over my quarter in Mülheim that morning and as far as I
was aware, Friday was still a working day. “We knock off
at one on Fridays,“ he said handing me the key, and
disappeared. (Funny, even at Mülheim we had worked till
4 o’ clock).
(More like Borley Rectory in it’s heyday-JR)
But that arrival was to be symptomatic for my stay in Celle.
For a start, the world had changed since 1985. The
Berlin Wall had been breached in November 1989, and the
talks preparing for the Reunification of Germany were
well underway. I found the quarter and then drove off to
Hannover to pick up Ingrid, who had travelled up by train.
We marched in to the new quarter, a terraced house on the
edge of Celle.
In the row behind us I was greeted by an old friend, Jim
“Pot“ Black, who I was relieving. Over a beer he filled
me in on Celle and the available jobs. The trouble was, that no-one knew
what would be happening to the Regiment, and that we
were expecting some sort of decision to be made on our
fate. Rumours were rife.
Langeleben was still operating as an outstation, the
operators were bussed down for 24-hour shifts. As the
fate of the WGF was also uncertain, we could only guess
what would happen next. At any rate, the military
situation was relaxed. This, of course, meant that the
military side of things was now much to the fore, and
the 14th Signal Regiment, which up to 1985 had prided
itself on it’s professionalism in it’s unique task, now
resembled a normal line Divisional Signal Regiment. We
in HQ Squadron carried out normal military training. I
was now one of the two W.Os who were the Regimental Duty
Reporting Officers, in “normal” times this would have
been an interesting job, we took it in turns a week at a
time to be on call. I read the reports from other NATO
sources and added it all to the reports from Langeleben.
Other WOs ran the language training cell. We were in
charge of a Major in the Int. Corps, who was the
Regimental Int. Officer, the S2. Assisting him was a
couple of Int. Corps W.OIs.
The beautiful old medieval town centre, good shopping
facilities and the natural beauty of the surrounding
Lüneburg Heath made Celle
a good place to be stationed. The town was home to two
British units, us at Taunton Barracks and north of the
River Aller, the Fusiliers at Trenchard Barracks. The
Bundeswehr was also well-represented, so soldiers were a
common sight in the streets. Facilities for the soldiers
and their families were excellent, a new NAAFI shopping
centre had been built, the cinema was still in the
middle of town. We could receive British Forces
Television, as well. Ingrid liked Celle,
she quickly found a job in the kitchens of the Fire
After a few weeks I was told that I would be going down to
Langeleben for a week, as the R Signals WO1 was deployed
on exercise, and they needed someone who could speak
German to look after the place!!
After the move of 1 Squadron to Celle
in March 1985 Langeleben had become “Field Station
Langeleben”, a training unit. The setroom was manned by
operators from 1 and 2 Squadrons at Celle,
being bussed down for 24 hour shifts. Five permanent
staff remained to administer the camp. In charge was a R
Signals WO1. Operations were overseen by an Int Corps
Staff Sergeant. A Signals SQMS looked after the stores.
The workshop was run by a technician Sergeant
and a Catering Corps Lance-Corporal looked after the food.
Celle: Block 21 in olden days,home to the Regimental Int Cell
The civilian staff had also been reduced. Ilona Hawxwell ran
the mess, which was used as an all-ranks facility now,
the shift operators dined in the old Sergeants’ Mess and
the permanent staff and senior ranks ate in the old
Officers’ side. One waitress had been retained, Frau
Wirtsch, the “white tornado”. Renate Ellis and her son
Trevor assisted the cook. The MSOs from the guardroom
had now been replaced by Germans. Gardener Freddy Bubolz
looked after the camp’s appearance. Two civilian drivers
completed the staff.
I spent a pleasant week in the old camp, which was being well
cared-for. I spent some time in the set room, listening
to what activity there was, mainly low-level field
training. The atmosphere was one of boredom, though. In
the evenings I either sat in front of the television (we
now had a satellite dish installed on the roof of the
mess), or went into town for a drink.
I returned to Celle with a heavy heart, back to the round of Regimental
Duties and Training Days. I took part in the Colonel’s
Cup competition, I completed the course, but it was very
uncomfortable for me and I limped in as my foot was very
painful. These were the first signs of my trouble with
gout, though I didn’t know it at the time.
In June the Regiment deployed into the field; the Regimental
Command Post went down to Langeleben. As there was not
much activity going we sat around in the RCP Int wagon
trying to look busy when the CO looked in.
The preparations for German Reunification proceeded apace, on
1st July the currency reform took effect; the
GDR now had the Deutschmark. We now had a date for
Reunification, the 3rd October, although we
were still in the dark as to the future of the Regiment.
But Fate had other things for us in store. On 2nd
August Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
I went on a couple of weeks leave with Ingrid to
Berchtesgaden. We stayed in the American Armed Forces Hotel General
Walker on the Obersalzberg, and did some hill walking
and sightseeing, even going on a day trip to Venice.
When we returned, we found that the British Army was
deploying 7th Armoured Brigade to Saudi Arabia.
A small EW liaison team would accompany them; we gave
them what working aids we thought they might need. My
old pal Bob Crockart as a WO1 EW Op was part of the
team. I wished him all the best, and said I hoped we
would see them back soon, waved them goodbye and I
returned gloomily to my desk.
Then the Int Officer called for me. He surprised me by asking
if I would like to go to Langeleben to join the
permanent staff. Ted Roberts, the Int Corps Ssgt was due
posting, and a replacement was required. I didn’t need
long to think about it, I thought that I could do as
much at Langy as I was doing at Celle, so I said yes.
Ingrid had to give up her job at the
Fire Brigade School, but was glad to return to near
home. I was allocated a Married Quarter in Wolfenbüttel,
a couple of doors down from the Langy SQMS, Pete Rixon.
Then permission to visit the GDR was announced, I had to
notify the security section of my intentions in advance,
but now there were no border controls. One Saturday we
drove over into the GDR and did a round tour, all
familiar names: Gardelegen, Stendal, Tangerhütte,
Colbitz, Hillersleben. Near Mahlwinkel there was what
appeared to be a car boot sale going on, directly
outside the gates of the barracks. We stopped the car
and had a look around; there were dozens of Russian
soldiers buying up mainly electrical equipment, radios,
shavers, Walkmen etc. Now they were paid in Deutschmarks,
they were stocking up on stuff to take with them back to
In Letzlingen we stopped off for coffee and cakes,
before returning over the old border. An interesting
But just before we departed for Langeleben there was a
special occasion, to which we had been invited. The
Intelligence Corps in Germany had organised a dinner in Berlin,
ostensibly to welcome the new Corps RSM, but also to
celebrate the end of an era, as the Cold War was rapidly
coming to a close. In the event, I drove up with Geoff
Williams and his family from Celle, and we were accommodated
in Edinburgh House. Geoff had never been to Berlin
before and I took the opportunity to show him round the
sights. I took great pleasure in taking the Underground
Friedrichsstrasse Station (in the East) and walking
down the Unter den
Linden and out through the Brandenburg Gate. A year
before they would have shot me.
The dinner was a great success, in the Berlin Garrison
Sergeants’ Mess, and most of 3 Sqn, 13 Sigs were there,
along with other old friends, including the Corps RSM,
who I had shared a room with as Corporals at Cheltenham
in 1976. It was almost like an Int Corps celebration
dinner for the end of the Cold War. There were lots of
apologies for absence, as it was now becoming obvious
that the crisis in Kuwait
was not going to go away and many people in the Corps
were being warned to standby.
I started work at Langeleben on the 14th October.
Operations in the set room were now down to normal
working hours, 0800 to 1600, Monday to Friday. John
Sinden was the WO1 i/c and he showed me round the camp.
All the old accommodation blocks, plus NAAFII, cookhouse
and gymnasium had now been rented by the US Army from
Wobeck. It must be remembered that the Dollar had been
falling for several years, and even the Yanks were
feeling the pinch. Being paid in Dollars, they were at
the mercy of the volatile exchange rate. (The British
fared better, we were paid in Deutschmarks at a fixed
exchange rate, which only changed if Sterling
fell beyond a certain limit over a set time). The
Americans from Wobeck lived very comfortably (when the
Dollar was high) in the Deutsches Haus
in Schöningen, but now they were looking for a cheaper
alternative, and had found Langeleben. The contract had
been signed, and they had brought some furniture and
stuff and dumped it in the NAAFI. But that was as far as
it went, and in the event they were overtaken by
Reunification, otherwise the camp would today have been
full of Uncle Sam’s finest.
The third tower was undergoing work to strengthen it; the
plan was that a big reception/transmission antenna would
be mounted on top, which would automatically relay the
intercept back to a new set room in the ops block in Celle.
This was due to come into operation in 1995, but of course
the operation was soon cancelled.
We travelled down to Wolfenbüttel to say hello to the Queen’s
Dragoon Guards, and we had a drink in the Sgts’ Mess.
The QDGs were due to leave Wolfenbüttel, but the
departure had been delayed as they had been obliged to
provide a Squadron for the Persian Gulf.
In the Mess I met their Master Chef, who I had known as
a Cook Corporal in Berlin,
and we had a beer or two as we mulled over times past.
It was, of course, a problem to keep ourselves busy. An
atmosphere of boredom hung over the camp, no decisions
on the future of the Regiment had been taken, everything
was on hold as the crisis in the Middle East deepened. Then the
British Government announced that a second Brigade (6th
Armoured) would be sent to the Gulf. This meant that a
Divisional headquarters would be sent to command the two
brigades. 1st Armoured Division HQ from
Verden was chosen, and the division would take an EW
Squadron under command. The news galvanised the Regiment
into action, and the CO’s choice fell on 2 Squadron. In
the event, to put one fully-manned squadron into the
field needed just about every operator in the Regiment,
so few missed out on the trip. There was a problem with
vehicles, we only had soft-skinned one-tonne rovers, and
the powers that be decided that we should be armoured.
In no time at all a fleet of AFV 432s was produced,
which were then converted by the radio technicians and
REME LAD into two intercept troops.
Intercept troop AFV 432 leaving Langeleben
We reported to Celle at the beginning of
December for pre-deployment training, a week on
the training area brushing-up on weapon training,
fitness training, first aid, Geneva Convention, AFV
recognition etc. I was having problems with my foot
(gout!) but I gritted my teeth and got through the PT
sessions. At the end of the training we returned to
Langy to make preparations for departure, the date of
which had still not been announced. We hoped that we
would at least be able to enjoy Christmas at home. We
locked up the Ops Block and Setroom. The military cook
and the technician Sergeant had been withdrawn to Celle.
The plan for Langeleben was that a Sergeant from the
QM’s department would come down from Celle
daily and look after the camp. In the event, the
civilian staff continued on working without any
On Christmas Eve we received the dates of our flights to the
Gulf. I was lucky, my flight was on the 2nd
January, so I got Christmas and New Year at home. We
celebrated at home in Wolfenbüttel, as I was determined
not to let my impending departure overshadow our
enjoyment. On New Year’s Day I drove up to Langy and
parked my car up in the MT, removed the wheels and put a
dust cover over it. I walked round the camp and said
farewell to the guards and returned to Wolfenbüttel. The
next day early Reinhard Heine, the civvy driver, picked
me and my kit up and drove me to Celle,
where I joined the others who were travelling with me.
We drew our weapons, picked up the classified boxes and
had some inoculations. Then we boarded the bus for Hannover
Airportand we were off to war…..
The flight back from Dhahran landed at Hannover
early in the morning, I had slept all the way. Our kit
was laid out on the runway, I was one of the first to
find everything and walked across to the waiting bus. In
the dark, a figure sat on the first seat, as I clambered
up the steps he jumped up and grasped my hand, “Welcome
back, Mr. Richardson”, he said. It was the CO, and he
had met every flight carrying members of the Regiment
back from the Gulf. We drove off to Celle,
where we handed in our weapons and were issued leave
passes. A car was waiting to take me and John Sinden
back to our quarters in Braunschweig and Wolfenbüttel.
We had two weeks leave, but first I had to retrieve my
car. Before I could drive, though, I needed insurance,
as I had cancelled mine for the duration of the war. I
now had to take a train to Celle NAAFI insurance
services to pick up a green card, then return to
Königslutter and a taxi up to Langeleben to put the
wheels back on the car.
It was a sunny day when I returned, and the camp looked in
pristine condition. The lawns had been mown, the
paintwork touched-up, the buildings were clean and
looked-after. The guards on the gate greeted me like a
long-lost friend. It was good to be back.
We organised a “welcome back” party in the NCOs’ mess in the
German barracks in Braunschweig. The Sindens, Ingrid and
I, with Bob and Cath Crockart were guests of honour,
John and Ingrid Sands came down from Celle and we had a
good night. The welcome among the Germans was also very
good, Wolfenbüttel and Celle with their British connections were very proud of
“their” Tommies. The town of Wolfenbüttel wanted to put
on a “thank you” parade, but the Queen’s Dragoon Guards
went straight off on leave, and when they returned they
were packing up to leave, so declined the offer. The
Celle Town Council made a similar offer to 14 Sigs, but
the CO turned it down. He said that did not want to
offend the feelings of those unfortunates (including the
CO) who had not deployed to the Gulf.
After leave, we returned to Langy. The camp was looking good,
but now the set room was permanently closed, the daily
operations were a thing of the past. The Russians were
proceeding with their withdrawal from the former GDR and
only carried out low-level training to keep the troops
busy. The CO decreed that Langeleben should be used by
Squadrons for whatever training they desired.
This meant that they came down for a week of
training, which maybe included manning the set room. The
rest of the time the troops went for runs, or carried
out some deployments on to the German training area near
The permanent staff carried on as best they could. The
Americans up the road at Wobeck were now preparing to
leave; they collected their furniture which had been
standing in the old NAAFI. We had a lunch together in
Schöningen, and talked about our activities in the Gulf.
In Wolfenbüttel a new regiment arrived, the 13/18 Hussars. We
had assumed that the QDGs would be the last cavalry
regiment in Wolf, but surprisingly for them as well, the
programmed handover/takeover took place. The !3/18 were
very friendly and always made a point of inviting us to
their dinners. How long they would stay was also not
clear at this time, in the event they left for Hohne in
With the end of the Gulf War, the British Government’s
Defence Review “Options for Change” was now revealed. In
the event the Treasury gleefully seized on the
opportunity to drastically cut the Armed Forces, a
policy which in the light of later events appeared very
short sighted. Anyway, the uncertainty pervaded the
atmosphere throughout the summer and autumn of 1991.
Large-scale field manoeuvres were no longer being held in
BAOR, instead Corps and Divisional Headquarters carried
out Command Post Exercises (CPX) for which the Regiment
inputs and staffs. We took our turn in deploying out
with the Divisions, but it became clear that we were
only marking time as the scenarios being enacted were
still of the Cold War.
In June we did what was a first for us. I got a phone call
from the Int Cell, it was my old pal Paul “Bert”
Lancaster. He asked me what my French was like, I said
it was a bit rusty, but would hold up. To my surprise he
said that we were sending an EW team to join a French EW
unit on exercise. Paul picked me up in Wolfenbüttel and
we drove in two Land Rovers through Germany to Alsace,
had where we met up with the French troops and our officers.
As France not participated militarily in NATO since 1966 this was
an indication of how the World was changing, even at our
Lancaster, JR, Frog, Maj Hewitt, Maj Sanderson, Cliff Buckley near Metz
We spent a pleasant week in France, a visit to Metz,
plus the quality of food was good and the extended
lunches with vin rouge were a novelty. “No chance of us
getting medals here, Bert,” I said, “Why do you say
that?” he asked, - “I don’t think they’ll be able to
find an officer who would be willing to kiss Plug*!”.
*a very ugly officer
On the work side it was interesting to see their EW
equipment. At the end of the week we said our farewells,
and loaded up with cases of wine and cheese we headed
back to Germany.
Later that year we had a reciprocal visit from two French
Warrant Officers to Langeleben. Their visit coincided
with a deployment by one of our Squadrons, and at the
same time a US EW unit was operating from Langy. The
Yanks had obviously been warned about the presence of
the French and studiously avoided them whenever they met
them. It was funny to see the bar on an evening packed
with British and Americans whooping it up, yet when the
Frogs came in the Yanks withdrew to their own side of
The long-awaited “Options for Change” was announced in
December 1991. BAOR would reduce to one Division in Germany (4 Div at Herford
would become 1(UK)Div) and would form part of the new NATO Rapid Reaction
Corps. As part of the reorganisation, 14 Signal Regiment (EW) would leave Celle
and relocate to Osnabrück in early 1993. 13 Signal Regiment would be disbanded.
The 13/18thHussars would amalgamate in 1992 with the 15/19th
Hussars to form the Light Dragoons.
At least now we knew roughly what was coming. A wave of redundancies was
announced (but not for Int Corps or R Signals) and some
of the tankies got horrendous sums for signing off.
One day the CO turned up, accompanied by the Commander Comms,
1 (BR) Corps, Brigadier Taylor, who had been a Squadron
Commander of mine in Berlin. They looked round the camp, and ended up in the set room.
They conferred with us, and the Brigadier said to the
CO, “Well, you can close when you want”, and the CO said
“Good, then give it up to the end of November.” And so
the closure was settled.
1992 arrived and we knew what was in store for us. Life in
the sleepy hollow called Langeleben continued, the
Squadrons came down from Celle to do their training, and
we assisted them where we could, organising trips to the
riot police in Braunschweig, booking training areas from
the Bundeswehr, arranging trips to the swimming baths in
Schöningen. Otherwise we spent much time on the golf
course at Braunschweig. Now and again we visited the
Regiment in Celle to show face. We said goodbye to the Americans from
Wobeck at a ceremony in Schöningen, knowing that our time was also running out.
The British Forces’ School at Wolfenbüttel sent a class up
for a week; they held nature rambles and visited the
quarry outside Königslutter to search for fossils. One
day they were visited by a class of White Russian kids,
who were visiting Germany as part of the “Children of
Chernobyl” scheme, which
offered free holidays for children who had been affected
by the nuclear disaster. As Russian speakers, John
Sinden and I assisted at the party. They were served
fish and chips and I doled out cans of Coca-Cola. After
a while I noticed that the Russian kids were not opening
their cans, and asked why, and was told that they wanted
to take them home with them, to show the folks. So I
said drink up, and presented them with a stack of cases
to take with them. Their teachers had never seen plastic
knives and forks, it just shows what we take for
granted, so Billy, the SQMS, gave them a few bags-full
from the stores. There was a lot of singing and so on,
the Russian kids were all very underdeveloped through
radiation sickness. We also donated all our spare compo
rations from the QM’s stores.
The Regiment came down to us in force for the first week of
Exercise “Sweaty Palm”. This was an escape and evasion
exercise over two weeks. The first week the troops were
instructed in survival techniques before being let out
for a fifty-mile evasion run in the Sauerland. Hunting
them were a battalion of infantry with dogs and
helicopters. The exercise ended with them being
“interrogated” by the experts from Ashford. All members
of the Regiment had to go through this at some time.
I was feeling a bit low; my mother had just died after a long
fight with cancer. My gout was giving me jip, and our
future seemed uncertain. I spoke to our personnel
branch, but they couldn’t say anything regarding future
career moves. I took a month’s leave and we travelled to
Canada to visit relations before heading for the sun in Florida.
The break did me good and when we returned I sat down
with John Sinden and Billy Corner to discuss the closure.
Then the Regiment was honoured by a visit from the Royal
Signals Colonel-in-Chief, the Princess Royal. She
apparently wanted to thank the Regiment for it’s efforts
in the Persian Gulf, so the Langy permanent staff with
wives drove up to have tea with the Princess. She
arrived in a bad mood, as the leading car of her convoy
had had an accident on the way down from Hohne. However,
her mood improved as she toured the barracks. The
armoured intercept 432s roared onto the square - driven
by both Signals and I Corps -
screeched to a halt in front of the Princess and
the crews somersaulted out of the wagons to form up in
front of the panzers. After lunch in the officers’ mess,
she toured the ops block and then met up with the WOs
and Sergeants for tea.
She made a very down-to-earth impression as she
chatted to us. I don’t think Ingrid washed her hand for
Back at the ranch, we decided to have a farewell jamboree,
trying to contact as many old comrades as possible. I
wrote letters to the newspapers in Cheltenham, Taunton, Scarborough
and Loughborough; put adverts on Channel 4’s teletext,
in the “Wire”, and contacted BFBS radio. The event would
be self-financing, the CO loaned us some money as
working capital. The CO of the 13/18th
Hussars kindly offered us the use of his Band. Wolters’
Brewery assured us of their assistance, (as one of it’s
best customers over the years!) Slowly the event assumed
shape and the letters of acceptance began to arrive. We
asked for reminiscences of people’s time at Langeleben,
with the object of producing a small programme for the
celebration. It soon became obvious that some old
comrades’ memories were like elephants and with a bit of
filling-in, we had a near-complete chronology of the
camp. A member of the original probe section of 101
Wireless Troop sent in his recollections, and our
President remembered carrying out the recce. The late
Sid Grimshaw produced a detailed study of life in
Langeleben in 1955.
The actual weekend was a huge success, covering three days.
We timed it to coincide with the Schützenfest in
Königslutter, so that we did not have to organise too
many events. Well over two hundred former inmates
attended, being accommodated both in camp or in the
town. The Farewell to Langeleben week-end started on the
Friday with an “open day” in the camp, winding up with
the Beating of Retreat by the Band of the 13/18th
Hussars and the lowering of the flag for the last time.
The Burgomaster of Königslutter and General Baldwin took
the salute. In the evening we had a dinner in the “Lutterspring”
Gaststätte, with music provided by the Band again and a
comedian for after-dinner entertainment. On the
Saturday, led by General Baldwin, we marched through the
town as part of the Schützenfest procession. In the
early evening we held a Service of Thanksgiving in the
Kaiserdom. The Band provided the music, and the service
was conducted by Pastor Trümer and the Regiment’s
Chaplain, Padre W. The CO of the Regiment, Col. Hope,
and the Burgomaster read the lessons. After the service
the majority of the troops retired to the Schützenfest
beer tent. On the Sunday many reappeared for the
“Hangover Breakfast” in the tent.
After the weekend we started to pack up what was left of the
furniture. The bar was dismantled and carried off by 1
Squadron for their new Squadron bar in Osnabrück. The
Lelm volunteer Fire brigade gladly took all the
crockery. The local school’s English department was
presented with all our library books. I shredded what
was left of classified documents and gave the set room
“Snide Books” to the Unit Security Officer for safe
keeping. John Sinden departed for the UK for his last six months
in the Army, so only Billy Corner, as SQMS and I were left.
I was still singing with the Braunschweig Police
Choir, and every Autumn they gave a concert in the
As part of the preparations, they held a
weekend of rehearsals to give the final touch to the
repertoire. That year we went to the Youth Hostel in the
town of Uslar, on the River Weser, not far from Göttingen.
During a pause between rehearsals, I was talking to the Conductor, and
he mentioned that he had seen something in the local
newspaper, which said that the Wolfenbüttel Garrison
(which included Langeleben) would be closing in November.
The remaining Civil Labour, October 1992
Did that mean that I would be
leaving? he asked. I said that I would probably be moving to
Osnabrück around that time. I thought nothing more about
the conversation until a couple of weeks later, one of
the choir approached me and said that there was a job
going in the CID headquarters in Braunschweig, and would
I be interested? At the time I still had about four
years to serve, but the uncertainty and the boredom,
plus the gout made me think seriously about taking up
the offer. Ingrid was, of course, happy to stay on her
native heath, so there was no problem there. At the end
of the German interpretership, I had, however, been
obliged to sign a form preventing me from leaving the
Army until three years after completion of the course. I
wrote to the MoD but they refused to release me from the
contract. I then asked for an interview with the
Regiment’s CO, and, to cut a long story short, being the
gentleman he was, we worked out a way to satisfy both
parties. So I started working half days in Braunschweig
and spending the other half in Langeleben.
We held a small party for the Civil Labour, the Regimental
2IC came down and made a speech, and then the civvies
presented Billy and me with a small keepsake.
Over the next couple of weeks a procession of visitors from
the Property Services Agency (PSA), HQ 1(BR) Corps and
Helmstedt District Council came and looked round the
camp, which was still in very good condition. The
council was planning to put asylum seekers into the
I wandered through the silent camp for a last time
remembering the old faces and the good times. Through
the old Sgts’ Mess, past the silent bar room, thinking
of the laughs we had, past my old room, Drew Duncan’s
next to mine, Arthur Verity’s still with his Bradford
City sticker on the door, the Yeoman’s big bunk at the
end, the toilet where Chris Jones sat with his pot leg
And so the final day came, as the representatives of PSA and
Bielefeld, the QM from Celle
assembled to hand over the camp to the District Council.
The keys were handed over and we had our photos taken in
front of the gates. Then we shook hands, got into our
cars and drove off. That was the end of Langeleben as a
camp, but the spirit lives on in our hearts.
LANGELEBEN - THE SWANSONG
THE FINAL EXCERPT
Although the Squadron had left LANGELEBEN, it was still
obliged to man the setroom on a full 24-hour basis, with
operators being bussed down from Celle
to complete a 24-hour shift. The Squadron was a regular
visitor to Langy, when it carried out deployments for
training. In addition, other armies' units found the
location ideal for their own deployments, including
Americans (both from Germany and the US, Danes, Germans and French.
Many friendships were sealed during and after these visits.
The beginning of the end of LANGELEBEN can be dated from 9
October 1989, when the Berlin Wall was breached and the
Inner German Border opened. Those who lived through it
will never forget the events of those autumn days.
Königslutter, being so close to the border was quickly
swamped by droves of 'Trabbis'.
Supermarkets were swiftly emptied of stocks, and the
euphoria of the Reunification gradually evaporated as
the town reeled under the weight of the mob of pushing,
gawping strangers in their evil smelling puddle-jumpers.
Another old Cold War veteran disappeared in early 1991 -
the British Military Train, which had travelled daily
between Braunschweig and Berlin since 1945. Under the terms of the Reunification Treaty,
all Soviet troops were to be out of the former GDR by
This was taken by the permanent staff at Langeleben as
confirmation of what they had long suspected that the
closure of langy, at least in its present form, was
imminent. Operations in the setroom were reduced to
normal working hours, Monday to Friday.
Throughout BAOR exercises had been reduced to a minimum
following the reduction in tension in.
The British Government introduced a review of defence
commitments called 'Options for Change'.
Not surprisingly, daily operations were now a thing of the
past, as the Soviet Forces in the former GDR continued
their withdrawal apace. The Commanding Officer decreed
that the camp be used by squadrons from Celle to carry
out various types of training, jogging, orienteering,
sports or even some trade training in the setroom, and
the squadrons certainly availed themselves of Langy's
facilities when they could.
With the Options for Change decisions being put into effect,
the axe finally fell in February 1992, when the closure
date for Langeleben Camp was announced as 30 November
1992. A feeling of sadness was felt by all who had been
connected with the camp and remembered the good times
that they had had there.
This then, is the proud history of the camp at LANGELEBEN,
which quietly and often ignored, made its not
insignificant contribution to the maintenance of peace
in Europe for over 41 years.
John Richardson 1992.
SOVIET TROOPS IN GERMANY 1945-1994
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY GORDON PEACOCK
In the days of the
Cold War the 3rd Shock Army was the Soviet formation that sat on
the other side of the
They were ‘The Bad Guys’, the Soviet hordes and we at
Langeleben were there to hold them back with just a
little bit of help from the rest of BAOR. Proof, if ever it were required that
"Quality was better than quantity, but then, quantity has a quality
all of its own". One British Corps versus one Soviet Army never seemed
quite a fair contest but the Russians must have seen
something in our presence that we never appreciated or
we mis-interpreted their intentions. Apart from the
Soviet Military Mission, Soviet troops never crossed the border!
From 1945-1954, the Soviet forces based in Germany were known as the’
Group of Soviet Occupation Troops’.
From 1954-1989, they were designated the’ Group of Soviet Forces in Germany
and from 1989-1994 they were known as the ‘Western Group of Troops’.
This force comprised the strongest Soviet military
concentration outside of the national borders of the USSR.
By the late 1980s, the Group of Soviet Forces in
Germany/Western Group of Troops totalled over 380,000
troops and consisted of the 1st Guards Tank Army, the
2nd Guards Tank Army, the 3rd Shock Army, the 8th Guards
Army, the 20th Guards Army and the 16th Air Army.
The organization of Soviet armies
was different from that of Western armies, which can
lead to some confusion and exaggerate the seeming
imbalance. The basic large unit was the Army, of which
there were three types: infantry, tank and shock. They
tended to be smaller than Western armies — an infantry
army usually controlled 4-8 rifle divisions, with 6
being average. The Corps had been abolished as an
echelon of command in 1941 (primarily due to lack of
trained commanders and staff), so that divisions were
controlled directly by the army headquarters. (The WWII
Tank Corps, Mechanized Corps and Cavalry Corps were
actually division-size units.) Thus the Army was
intermediate in size between the Western corps and army.
The next echelon of command was the Front, similar to
the Western army group.
The ‘Shock Army’ originated in 1942 and, at first, it
was a temporary grouping. An ordinary infantry Army
would be reinforced with extra artillery and tank units
to make the initial breakthrough in an attack, after
which a Tank Army would exploit the breach. Thus "shock"
= "assault". By 1944, the organization of the Shock Army
had been regularized and one was assigned to each active
Front. The 3rd Shock Army remained on the postwar
establishment and was part of the Soviet Army Group of
Forces in East Germany until the end of the Cold War.
Special titles that were given to Soviet armies included
'Red Banner', following the award of the ‘Order
of the Red Banner’ and 'Shock'. The famous
image of the flag over the Reichstag was of forces from
3rd Shock Army.
RAISING THE RED BANNER OVER THE REICHSTAG
The 1st Shock Army, formed, in accordance with pre-war
planning that saw Shock Armies as special penetration
formations, was in November-December 1941 to spearhead
the counter-offensive north of Moscow in December.
A total of five shock armies were formed by
the winter campaigns of 1942-3 - the 2nd (former 26th
Army), 3rd, and 4th (the former 27th Army) - During the
Stalingrad counter-offensive the 5th Shock Army was the last such
formation to be formed. The 2nd Shock Army was re-formed
three times, most famously after being encircled in the
Liuban' operation south of Leningrad, after which its
Andrey Vlasov, went over to the German side.
Armies which distinguished themselves in
during the Great Patriotic War of
(our 2nd World War 1939-1945) often became Guards Armies. These
8th Guards Army.
The GSFG , then known as the Group of Soviet
Occupation Troops, was formed after the end of the
Second World War, from formations of the First and
2nd Belorussian Fronts. When created on 9/7/1945 it included:-
Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army (headquarters
Dresden) · 8th Guards Mechanised Corps, the 11th
Guards Tank Corps
2nd Guards Tank Army (headquarter Fürstenberg) ·
Soviet 1st Mechanized Corps, 9th Guards Tank
Corps, 12th Guard Tank Corps
4th Guards Tank Army
(headquarter Eberswalde) · 5. guard mech. corps · 6.
guard mech. corps · 10. guard tank corps
2nd Shock Army (headquarter
Schwerin) · 109th Rifle Corps (46., 90., 372. rifle
division), 116th rifle corps (86., 321., 326. rifle
3rd Shock Army (headquarter
Stendal) · 7. rifle corps (146., 265., 364. rifle
division) · 12th Guard Rifle Corps (23. guard, 52.
guard, 33. rifle division) · 79. rifle corps (150.,
171., 207. rifle division) · 9. tank corps
5. shock army (headquarter
Berlin) · 9. rifle corps (248., 301. rifle division)
· 26. guard rifle corps (89. guard, 94. guard, 266.
rifle division) · 32. rifle corps (60. guard, 295.,
416. rifle division) · 230. rifle division · three
independent tank brigades
Eighth Guards Army (headquarter Weimar) 4th
Guards Rifle Corps (35th, 47., 57. guard rifle
division) · 28. guard rifle corps (39., 79., 88.
guard rifle division) · 29. guard rifle corps (27.,
74., 82. guard rifle division) · 11th Tank Corps
47. army (headquarter Halle) ·
77. rifle corps (185., 260., 328. rifle division) ·
125. rifle corps (60., 76., 175. rifle division) ·
129. rifle corps (82., 132., 143. rifle division)
1st Guards Tank Corps and the 25th Tank Corps.
These troops had the theoretical task of implementing
Potsdam Agreements. In real terms though,
they represented the politico-military interests of the
Soviet Union. In 1957 an agreement between the
Soviet Union and the GDR laid out the
arrangements over the temporary stay of Soviet armed
forces on the territory of the GDR, the numerical
strength of the Soviet troops, their assigned posts and
their exercise areas. It was specified that the Soviet
armed forces were not to interfere into the internal
affairs of the GDR, which however they were to do later
Uprising of 1953 in East Germany.
Following a resolution during by the Government of the
USSR in 1979/80 20,000 army personnel, 1,000 tanks and a
lot of equipment were withdrawn from the GDR. During
Perestroika, the GSFG was realigned as a more
defensive force as far as strength, structure and
equipment were concerned. This involved a clear
reduction of the tank forces in 1989 . The withdrawal of
the GSFG was one of the largest troop transfers in
peacetime military history. Despite the difficulties,
which resulted from the dissolution of the Soviet Union
in the same period, the departure was carried out
according to plan and punctually until August 1994.
The departure of the troops and material took place
mainly by sea via the ports in
Rostock and the island of Ruegen as well as
via Poland. The
Russian Ground Forces said ‘Farewell’ on 25
June 1994 with a military parade of the 6th Guards Motor
Rifle Brigade in Berlin. The parting celebrations in
Wuensdorf on 11 June 1994 and in the Treptower park in
Berlin on 31 August 1994 marked the end of Soviet
military occupation and operational readiness on German
In addition to German territories, Group of Soviet
Forces in Germany operational territory also included
the region of town of
Szczecin (Stettin), part of
the territories transferred from Germany to
Poland following the end of the Second World War. The
rest of Poland fell under the
Northern Group of Forces, whilst the
southern regions (Austria,
Czechoslovakia) were under the
Central Group of Forces
The 18th Guards Army was withdrawn from Germany to the
Belarussian Military District in 1979 and
By 1988 the 3rd Shock Army, based at Madgeburg,
7th Guards Tank Division -
Rosslau, GDR: with
10th Guards Tank Division -
Altengrabow, GDR: with
12th Guards Tank Division -
Neuruppin, GDR: with
47th Guards Tank Division -
Hillersleben, GDR: with
3rd Shock Attack Helicopter
Regiment - Parchim, GDR: 40
304th Artillery Brigade -
Burg, GDR: 96
2S5 (24 per battalion)
3rd Shock SSM Brigade: 18
3rd Shock Rocket Regiment: 54
BM-21 (18 per battalion)
3rd Shock Engineer Brigade: 20
36th Pontoon Bridge Regiment -
Dalgow, GDR: 4
3rd Shock SAM Brigade: 27
SA-4 (9 per battalion)
3rd Shock Air Assault
Spetsnaz Battalion: up to 30 teams, 5-12
personnel per team
3rd Shock Reconnaissance Battalion
At the end of the 1980s, the primary Soviet formations
9th Guards Tank Division
11th Guards Tank Division
20th Motorized Rifle
16th Guards Tank Division
21st Guards Motorized
94th Guards Motorized
207th Guards Motorized
7th Guards Tank Division
10th Guards Tank Division
12th Guards Tank Division
47th Tank Division
14th Guards Motorized
79th Guards Tank Division
27th Guards Motorized
39th Guards Motorized
57th Guards Motorized
35th Guards Motorized
6th Guards Motorized Rifle
12th Guards Motorized
90th Guards Tank Division
6th Fighter Aviation
16th Fighter Aviation
126th Fighter Aviation
126th Fighter Aviation
By 1991, the Soviet troops occupied 777 barracks
plants at 276 locations on the territory of the GDR.
This also included 47 airfields and 116 exercise areas.
At the beginning of
1991 there were still about 338,000 soldiers in 24 divisions,
distributed among five land armies and an air army in
what was by then the WGF. In addition there were still
about 208,000 relatives of officers as well as civil
employees, amongst them were about 90,000 children. Most
locations were in the area of today's
Brandenburg. In 1991 there were approximately
8,200 armoured vehicles
3,600 artillery pieces
106,000 other motor vehicles
180 rocket systems
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