Vladimir Putin’s remarks in October 2022 that were a reminder that nuclear weapons have not gone away. Even though most armed forces have concluded that the tactical nuclear weapons have limited utility on a twenty first century battlefield, it would be unwise to be unaware of their characteristics, or how the might be used on the battlefield.
One of the best places to study the characteristics of tactical nuclear weapons is on the cold war “battlefield” of Western Germany. Here, for several decades, NATO strategy was based on the threat of nuclear escalation. British forces in Germany planned and practiced the use of nuclear weapons and operations under the threat of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Before the introduction of precision guided munitions, nuclear weapons were regarded as key to stopping an armoured assault by Warsaw Pact forces. In the 1970s British organisation and tactics were designed around the nuclear battlefield.
The battlefields where BAOR anticipated fighting the Warsaw pact is a good place to explore how the Soviets saw the nuclear era as a revolution in military affairs and how it changed the way the Soviets planned to fight and its legacy in Soviet and Russian doctrine and equipment.
It is somewhere to explore the characteristics of nuclear weapons. How might they actually be used? What would an army contemplating tactical nuclear weapons need to consider in planning and employing them?
Happy to discuss staff rides, battlefield studies or contributions to study days.
In June 2015, a party from 26 Regiment, based in Guetersloh, Germany, carried out Exercise Mansergh NorthAG, a battlefield study of the Cold War battlefields of Western Germany and Berlin. This was their leg in Ubique 300 taking the Captain General’s Baton everywhere the Royal Regiment of Artillery served in the past three centuries.
Fortunately, the armed forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact never came into armed conflict, but for nearly 50 years this is where armies planned to fight at short notice. The North German Plain is one
of the few places where it is possible to study how the Britain and its allies would fight against a modern well equipped army. It is sobering to consider how chemical and tactical nuclear weapons might have been used, and how and why they were replaced by more effective precision weapons.
There were casualties including fatalities. Hundreds of Germans died trying to escape Eastern Germany in addition to servicemen and women injured in training. The marks of the divided city of Berlin are evidence of the human and economic cost and a reminder of the psychological and intelligence war that took place throughout these decades.
It was fascinating and impressive to see how the soldiers of the modern army explored the past, considered the lessons for the current day and how to apply them in the future.
In wartime it would have been an alternative crossing had the Soviets captured or destroyed other crossings.
It is a forgotten battlefield, not least because the mainly classified documents associated with the Cold War were destroyed as part of the peace dividend in the 1990s.
It was only possible to assemble the information to carry out the study with support from many retired soldiers and officers who taxed their brains to retrieve what were once state secrets. Many thanks to Generals Mungo Melvin, Jonathan Bailey and John Milne and to the various RA Regimental associations, in particular the 50 Missile Association.
Major Simon Fittock, the exercise director, gave his view:-
“I requested Frank’s assistance to deliver a battlefield study, based on the ‘Functions in Combat’ that was designed to look at the Cold War and specifically the multinational Northern Army Group (NORTHAG) centred around the North/Central area of Hannover, West Germany. The tour also visited Berlin to continue its studies of the Information and Intelligence Wars.
Right from the off Frank’s engaging style kicked in. His impromptu introduction on the coach during the journey to our first stand set the context fantastically,
bringing the scenario to life and immediately putting the troops in the era and whilst relating his own memories to our current dispositions and our approach to the very high readiness lifestyle that those in the 70-80’s lived through.
His insight into the era, having lived through exercises and deployments, combined with an acute ability to translate the issues into modern day language and engage with all ranks worked fantastically.
I cannot recommend him highly enough and will certainly be using him again in the future.”
One of the results of this exercises is that we have assembled a useful collection of information and documents about the Cold War.
If you would like to talk about any ideas inspired by this article, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office +44 207 387 6620 or my mobile +44 781 317 9668.