Back in the good old days all ELINTERS lived at Schneeberg. That is where this story actually started. This story appeared in the Association of Old Crows Journal of Electronic Defense about a year ago. I thought I'd share it with you guys..
First Person Singular
By Gil Bouffard
Where were you on August 13th, 1961, when the wall went up in Berlin? Had hostilities occurred, eleven other guys and myself were in a more precarious position than the troops in Berlin. I was a member of an ELINT tactical collection team operating in the middle of a farmer's field in the Landkreis (sorta like county) Luchow-Dannenburg. We had come to the little town of Woltersdorf to set up operations in preparation for the annual Russian Fall training exercises in the Letzlinger Heide. This was their big training exercise and it occurred, as I remember, during the fall troop rotation. We were not the only Americans in this area. There was a semi-permanent site located at Gartow and the site at Bahrdorf near Braunschweig. The troops at Bahrdorf provided our re-supply and occasionally drove through East Germany to reach our location. You see our area of West Germany jutted into East Germany along the Elbe River. This area was considered to be the British Zone and wasnít as closely guarded as the Southern or American Zone.
Our little group of twelve operation and maintenance personnel had been together for quite some time and we worked well together. We performed surveillance operations during some of the initial Lacrosse artillery missile tests at Grafenwohr. We also deployed to Baumholder as a part of operational tests of one of the first battlefield surveillance radars. We deployed from Herzo Base, home of the 318th USASA Battalion in Southern Germany, in late July 1961. Our convoy consisted of a three-quarter ton, poorly sprung, truck with squealing brakes. This vehicle had the ESGX-3 (later called the AN/NMQ24), Tactical ELINT collection (one-man) hut mounted in the truck bed. The equipment in the hut was the AN/ALR-8 consisting of the AN/APR- 13 and AN/APR-9. The gear on the back of the truck was so heavy that when driving, you had the feeling that the front end was going to rise off the ground. We also had a deuce and a half and a maintenance van mounted on a deuce and a half chassis and two jeeps. We carried 55 gallon drums of diesel fuel in the deuce and a half for the two 15 kW generators. The ESGX-3 was supposed to operate using a 5 kW gasoline generator, but we always seemed to bum them out. At one time we experimented with 10 kW generators but our site requirements were too much for them, hence, the 15Kw diesel generators.
Our first stop was HQ 319th USASA Battalion in Kassel for briefings. After these briefings we drove further North and East into the region that would be our home for about three months. After checking into the hotel we drove out to our site area, (a slight rise on a fairly flat section of Germany).
The collection operations were, for the most part, routine. Mostly ground-based early warning radars (Tokens, Big Mesh, and Flat Face) and the occasional Scan Three, Scan Odd airborne intercept radar. We worked in three two-man shifts. One operator in the collection van and the other performing administrative and guard duty. We would rotate jobs so that the guy in the collection van wouldn't fall asleep.
That is until August 13th 1961! After that day, nobody really slept on watch. We were notified that there was a lot of activity going on around Berlin. At the same time our collection "take," became greater. (I almost said improved. Because, as an intercept operator, the more activity going on, the better.) It also became a time of nervousness. A couple of the guys drove over to the border. When they got back, they reported that the VOPO's (VOlksPOlizei), were reinforcing their barricades and a lot of troops were out.
We started worrying about our weapons and ammunition and what we would have to do if what was going on turned into a real fight. We had a couple of .45's for use when transporting material to and from the "Comm Center," and each man had both a .30 caliber M- I Carbine and the newly issued 7.62 mm M14. However, we didn't have any ammunition for the M-14s. The M-14 was intended to replace the M-1 Garand which weighed 9.5
So here we are. Twelve nervous guys stuck in a place in West Germany with, what were becoming really hostile and most probably equally nervous, East German troops on three sides of us. Our protection was some light rifles, some ammunition, a couple of pistols and some 10-pound clubs to throw at the bad guys.
One day, as I was on ops in the van, the whole sky lit up (figuratively) when a helicopter carrying a bunch of Fifth Corps Officers landed at our site. They had come to find out how we were doing. The first question out of their mouths was. "Do you have an escape plan?" The site NCOIC, looking around at all the gear we would have to tear down and move, said. "Yes sir! Due West!" We jokingly told each other that we would have a better chance if we put on civilian clothes and joined the farmers in the fields. Luckily, we never had the chance to put our plan into action. We were withdrawn from the area sometime in October. However, that wouldn't be the end of our encounters with the East-West borders.
Gil Bouffard has held numerous local chapter offices ranging from membership committee chairman to Chapter President. Gil's joint
(combined or whatever) military service took him to some of the most remote or unfriendly areas of the world as well as the "garden spots," of Fort Devens, (MA), Holloman AFB, (NM) Hawaii and Norfolk, (VA). His farewell tour was spent at Headquarters USAREUR, Tactical SIGINT Branch, in Heidelberg, Germany. In the years since his departure from the military Gil Bouffard has worked for GTE (EDL), Lockheed Martin Western Development Laboratories, Loral Western Development Labs and Ford Aerospace, Western Development Laboratories, Palo Alto and San Jose, CA., and Corvus Systems in Vienna, Virginia. Gil is currently a consultant.