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 email@example.com or call the office +44 207 387 6620 or my mobile +44 781 317 9668.
Exercise Tartan Musket was a Battlefield Study that took place in Germany in 1992. It originated with the intention of the Commanding officer fo 40 Field Regiment Royal Artillery to provide an opportunity for one of his battery commanders to demonstrate his command and leadership in the shadow of Options for change. It was a battlefield tour than a staff ride.
The exercise took place after the end of the first Gulf War and before the Balkan conflict. It shows what can be done to bring a historic battle to life given time and resources.
The study covered two battles of the Seven Years war wehich took place close to British Army Garrison Towns. Hastenbeck 1757 is an infrequently studied or remembered battle that took place south of Hameln. Minden August 1759 has a place in British military heritage for the remarkable role of the british infantry in defeating the French Cavalry, and for the court martial of one British commander for cowardice.
The Battlefield Guide was Frank Baldwin with Dr Christopher Duffy as a subject expert, revered ion Germany for his biography of Frederick the Great.
It is harder to understand pre twentieth century battlefields dues to the unfamiliarity with the weapons, tactics and ethos of the time. A range of techniques were used to help participants understand.
A team of re-enactors with infantry weapons and a cannon.
Half a dozen volunteers from the Sennelager Polo Club to illustrate the nature of cavalryy.
100 re painted figure 11 targets lined up to represent an infantry battalion, which were visible as a “thin red line” at 1,500 metres.
Large screens erected at key points to label battlefield features.
80 staves,a flag and drill instructor supported by a fife and drum to allow participants to re-enact an assault using the tactics of the time.
Battlefield manouvres demonstrated by colour parties and left and rright markets.
Support from local historians identifying the archaeological evidence of these battles.
Support from local black powder enthusiasts to demonstrate the weapons of the time.
Meals with historic menus.
The use of re-enactors and offered some real insights about the nature of warfare at the time. It was surprising how effective slow time foot drill was in maintaining order, spacing and alignment over rough terrain and steep hills.
If you want to find out more about planning exercises to Pre C20th battlefields or the ideas used in this exercise, 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.