Recollections
from o
ur time
on Freedom's Frontier

1948 - 1972


 The 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment, together with the 2nd and 6th, was activated in Germany in 1948 following imposition of the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.   It was formed from the 14th Constabulary Regiment.  Initially its headquarters was at Fritzlar, near Kassel, and its 1st, 2d and 3d Battalions (Bns. redesignated Sqdns. in 1960) were stationed respectively in Fritzlar, Schweinfurt and Coburg.  It also included the 24th Constabulary Squadron based at Bad Hersfeld with troops in Fulda and Schweinfurt.  Up to 1951 this squadron patrolled the border area from a point east of Kassel to a point west of Coburg.

In the summer of 1951 the Regiment's battalions moved forward to stations in Bad Hersfeld, Fulda and Bad Kissingen. In early 1952 the Regimental Headquarters moved to join the 1st Battalion in Fulda.  For the next twenty one years the Regiment conducted operations to maintain around-the-clock surveillance of the ground approaches from the East toward the sectors of the Fifth US Corps and the Third German Corps.  In addition the 2nd Bn./Sqdn was the covering force for the left flank division of the Seventh US Corps.

The Soviet force facing the Regiment was the Eight Guards Army consisting of three motorized rifle divisions and a tank division.  All four regiments of its forward division (39th Guards) were based within 50 Km of the border in our sector.  One of them, the 117th at Meiningen, stood within 15 Km.  The other three divisions of the Eight Guards Army were based forward of the Elbe River. The following echelon was the 1st Guards Tank Army based around Dresden.

If the initial mission of a Soviet attack in Europe was to degrade or defeat the most powerful NATO corps based in West Germany and seize a bridgehead over the Rhine it is clear that the Eight Guards Army would have had priority over all other forces based in East Germany.  (In fact it had priority over the other four Armies based in East Germany when newer model tanks and reactive armor were issued.)  Had war erupted in Europe - and IF the Eight Guards Army was well led - the troops of the Fourteenth would, in the first hours, have encountered an extraordinarily "target-rich" environment.

The Fourteenth was on the Border in the mid 1950's when the first of those ugly guard towers were erected on the other side and when the infamous ten meter strip was plowed along that side in an effort to deter the flight of people seeking freedom in the West.  A few years later in 1960 the soldiers at our observation posts witnessed a further step in the establishment of the East German “workers paradise” - the final collectivization of the farms near the border.  Where the farm families over there had been working in the fields owned by generations of their forebears, we saw them formed into squads and marched to fields designated by the collective farm directors.

The Fourteenth was on the Border in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built and when the fences and minefields were placed along the Iron Curtain to complete the imprisonment of Germany's eastern states.  All troops of the Regiment deployed to forward field positions as NATO defied the Soviet threat to close the Helmstedt-Berlin Autobahn.  An equally critical situation arose a year later during the Missile Crisis in November of 1962 when World War III was but an “eye blink” away.  Still later, in May of 1968, the Regiment again deployed to forward positions when, in conjunction with the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, two rear based Soviet divisions moved toward the Fulda Gap to reinforce the Eight Guards Army.  (If you served before the strategic term "Fulda Gap" came in to use here is an unofficial definition.)

There was a time of very slow promotion in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the Regiment had a wealth of seasoned captains to command its companies and troops. Some of those officers had more than six years in grade and were lightheartedly referred to as “field grade captains”.  From that profile the pendulum swung in the next few years to the other extreme. During the years of heavy commitment in Vietnam our squadron commanders in Germany sometimes found themselves with no majors and only one or two captains to fill the senior positions. Young lieutenants were called upon to serve as troop commanders.  Great credit is due them and their platoon leaders and to the stalwart first sergeants and platoon sergeants who met some of the most severe leadership challenges that can arise short of battle itself.

In 1972 a reduction in the force structure of the U.S.Army resulted in a decision by the Secretary of the Army to retire the colors of the Fourteenth and replace them with those of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. On the  17th of  May the soldiers of the Fourteenth placed their Suivez Moi insignia among treasured keepsakes and donned the insignia of the Blackhorse Regiment.  For the next seventeen years, until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, that proud regiment continued the border mission.

Throughout our years in Germany we stood ready to meet an attack from the East and give an aggressor his first sharp taste of NATO steel.  Night and day, year in and year out, our soldiers in observation posts kept watch over the main avenues of approach and our scout squads patrolled the sectors between the OP's.  They watched for signs of pre attack reconnaissance and listened for a distant ominous sound that could signal the approach of enemy armor.  At the same time they were on guard and ready to react with precise force to any border incident that could be raised by the communist border soldiers.  Our troops knew so well the bite of winter winds and the taste of summer dust.  They will long remember the clocks in the village church towers that tolled the passing hours of night, and they will not soon forget the grim outline of  hills beyond the border that emerged in the first light of so many new days.

Other images of border duty linger to this day.  Who can forget the aroma of  those steaming manure piles in the barnyards that we passed during our patrols - or that of the upwind fields recently visited by honeywagons? We can remember well the ganders that figured the village streets belonged to them and jolly well took their time in moving aside for our patrols to pass. And those of us who stood radio watch will always be able to hear the carrier growl when communication was marginal and we had go without the squelch in order to maintain contact with our relay station.

Our troops at the observation posts and on the patrols were ably supported by our aviators flying frequent missions, often in nearly impossible weather, to extend the range of observation.  The Mohawk aircraft mounting side-looking radar and infrared sensors did not come along until the mid 1960’s.  In our time there were no AWACs and no orbiting intelligence satellites.  Our patrols, OPs and air crews were truly among the most vital Eyes and Ears of the Free World.

While the soldiers of our tank companies and howitzer batteries were not primarily engaged in the border surveillance operations we counted on their readiness to come to bear quickly and decisively if the need arose. To maintain superior marksmanship they came to know very well two of the most unique places in West Germany - Grafenwoehr and Bergen-Hohne (aka Belsen).  In consequence of having fired thousands of rounds downrange, many of our tankers and artillerymen who served before earplugs came on line (1958) were fated never again to hear as well as most of their fellow men.

All of us; scouts, tankers, riflemen, mortar crews and artillerymen alike, are much obliged to the mess crews who were up every day long before reveille or stand-to and got us started with good breakfast.   We are deeply indebted to the resourceful maintenance crews who were out there with us in every kind of weather and often very late at night to help keep our mounts ready to roll and our radios ready to communicate.  And we are grateful to the engineers, DS ordnance, medics and chaplains who were always ready with their support.

Our gratitude extends also to the good folks who ran the dispensaries, commissaries, service clubs and dependent schools.  We are grateful to the ambulance drivers and chopper crews that came into play when when a baby was on the way and Mama needed to get to Frankfurt or Wuerzburg in a hurry.  In passing it should be noted that more than one child of this Regiment was born aboard a chopper or ambulance enroute.

We are also grateful for some of radio programs that AFN sent our way in the days before television:  "Hillbilly Gasthaus" was there for the troops who were "country" before country was "cool".  "Gunsmoke" (Marshal Dillon's lonely job) was there for the children of border families.  And for connoisseurs of "easy listing", if they could get home before 1900 hours, there was "Music in the Air".

Last, but by no means least, we are grateful to the courageous ladies who stood there by our side.  To this day if they see or hear the acronym NEO it brings sharp memories.  Some of them may still be instinctively parking their car facing toward the road.

In those first 23 critical years of the Cold War more than 55000 American soldiers served with our Regiment on Freedom's Frontier.  Those of us who were unaccompanied by family remember well how great it was to receive letters from home and how we started at about the 500 mark to count the days remaining until we could return to the land of "round doorknobs and big PXs".  For many, perhaps most, of us, our winters in Gemany were the coldest time of our life. We still shiver when we think of the wintertime cold fronts fresh out of Siberia that could do something radical to the family jewels of that proverbial "brass monkey".

In the Regiment's first years, when memories of WW II were less than ten years old, we tended to think of the German people as a former enemy.  When we saw a man getting about on one leg or in a wheelchair with no legs at all, in the back of our minds hovered the question, "Did he fight against us or the Russians?"  By 1953, however, we were quite ready to welcome the Bundesgrenzshutz to share in the border surveillance mission.  A few years later we also welcomed the formation our new NATO ally, the Bundeswehr (West German Army).  By the early 1960s two of its battalions were stationed at forward positions in our sector, Mellrichstadt and Sontra.

We share many fond memories of our time in Germany.  To mention but a few:  the excellence of the wine, the potency of the beer, the robust spirit of the music, the cheer of the apple blossoms in spring, and the aura of the poppies that turned fields red in summer.  Those of us who came to know German families also came to know the true meaning of the words “Gastfreundschaft” and "Gemuetlichkeit".

When we were there on Freedom's Frontier the exact location and strength of the Soviet forces based within fifty miles of the Border was classified information.  Yet it was very clear that those forces had more than 10 tanks for each one of ours.  And it was clear to all of us that we needed to stand tall and soldier particularly well.  Once every month or two the German families living near our kasernes were roused early in the morning by the deep throated roar of powerful engines. Our battalions/squadrons were executing an alert exercise to sharpen their deployment readiness.  Our neighbors were not very happy to be awakened so early, and the rumble of our armored “horses” was not a particularly aesthetic sound - but it was most certainly a SOUND OF FREEDOM.  It was one of the reasons why an attack from the East never came - - a reason why almost all Europeans live in freedom today. 
JMV    
SUIVEZ MOI

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The following service medals and awards are authorized for troopers who served in the 14th ACR
 
Period Title
Dec 15, 1948 to May 5, 1955
Occupation of Germany Medal
Dec 15, 1948 to Dec 26, 1991 Cold War Recognition Certificate  For information click here
June 27, 1950 to July 27, 1954
January 1, 1961 to August 14, 1974;
National Defense Service Medal

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SPOTLIGHTS

1947-48    The organization and operations of the Constabulary squadrons from which the armored cavalry regiments were formed in 1948.  Reprinted from an article published in MILITARY REVIEW  Oct 1949.

1956 59     Border operations in the mid and late 1950's,  Armored Cavalry Regiments along the Iron Curtain an article by General Bruce Clarke reprinted from ARMOR  May-June 1958.  General Clarke was Commanding General of the US Seventh Army in 1957.  At that time the 3rd ACR had the border sector from Coburg to a point east of Grafenwoehr and the 11th ACR faced the Czech border from there down to Austria.

1961     The Regiment's actions in August of 1961 when the Berlin Wall was was erected and NATO defied a Soviet threat to close the Helmstedt - Berlin autobahn are recalled by BG(R) Albin Irzyk with an article published in the July 2004 issue of ARMY Magazine

1967-69     Recollections of the Regiment's operations in the period October 1967 to May 1969 by Major General(R) Adrian St John.

1945-1983    US Army Border Operations in Germany:  This is an in-depth reveiw published by Headquarters USAREUR in 1984.

Christmas on the Border   As  recalled in a Christmas card sent in December 2000.

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BOOKS

In recent years two former members of the Regiment have written books about its watch at the Fulda Gap. 

"Across the Barbed Wire"  A historical novel about an East German family that is tragically separated in 1964 when, in an attempt to escape across the border near OP Alpha, the mother and her daughter reach the West but her son is captured by the border guards.  The author, MG(R) James Pocock, served in the 1st Battalion from 1958 to 1961.  The book can be ordered from the Supply Room (click here)  

"The 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Berlin Crisis 1961"    A review of the Regiment's actions in August of 1961 when the Berlin was was erected and NATO defied a Soviet threat to close the Helmstedt - Berlin autobahn.  The author is BG(R) Albin Irzyk commander of the Regiment at that time.  This is a limited edition.

In 1993, four years after the end of the Cold War,  a very good book about armored cavalry regiments was produced by Tom Clancy with the assistance of several distinguished armor officers.  Its title is ARMORED CAV.  It focuses on the two regiments that led the US ground forces attack in the Gulf War.

It is dedicated to the two that stood guard during the Cold War at the Fulda Gap.

 
This book is dedicated to the troopers of the 11th and 14th
Armored Cavalry Regiments.  As the last of them stand down from
their almost five decade vigil over the Fulda Gap in Germany,
they can take pride that they won their war without a shot having
to be fired in anger.  May they find, in life and beyond, the peace
that they spent their lives forging and protecting for the rest of us.
God bless, guys.


On 13 March 1994 the last American soldiers stationed in the Fulda Gap cased their colors and moved homeward.  Words spoken at that time and place by General Donn Starry resound powerfully among all of us.  "Listen" 

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Supplementary pages that focus on operations and events at battalion/squadron level are under development:

1st Squadron        2nd Squadron      3rd Squadron