A few decades ago – while the Cold War was still raging – the 10th Special Forces Group would conduct an annual exercise named Flintlock. At the time the Iron Curtain encompassed many of the countries of Eastern Europe. These nations, led by the Soviet Union, formed up a military alliance called the Warsaw Pact. The response of the Western European nations along with the United States was to establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to defend Western Europe against the Communist Warsaw Pact. The Flintlock exercise was a small but important part of the overall defensive plan for Western Europe.
10th Special Forces Group, in the 1960s to early 1990s, was based at Fort Devens, Massachusetts – with one battalion forward deployed to Bad Tolz, Germany. Each year, generally early summer, the group would deploy to England and set up a Special Forces Operational Base (SFOB) on a U.S. or Royal Air Force air base. At times, it would also set up one or two battalion-level bases called Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) – usually in England, but sometimes in other countries.
The Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (the deployable 12-man teams) would enter into ‘isolation’ – which involved sequestration in an Isolation Facility (ISOFAC) to conduct mission analysis, planning, coordination, and preparation. Maps would be setup, operations orders wrote, briefings rehearsed, and equipment prepared. At the end of the isolation phase the SF detachment would present a ‘Briefback’ to the SF group commander and members of his principle staff. The brief was followed by questions from the commander and staff. If the brief went well and the commander was satisfied that the SF team was prepared for the mission then the detachment entered the next phase – infiltration.
The infiltration of the operational area was complex and the means of infiltration varied. For many Flintlock exercises Germany was the destination. The scenario usually stated that the country of Germany was occupied by Soviet and other Warsaw Pact countries. The SF team’s infiltration would likely be by static line parachute from a C-130 Combat Talon. Sometimes the infiltration would be by High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) if the team was a Military Free Fall detachment. If the target country was Belgium, Denmark or Norway then a waterborne infiltration was likely.
The teams’ mission could be one of several –direct action (DA), strategic reconnaissance (SR), or unconventional warfare (UW). A DA mission could be an attack against a strategic target in order to destroy it. A SR mission could be monitoring an important road junction reporting back movements of high value military targets. The UW missions were longer and more complex – involving making contact and linking up with a resistance underground or guerrilla band. Once linked up, the team would train, advise, and assist the guerrilla band and resistance movement in the fight against the occupying Communist forces.
Upon completion of the mission the team would move to an exfiltration point and await movement out of the operational area. Ideally a CH-53 from an Air Force special operations wing would swoop into an open field and fly the team out of danger. Sometimes it was just a 1 ½ ton Army truck to take the team administratively back to the exercise support base for further onward movement back to England by aircraft.
The Flintlock exercise was always an excellent learning event for the Special Forces detachment. The exercise was considered (at least by 10th group) as the advanced UW exercise for the Army. The basic UW exercise was Robin Sage – the last part of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). For quite a few years Army Special Forces moved away from the UW mission. The Flintlock exercise now has an Africa focus and UW plays a minor role.
The good news is that UW has seen a revival within the Special Forces community and similar exercises like the old Flintlock are now providing SF teams the opportunity to remain proficient in their historical core mission. Special Forces teams are once again infiltrating a denied area (behind enemy lines), linking up with a resistance group or guerrilla band, establishing rapport and then following through with the many steps of performing an unconventional warfare mission.
Video – A vintage U.S. Army documentary (30 mins) depicting a 10th Special Forces detachment (based at Bad Tolz, Germany) linking up with a partisan band, providing instruction, and then hitting an enemy target. Produced by the Army Pictorial Center, 1959.
Image courtesy of Reuters