US Observation Post
Origins and history of the Point Alpha observation post
After the fighting ended in May 1945, the US consistently reduced the size of its forces, so that by 1949 only about 79,000 American soldiers were stationed in Germany. The remaining troop units were organized into constabulary units (military police) and, as of July 1946, they were also responsible for the surveillance of the border to the Soviet zone of occupation. To this end, the US Army established checkpoints manned by six to ten soldiers at all zone transitions. The Berlin blockade and especially the Korean War convinced the United States of the necessity of protecting its allies and other non-communist states from the threat of the USSR and of maintaining permanent large military contingents in West Germany. As a result, by 1955, the US troop forces in the Federal Republic of Germany had risen to about 350,000 men. In 1951 the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment replaced the so-called military police units and continuously expanded the Point Alpha observation post. As of that time, soldiers of the regiment were on duty patrolling the inner German border as the border surveillance regiment, with their function of reconnoitering possible attacks by the Warsaw Pact. This also included interception of radio traffic, something that greatly benefited from the exposed location of the camp.
In the context of the restructuring of the US forces, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) was redeployed to East Hesse in May of 1972, with its officer corps and part of its squads replacing the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The 11th ACR bears a leaping black horse as its coat of arms, which is where the “Blackhorse” designation of the regiment originates. Here too, the regiment’s assignment consisted of guarding the border between the two German states, in view of the risk of an attack by the Warsaw Pact.
The reunification of Germany in 1990 and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact brought about the end of the regiment’s official duties and its deployment at Point Alpha. Following deployments in Kuwait and Iraq, the regiment has been stationed in California.
Service at Point Alpha
The service of US military forces at the observation post Alpha was anything but pleasant, since it offered almost no opportunities for diversion. Playing horseshoes and engaging in sports constituted the only means of compensating for the harsh, lonely daily routine.
Primary duties consisted of maintaining equipment and, above all, radio transmission disposition, so that these were in a state of constant operational readiness. The soldiers on duty at the observation post were replaced by fresh troops at intervals of four to six weeks. This was conducted in terms of the Border Tour program initiated in 1972, whose intent was to familiarize as many American soldiers as possible with the inner German border and thus convey an image of the military opponent. The normal contingent strength of the Point Alpha observation post was approximately 40 men. However, in crisis situations, up to 200 soldiers could be deployed here.
Following morning roll call, three groups were formed. The alarm squad was deployed for all around defense of the Point Alpha observation post.
This group had to be completely equipped and ready to go within ten minutes and had armored vehicles at its disposal. The observation squad surveyed the border in various segments, with the observation tower also manned by parts of this commando.
In addition, there was general patrol duty, whereby constant contact was maintained with the observation tower. These troop units frequently cooperated with the German Federal Border Police and Customs services.
The Fulda Gap
The Fulda Gap was the focal point and center of the NATO line of defense. This Fulda Gap was regarded as one of four potential avenues of incursion by the Warsaw Pact forces into the Federal Republic of Germany. Due to its geostrategically favorable location, the Fulda Gap was endowed with particular significance. Here, at the point where the Eastern bloc protruded furthest into the West, the aggressors could have pushed forward as far as the Rhine within only 48 hours and would have been able to eliminate the main garrisons of the V. US Army corps. Thus, the Fulda Gap would have become one of the first battlefields of World War III. In the event of an emergency, NATO would have implemented the strategy of preemptive defense along the inner German border and the border to what was the state of Czechoslovakia at the time, so as to absorb and halt the enemy’s advance for as long as possible. The armed forces of the German Federal Republic (Bundeswehr) and the US conducted regularly-scheduled maneuvers in this region of East Hesse in order to test the state of defense. The attack strategies of the Warsaw Pact tended to favor the Eisenach region as a potential route of incursion into the West. The latest research in the files of the Eastern bloc states (which had previously been classified) suggest that in the event of an attack nuclear weapons would also have been deployed.
It is well known that NATO considerations also included the use of nuclear weapons for the purposes of stopping the numerically superior enemy. Although these were to be of limited effectiveness, the consequences of losses among the civilian population were taken into account. Furthermore, the enemy advance was to be delayed with detonation chambers installed on the roads – two of these in the vicinity can be found in the auspices of the memorial. Moreover, steel plates embedded in the ground, the so-called yield barriers, would have been installed everywhere, as can be seen in the guardhouse at the memorial site.
Barracks 7700 and 7701
In the early days of the OP Alpha, the troops were initially housed in tents. One of these tents can be viewed between the memorial stone and barracks C. They were ‘furnished’ with cots, a small stove, a desk and an 841-type mobile radio set. Later these makeshift accommodations were replaced by Quonset huts. It was only as of 1972 that the US Army constructed solidly-built barracks at this site.
Both of these barracks served primarily for housing the troops. They also featured training, continuing education and administration facilities. Barracks B also included conference rooms, an office and a cafeteria and it was where the weaponry and radio equipment, as well as the alarm squad were stationed in order to ensure immediate deployment, if necessary.
Barracks 7705 was initially used as a cafeteria, and the rooms later served as spaces for the leisure time pursuits of the servicemen. The American GIs installed a gym that they equipped with fitness devices they brought in for this purpose. The structure also contained a meeting and lecture room, a small library and a television with a stock of VHS films along with a stereo system. Behind the building there was a basketball court. The soldiers celebrated Christmas here or the all-important American Thanksgiving holiday. Across from the barracks, under the trees, you can still see the brick barbecue grill that was used primarily on festive occasions such as birthdays or family celebrations. To the left of that there is a small paved surface with an iron post protruding from it. This area was used for the popular American pastime of tossing horseshoes. Featuring its own water tanks, the little “water house” ensured that the Point Alpha observation post had a self-sufficient fresh water supply.
Once past the red barrier line that runs in front of barracks 7702, you have arrived at the very site that could well have marked an outbreak of war. This was as far as the tanks of the US forces were permitted to proceed. Anything beyond that could potentially have been perceived as a border violation by the opposing side. Only smaller vehicles would drive through the turning circle, the center of which is marked by the pole bearing the flag of the United States of America.
The motor vehicle hangar with gas station
In order to maximize the observation post’s operational independence, Point Alpha had its own gas station. The primary purpose of the fuel tanks was to fill up the smaller vehicles. Separate tanker trucks were available to fill up the tanks and armored personnel carriers, etc. The tankers always had to be maintained at a well-filled level and were positioned at the motor vehicle hangar.
The motor vehicle hangar was built in the 1970s, to allow for servicing vehicles and making small repairs. Extensive consideration was given to whether the hangar should be positioned so that the open side was visible from the border. Ultimately, the US Army decided in favor of this option. Colonel Steven Steininger, a former squad commander at Point Alpha, put it this way: “The enemy should have a clear view of the kind of combat power he was up against.”
The border patrols were frequently conducted in conjunction with the Federal Border Police. The teams would agree to meet at a specified segment of the border and would then drive together to demonstrate the force of their combined presence. However, it should be noted that vehicles of the Federal Border Police were never officially allowed to drive onto the grounds of the Point Alpha observation post.
The guardhouse and the ammunition bunker
The original entry point to the Point Alpha observation post was located at the great gate. As everyone had to pass this point, the gate was manned day and night, with sentries on duty in a four-hour rotation. Only members of the American forces were permitted access here.
Point Alpha was also designated a VIP point. Many prominent and high-level visitors, primarily from American political and military groups, came to the OP to obtain information regarding the situation on the inner German border and the confrontation of the two power blocs. To secure the entrance to the Point Alpha observation post in the event of an emergency defense situation, a command post fortified with sandbags was located between the guardhouse and the ammunition bunker. Ammunition for the entire troop strength of the Point Alpha observation post was stockpiled in the ammunition bunker. This ensured that, in case of emergency, the appropriate defensive measures could be undertaken. Counter to several contemporary expert opinion reports, Point Alpha only stocked conventional weapons and no nuclear warheads.