End of an Era

Since September 1943, with the amphibious landings at Salerno, Italy, the US Army has maintained armored formations in Europe. Until now.

The U.S. Army’s 69-year history of basing main battle tanks on German soil quietly ended last month when 22 Abrams tanks, a main feature of armored combat units throughout the Cold War, embarked for the U.S.

The departure of the last M-1 Abrams tanks coincides with the inactivation of two of the Army’s Germany-based heavy brigades. Last year, the 170th Infantry out of Baumholder disbanded. And the 172nd Separate Infantry Brigade at Grafenwöhr is in the process of doing the same.

On March 18, the remaining tanks were loaded up at the 21st Theater Sustainment Command’s railhead in Kaiserslautern where they then made the journey to the shipping port in Bremerhaven, Germany. There they boarded a ship bound for South Carolina.

When  I arrived in Germany in 1989, the principal US ground force was the US 7th Army.  It consisted of two corps, the V Corps, and VII Corps.  Each corps consisted of an armored division, a mechanized infantry division, a seperate heavy brigade, and an armored cavalry regiment.* Very roughly, that’s a little over 1500 tanks. That didn’t count the tanks of the German Bundeswehr, the British Army Of the Rhine (BAOR) or any of the other NATO nations. Then there were the POMCUS sites. Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets- basically, if the US needed to reinforce Germany, the entire III Corps (headquartered at Ft. Hood, TX,  but with units also at Ft. Stewart, GA) would fly to Germany. Since getting all their equipment there would take time and shipping that likely wouldn’t be available, complete sets of the needed equipment were stored in Germany, just waiting for troops to draw them.  Call it roughly another 1000 tanks.

In addition, war replacement stocks were on hand, though I honestly don’t know how many there were. At any event, there were a couple thousand M1 tanks in Germany when I arrived.

With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, obviously much of the need for a strong forward US presence in Germany went away.

And so we find ourselves, for the first time in decades, without a forward deployed armor unit in Europe. If you’d told me in 1989 that we’d come to this, I’d have thought you crazy.

H/T to Jason for the Stripes article.

*These were merely the principal ground maneuver units. Each corps also had an array of combat support and combat service support brigades such as artillery, aviation, intelligence, engineer, military police and logistics.

7 thoughts on “End of an Era”

  1. I’m just curious, as I’ve been reading about the Yom Kippur War recently, how long did it take to get a tank out of storage and ready to roll for combat back then?

    1. Not sure about Europe, but in APS-5, the pre-positioned fleet in Doha, Kuwait, the standard was that a company-sized element would land at Kuwait City and six hours later, it would have drawn its fleet, and be outside Camp Doha ready to upload ammunition and get on a HET or low-boy for onward movement to the Iraq/Kuwait border. I participated in these no-notice contingency missions twice, once in 94 and once in 98. Fun.

  2. Well, I hope that the Euros aren’t going to need us to come in and bail them out again; I’m not sure that we would/will.


    1. I wouldn’t worry about it. Europe’s falling into economic turmoil. The last time that happened Europe was pretty quiet. Wait, what? Oh…

  3. 2 quick notes…

    I remeber when the first M1s SHOWED UP in Europe in 1982 for REFORGER 82. They were with the 3rd ACR out of FT Bliss. 3ID shortly got them thereafter.

    And by the late 1970s the units at FT Stewart belonged to XVIII Airborne Corps, not III Corps. FT Carson, Ft Riley and until it disbanded, the 5th ID at FT Polk fell under III Corps. The 24th ID was an XVIII Corps unit and our vehicles were ALWAYS sand colored. If there was a The Big One in Europe, the 24th’s mission was to deploy to Turkey and serve in SOUTAG.

  4. Ah yes The Taro Leaf Division….my one and only year NOT on Jump Status out of decades of service. Straight out of Airborne School two entire graduating classes were sent to Ft. Riley, KS. for Reforger I in l968.

  5. !st Tanks was the last Division HQ in Germany and it left for Bliss about 3 years ago IIRC. I had no idea what heavy units were left, but a lot of the stuff that was open when I,lived in Germany in the late 60s was completely shuttered in ’95. The Admin buildings of Echterdingen AF, which was the Military side of the Stuttgart Airport, have been demolished and I can barely see where they were. It was a funny place. The ground org was Air Force, and the aviation units stationed there were Army. The largest was a Mohawk Battalion. The AF kept a few Corporate type jets there, but that was it.

    I wonder what Graf will be like after we are gone. Wildflicken was completely taken over by the Germans and is a shadow of its old self. The rec centers at Berchtesgaden and Chemsee are gone and most of Garmisch is now closed up too.

    One thing I can confidently predict is Germany will become increasingly anti-American after we are gone. That started while we lived near Stuttgart.

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