Highly classified until only recently, two U.S. Army Special Forces detachments were stationed far behind the Iron Curtain in West Berlin during the Cold War. The units’ existence and missions were protected by cover stories, their operations were secret.
The massive armies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies posed a huge threat to the nations of Western Europe. US military planners decided they needed a plan to slow the juggernaut they expected when and if a war began. The plan was Special Forces Berlin. The first 40 men who came to Berlin in mid-1956 were soon reinforced by 60 more and these 100 soldiers (and their successors) would stand ready to go to war at only two hours’ notice, in a hostile area occupied by nearly one million Warsaw Pact forces, until 1990.
Their mission should hostilities commence was to wreak havoc behind enemy lines, and buy time for vastly outnumbered NATO forces to conduct a breakout from the city. In reality it was an ambitious and extremely dangerous mission, even suicidal. Highly trained and fluent in German, each man was allocated a specific area. They were skilled in clandestine operations, sabotage, intelligence tradecraft and able to act as independent operators, blending into the local population and working unseen in a city awash with spies looking for information on their every move.
Special Forces Berlin was a one of a kind unit that had no parallel. It left a legacy of a new type of soldier expert in unconventional warfare, one that was sought after for missions such as the attempted rescue of American hostages from Tehran in 1979. With the U.S. government officially acknowledging their existence in 2014, their incredible story can now be told.
Styk is also the author of the book The Horns Of The Beast: The Swakop River Campaign & World War I In South West Africa, published by By Helion & Company.
The book,tells the story of the South African Army in its first foreign operations and the German Schutztruppe’s defense of their colony, German South West Africa, during World War I from 1914-1915. It will be available on Amazon this month.
Styk lived in Namibia from 2010 to 2013 and researched the history and battle sites on the ground. He used primary sources, along with accurate maps and charts of the battles, to shed new light on General Botha’s strategy and his opponent’s defense.
One last wish from CSM Jeff Raker, was to donate the Chicken Friday plaque he received upon his departure from Detachment”A” in 1981, to the members of Detachment”A”.
Chicken Friday was created back in the 1971-1972 era with SGM Tony Kriculi, and MAJ Sid Shachnow. In the 1970s era, Detachment”A” annexed the old HQ & HQ company mess hall kitchen right next door to the Detachment”A” building. It was renovated by Detachment”A” members into a Day Room complete with a bar, which was annexed from the hospital. The Day Room also included a pool table, a parachute canopy over the bar, and beer from Czechoslovakia called “Budvar”, not local beer i.e., Schultheiss and Berliner Kindl. It was improved during the years leading up to the deactivation of the Detachment in 1984.
On Friday afternoons we had a formation and assigned tasks for various cleanup areas, vehicle maintenance, and other such upkeep duties. These activities lasted about two hours which then turned into “Chicken Friday”, a social gathering and bier fest for the rest of the evening. Because of our compartmentalization, and not much downtime among us for socializing, it became a highly anticipated event. Chicken Friday was frequently attended by Navy Seals from Crete, teams from 10th Special Forces attending our classified city training course, and the German Secret Police whom we worked with. Chicken Friday and the fest after, was a really big morale booster for the men of Detachment”A” and helped keep “What happened in the Detachment, stayed in the Detachment”.
At our last Detachment”A” function in Asheville on Friday 16 September of 2016, Jeff Raker presented the plaque he received in 1981, to our Chicken Friday. He hand carried this symbolic artifact all the way from Guam, and it came with him first class – 35 years later. After the meeting Kevin Monahan suggested that the plaque be donated to the JFK museum. Bob Charest secured the Chicken Friday plaque and will ensure the plaque is transported to Roxanne Merritt, the JFK museum director/curator where she will ensure that it will reside and serve as part of Detachment”A” history.
This historic Chicken Friday plaque presented to CMS Jeff Raker back in 1981 is being donated to the JFK Museum on behalf of all the men from Detachment”A” 39TH Special Forces.
The Detachment (A) Memorial Stone Dedication Ceremony was hosted by LTG Charles Cleveland, Commanding General for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) on 30 January 2014.
The Detachment”A” Memorial stone is in place and the colors were retired with dignity and honor. The dedication ceremony was outstanding, as was the Chicken Friday’s free event, both food and beers. Lots of folks had to cancel due to the weather, however the event was well attended, including Juan Renta, Rocky Farr, Ron Braughton, Jeff Raker, Carl Beene, Gene Piasecki, and many others.
Detachment “A” participated in “Operation Eagle Claw” the attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis on 24/25 April 1980 by rescuing 52 diplomats held captive at the United States Embassy and the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran, Iran.
Detachment “A” was responsible for the pre-mission reconnaissance of the targets by successfully infiltrating a team into Tehran on several occasions and contributed an element to rescue three hostages held in the MFA.
When the first mission was aborted a second attempt was planned for later that year, but was cancelled when negotiations proved successful.
Stormcloud was the code-name for Det “A’s” portion of the mission.
Compiled/Written by: Bob Charest Detachment(A) Team 1 Scuba, Detachment(A) Team 3 Team Sergeant (1969-1972) Detachment(A) Team 2 , Detachment(A) Commo Chief 1973-1978
In 1956, six modified Special Forces Operational “A” Detachments from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) stationed in Bad Tölz were relocated to West Berlin as the 7781 Army Unit (also known as 39th SFOD) and embedded within HQ and HQ Co., 6th Infantry Regiment. Each team was composed of one Master Sergeant and five enlisted team members. The overall OIC was MAJ Maltese and his XO, CAPT Barton. After several moves in 1958 the unit found its final home at Andrews Barracks, West Berlin, assigned to HHC, US Army Garrison, Berlin, with its new name – Detachment “A” (DET-A). DET(A) was a clandestine unit constantly on high alert status 24 hours a day. In 1962 DET(A) was separated from the Garrison and became Detachment(A), Berlin Brigade, US Army Europe, which it remained until deactivation in 1984.
Detachment (A) was a unique and diversified, unconventional classified unit. With staff, the unit numbers were approximately 90 men. Detachment(A) encompassed all the Special Forces missions over its existence: unconventional warfare, stay behind, direct action, and anti-terrorist. For example when I arrived in 1969, they operated under the cell concept. Then in the late sixties transitioned to six, 12-man “A” teams, each having its own mission requiring different and multiple skill sets including scuba, HALO, etc.
A certain breed of troop were instrumental in Detachment(A)’s missions. They brought in depth knowledge of other nations, language capabilities and other much needed skills and knowledge essential to Detachment(A). Some of these men were products of the Lodge Act, and many of these troops still had families behind the Iron Curtain. Men like Peter Astalos who served in the Romanian and German armies during World War II; Martin Urich who participated in the largest tank battle of World War II “Kursk”, and many more.
In later years during the Cold War another breed of men were joining the Special Forces originating from all over Europe. Men such as MG Sidney Shachnow born in Kaunas Lithuania, imprisoned for three years during World War II, joined Special Forces in 1962 and served for the next 32 years in Special Forces rising through the ranks to become a Two Star General. He was the Commander of Detachment(A) in the early 1970s. Hermann Adler, Team 3 Leader 71-72, born in the Sudentenland, Czechoslovakia.
After MG Shachnow’s departure from Detachment(A), his replacement was relieved of duty in front of our morning formation by the Berlin Brigade DBC. He was replaced along with several other key individuals who were not Special Forces qualified. Under their direction we were all put back in uniforms. Our Detachment(A) sign logo now had a big Airborne logo appended to it. We were assigned various duties to train the Infantry units of the Berlin Brigade, i.e., EIB training, Scout Swimmer, etc. Their NCO’s looked to us as cadre. These command changes had a detrimental impact on the unit and compromised DET(A)’s mission.
The unit then got a new commander. Colonel Stanley Olchovik, who was born in Czechoslovakia, was an accomplished linguist and had extensive Special Forces operational experience.
CSM Jeffrey Raker, another standout born in Germany, was also assigned to Detachment(A) . He volunteered for Special Forces in 1963, and rose up to Command Sergeant Major. He served as the Sergeant Major of Detachment(A) from 1977-1981.
Colonel Olchovik and Sergeant Major Raker restored Detachment(A) to its primary classified missions. Under their leadership the unit was able to regroup and achieve 100% language qualification, and hone its unconventional warfare and special operations skills. They set up training with the Bundesgrenzschutz GSG9, SAS, and Special Police units. SGM Raker selected and trained two individuals who made the reconnaissance to Iran to plan Operation Egle Claw – Iran Hostage Rescue Mission 1979. He then selected the Detachment that was to rescue the hostages held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. CSM Raker served over 30 years in the Army.
It was men like these that made Detachment(A) what it was– a clandestine unit of Green Beret commandos on high alert 24 hours a day operating in the Cold War era.
Becoming a member of the unit required the potential candidate meet the highest of standards. Those standards were rigorously set and enforced. The slightest infractions were not tolerated. The members of this unit were selectively trained, language qualified SF soldiers, many former German and Eastern European immigrants who brought much needed culture, geographical and language skills to this assignment. They dressed in mostly civilian clothing purchased in both West and East Germany and carried if required, non-American flash documentation and identification. Their missions were always classified.
Physical training was wide-ranging and progressively intense.
For example, on Monday, it was the daily dozen plus a one-mile run. Tuesday, the same but a 2-mile run which progressed through Friday to a 5-mile run. Four times per month we performed a four-mile cross-country run through the Grunewald Forest. Another example, a month in Southern Germany where we trained for winter warfare, which consisted of both downhill and cross-country skiing equivalent to extreme skiing. Specialized demolition training was a required skill for our various targets in Berlin. Some attended the CIA specialized demo course at Harvey Point, NC. We also conducted intense special internal demolitions by our demo personnel.
DET(A) participated in all the Flintlock exercises along with our sister unit 10th SFGP(ABN) located in Bad Tölz Germany in various ways sometimes as assets, Guerrilla Chief as well as participating in communication exercises. We would combine our Scuba training with 10th SFGP in Bad Tölz, Germany.
Each month, we conducted our airborne operations staging and flying out of Berlin Tempelhof AFB and jumping into Bad Tölz, Germany.
Some of the tools of the trade used were coal filled with C-4 for the earlier sabotage of the rail ring surrounding Berlin. One-shot cigarette-lighter guns also known as stingers, vials filled with metal shavings for destruction of turbines, noise suppressed weapons for elimination of specific targets. A myriad of weapons and vehicles were available. All of our scuba gear was German Dräger. This included a Dräger one-man portable decompression chamber.
Other tools included dual passports, or dual nationalities, GS ID cards for specific reasons. Diplomatic passports walk on water IDs for exploring boarder areas in all sectors. Vehicles utilized included both US and German registration. We used German weapons, i.e., Walther MPK 9mm that fit in a briefcase.
Area studies were conducted to gain a solid understanding of the culture, languages, history, geographical data, and target acquisition.
The status of forces agreement with the four powers occupying West Berlin specified no elite forces. However, the allies the British, Russians, and the U.S. etc., had their own elite forces.
We participated in NATO escape and evasion exercises and exclusive DET(A) city exercises in Berlin, which included dead drops, live drops, primary meetings, surveillance, and in-city communications. DET(A) had a city course that we taught to the 10th SFGP personnel as well as SEAL Team Two from Crete.
DET(A) knew that the KGB had us under constant surveillance and possessed dossiers on all of us. Part of our city training was against the Soviets surveillance of us.
Unit members wore civilian clothes, spoke fluent German, and grooming standards were relaxed, i.e., long hair.
Bob Charest Example of Relaxed Grooming 1977
During the mid 70s our mission was changed to anti-terrorist, sniper, and swat combat in cities. We were the Delta Force of Europe.
In 1978 DET(A) was tasked by the CIA to dig up several mission support sites positioned throughout Berlin for stay behind operations and check the conditions of the equipment in them, i.e., weapons, demo, commo, medical, and to recommend replacements.
Detachment”A” was deactivated 1 October 1984 and the doors locked on 17 December 1984.