It was just past 0200 hours in the Federal Republic of Germany on 6 July, 1987 when President Reagan began his address to an increasingly anxious nation and world. Despite the early hour, Reagan’s speech was being watched closely by thousands of troops, officers and dependents in US Army kasernes and other US military bases across West Germany and Europe. Soldiers and civilians alike recognized that the global situation at the moment appeared dire. As Americans generally did in times of international tension, these people were turning to their president for an indication of the severity of the current crisis. Reagan’s speech would set the tone for the tens of thousands of Americans in Europe at that moment. When he announced the activation of REFORGER it was like a switch was thrown across the United States and Western Europe. War was no longer simply a possibility. It was imminent.
Within minutes of the conclusion of the speech, telephones were ringing in barracks and houses across West Germany. A terse two-word phrase, “Lariat Advance” was spoke into phone receivers by unit commanders and duty officers a countless number of times that early morning. The term was a code to US Army troops in Europe indicating that their parent unit was declaring an alert. Seconds suddenly counted. Immediately, soldiers and officers were packing up and heading to their units. The speed with which the alert had been issued left little doubt that this was the real thing.
On the Inner-German Border, near the area known to Western planners as the Fulda Gap, was the US Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. In peacetime, the regiment’s duty was border patrol and observation. Once the balloon went up, its role transformed. The Blackhorse Regiment’s wartime mission was to defend “The Gap” and buy time for V Corps to deploy. To the south, along the West German-Czech border was the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. This regiment served an identical purpose for VII Corps. In peacetime it patrolled and watched the border and in war it would act as the VII Corps screening force and keep Warsaw Pact forces bottlenecked in the Hof Corridor for as long as possible. These regiments reacted to the alert at once.
At 0600 their primary peacetime missions came to an end. Word came down that the East Germans were closing the border immediately. East German and Czech border guards began barricading the road and rail crossing points along the length of the frontier. A short time later their West German counterparts, Federal Border Guard troops started doing the same on their side of the border.
By this point, activity at US bases in Western Europe had ramped up considerably. Stragglers arrived at their units. Equipment, weapons and vehicles were being checked and readied. For most divisions and brigades, the activity would be restricted to their kasernes until after dark. In the initial alert order transmitted directly from SACEUR through Heidelberg, no units were to move towards their wartime positions close to the border until night had fallen. Intelligence reports indicated the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies were still in the preparation process. Ivan was not going to begin crossing the border before dusk or in all likelihood, anytime in the next twenty-four hours.
Operation REFORGER was also getting underway, adding another wildcard element to the alert. In a matter of hours, MAC transport aircraft carrying soldiers from CONUS-based heavy maneuver divisions were scheduled to begin arriving at airbases across Western Europe. From there they would be transported to the POMCUS sites assigned to their parent divisions. Security for those sites, spread out across areas of West Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, was the responsibility of US Army, Europe. By late morning, security and MP units were enroute to every POMCUS site in Europe to reinforce the security troops on hand. The sites and depots were ranked high on the Soviet target list. There was no mistaking their significance to NATO plans for the defense of Europe. If the POMCUS sites were removed from the board, NATO’s job would become considerably more difficult.
Author’s Note: This is one of the pre-war entries that did not make the cut. As I mentioned before, I decided to clean a couple of them up and post. This is the first one, just a brief glimpse at the US Army in Europe as the transition to war starts. Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up the WWIII-Pop Culture. On Monday there will be another pre-war entry put up and then D+17 will start at midweek. Hope everyone’s having a good weekend. – Mike