More on Exercise Swift Response 15.

Our man on the scene sent some pics and words.

The US Army is conducting the largest multinational airborne exercise in recent history, Exercise Swift Response 15, in which a multinational Task Force formed and led by the First  (Devil) Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division is conducting a Joint Forcible Entry (JFE) into the notional country of Atropia at the Hohenfels Training Area’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center.  The Task Force includes airborne infantry battalions from the United States (Task Force Geronimo), Italy (Task Force Folgare) and Germany (Task Force Cerberus) and attached platoons and companies from Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the UK, and Poland.  The jump today by portions of TF Devil was preceded by elements of Task Force Bayonet, from the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the remainder of TF Devil jumping into Romania and Bulgaria.  Elements of Task Force Ranger have used the previous nights to destroy simulated air defense threats to open a corridor to allow the JFE to occur within a permissive environment.  For the next several days, TF Devil will fight Violent Atropian Separatists (disloyal members of the armed forces of the friendly nation of Atropia) as well as elements of the Shahid Brigade, which is a transnational terrorist organization.  In the course of their mission, they will be also be tasked to conduct two Noncombat Evacuation Operations (NEO) in conjunction with the state department.

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Pretty complex. The Army sees a future war where they’re simultaneously fighting organized military elements, and insurgent terrorist organizations. They have to both conduct maneuver warfare, and provide stability in wide areas. To say  that it requires a good deal of mental agility to be able to conduct both is and understatement. To do both simultaneously is a great challenge.

Let’s add to that the fact that airborne operations bear inherent risk. Of about 900 troops dropped yesterday, thirty-seven were injured. Most injuries were of a very minor nature, with the troops expected to return to duty within a day or two. Interestingly, about 2/3 of the injuries were to our allied airborne partners. Why the smaller allied units had more injuries, we don’t know.

What we do know is, that’s very much in line with the historical norm for injuries in airborne operations. Kind of makes me glad I was a leg.

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Big Lift and the birth of Reforger

In 1963, to demonstrate to the world, and especially the USSR, that the US could reinforce its troops in Germany, the Army and Air Force airlifted the personnel of an entire armored division from Texas to Germany. When they arrived, they fell in on prepositioned equipment, and quickly took to the field for large scale maneuvers. This was Operation Big Lift.

In the early morning of October 22, 1963, soldiers of the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas, lumbered up with their gear and individual weapons to an assembly of large cargo aircraft from the Military Air Transportation Service. Their destination was the front-line of the Cold War’s Central Europe.
Over the next 64 hours, the division, two artillery battalions, and assorted transportation units from around the country made the day-long flight across the Atlantic. An air strike force went as well. Altogether, the planes made over 200 flights, ferrying some 15,000 personnel and nearly 500 tons of equipment, one quarter of which belonged to the Army. It was the largest movement of troops by air to that date.
The deployment had been ordered by the U.S. government in consultation with its NATO allies to stem a likely attack by Warsaw Pact forces into West Germany. The scenario, however, was entirely notional. Instead of being met by hundreds of enemy tanks, the incoming troops were greeted by a 250 pound cake in the shape of a tank. The operation was, in fact, a preplanned exercise, aptly named BIG LIFT. Its actual purpose, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara announced in a September 23 press conference, was to “provide a dramatic illustration of the United States’ capability for rapid reinforcement of NATO force.”

Interestingly, the airlift was conducted by Air Force transports.

A few years later, especially as Army readiness in Europe suffered during the Vietnam War, the Army again decided to show its ability to reinforce Europe. And thus began an yearly exercise dubbed REFORGER, or Redeployment of Forces to Germany.

Moving the equipment of a division overseas is a lengthy process, needing a month or more under the best circumstances. NATO certainly wasn’t sure that the Warsaw Pact would be kind enough to give that much strategic warning of any invasion of the West. So the Army instituted POMCUS, Prepositioning of Materiel in Unit Sets. Basically, every single bit of an armored or mechanized division would be stored in warehouses in Germany, and if the Army needed to reinforce Europe, they simply had to fly the people from an existing stateside division to Germany.

Rather than taxing the transport assets of the Air Force, commercial jets would be chartered, or those in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet would be mobilized to move the troops.

REFORGER itself came to be something of the capstone exercise for much of the Army. Remember, at the height of the Cold War, there was a massive US presence in Germany, and plans to send massive reinforcements, with the US III Corps first in line, followed by other elements as needed. Almost every year, not only would a US division be sent to Germany, but a major exercise involving most NATO nations would be staged.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, REFORGER eventually faded away. No longer certain where it might be called upon to fight next, the Army has since struggled to become more expeditionary, able to move units and their equipment to any battlefield.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBKlo8uY1gQ

Graf

The Armorer shared this little video of Grafenwoehr Training Area, in Germany. GTA has long been the primary live fire training area for US and German units in Europe. Indeed, as the video shows, it’s been fulfilling that mission since before the First World War.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dvr9u36534]

I’ve been around the track there a time or two. How about you? Any memories of GTA?

Victory

On this day in 1945, representatives of the Japanese empire boarded the USS Missouri, and in a brief ceremony, signed the articles of surrender that brought to a close World War II.

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Roughly 16 million Americans would serve in uniform during the war, about 10% of the population.  Four hundred thousand of them would die. A million would be wounded.

On the Axis side, Germany and Japan were devastated, and Italy in scarcely better condition.

Of the Allied powers, France and the British Empire were exhausted. Russia, while triumphant, had suffered casualties that boggle the mind to this day.

Only the United States ended the war with its population and infrastructure intact.

The war had ushered in ever greater horrors, from concentration camps, aerial bombing campaigns and of course, the atom bomb.

And if the war failed to bring universal peace to our planet, it did show a glimpse of what warfare could be in the future. That wars since then have been, by comparison, modest affairs, is , if not a good thing, better than the alternative.

 

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.

Tankers, whatcha gonna do with ’em?

While I was noodling around to find the video in the previous post, I found this one. 1-35 Armor was in the same brigade as 1-6 Infantry back when I was there (may still be, for all I know), but I never trained with them. We always trained with the other Armor battalion in the brigade, 1-37AR. Still, I like the video since it shows soldiers in their natural environment. It’s almost like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom for treadheads…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeuJV5oGO2M]