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.