A Glimpse at West Berlin: D-1 (8 July, 1987) **


Opinions on the fate of West Berlin in the event of war varied. On one end of the spectrum, a large number of military and political observers expected an East German/Soviet invasion of the city to announce the commencement of hostilities against the West. The primary reasoning for this belief was the amount of political capital a Berlin reunification would bring to the Warsaw Pact, especially early on in a war. The fact that West Berlin had long been a thorn in the side of the Soviets and their East German puppets played a role influencing opinions and thinking here as well.

Another faction of influential political and military pundits and analysts believed the opposite to be true. From a strictly military perspective, seizing West Berlin would demand a large, and capable East German force supported by the Soviets to some degree. The regiments, and divisions comprising that force would be better used in Pact operations against West Germany. It made little sense to commit a sizable number of divisions and regiments to capturing a city far behind the potential front line. Berlin would have no operational bearing on the outcome of the war. Leaving West Berlin untouched could also produce political and propaganda capital for the Soviets, something that could become sorely needed as a conflict progresses.

West Berlin was taking no chances. The lessons of the 1948 blockade, and the 1961 Berlin Crisis had been taken to heart by its citizens and government. The city was prepared for a protracted state of hostilities, blockade, or whatever the future might bring. Large reserves of food, drinking water, emergency supplies, and other staples of life had been amassed should Berlin’s lifelines to the west ever be cut off. Individual Berliners  and families emulated the preparations made by their city’s government. Families, apartment buildings, and even neighborhoods had caches of food, and other necessities stashed away. They regularly replenished the items as expiration dates came and went. In ordnung is not only a phrase for Germans. It is a way of life.

The city’s American, French, and British defenders were ready to challenge an East German/Soviet invasion, yet they were also quite realistic regarding the odds of a successful defense without reinforcements from the outside. Plans had been drafted and practiced covering the possibility that the troops from the West Berlin garrisons might have to escape the city before its occupation and resort to a guerilla-style campaign against the GDR and Soviet occupiers until relief forces arrive.

As tensions increased in late June of ’87, the growing concern in West Berlin was the city’s corridors to the west. Would they stay open if the global situation did not reverse itself? Berlin’s citizens followed events and responded almost instinctively.  Each day more elderly, women, and children were sent west by concerned families. The makeshift evacuation was quietly condoned by the city fathers who were reluctant to call for an official evacuation for fear of sparking a major panic. Other preparations were taking place out of the public spotlight. US, French, and British officers, in concert with officials of the West Berlin police were out every night scouting areas designated to be used as  strong points in any future battle for the city. The main strategy was to bog down the invaders in bloody house-to-house fighting. For this strategy work, military officers needed to develop keen awareness of what intersections offered the best fields of fire for anti-tank missile teams, what buildings would be sturdy enough to serve as a temporary redoubt, as well as a thousand other details essential to planning the defense of the city.

If West Berlin was to be fought over, the Western forces garrisoned there were determined to ensure that the East Germans, and Russians paid a steep price in blood for every yard they advanced into the city.

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