Mechanized Infantry/Armor Mindset
My assignment to Germany was not my first experience in that part of the world. In 1947, my mother, my younger brother, and I traveled by ship to Germany to join my father, who was then serving with the constabulary, an occupation and security force in West Germany and Austria, installed after World War II. Over a period of two and a half years, we lived in three different locations and visited several European countries. All of Europe was still recovering from a devastating period of global warfare.
Fast forward to 1963, and I am now headed back to Germany on a troop ship named the USS Upshur. Unable to obtain concurrent travel, my wife, Edna, and our young daughter, Mary Edna, would have to wait 90 days before joining me.
The USS Upshur was an old ship that bounced around quite a bit during the severe winter weather that we encountered in the Atlantic Ocean. What should have been a seven-day trip instead lasted 11 days. Nearing the coast of Germany, we learned that the North Sea was frozen, and it would take another day or two to break through the ice and disembark at the port of Bremerhaven.
From Bremerhaven, my orders directed me to travel by train to Baumholder, located in the western part of Germany, only a few hours from Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. This region was the home of the Army’s 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized). The division headquarters was in Bad Kreuznach, the 1st Brigade in Mainz-Wiesbaden, the 3rd Brigade in Mannheim, and the 2nd Brigade in Baumholder. When I got off the train in Baumholder, the snow was at knee level. It was the middle of January, and it would be early April before I realized that there were sidewalks on the military reservation.
Baumholder itself was a rural area, characterized by rolling hills and rugged terrain. The military reservation had been a major training area for Nazi forces, prior to World War II. The installation could accommodate heavy maneuver forces, employing both direct fire and indirect fire weapons. Live fire exercises (LFX) could be supported by air force close air support. This meant that soldiers garrisoned at Baumholder had a readily available and expansive training area, without having to travel by rail to major West German training areas, such as Wildflecken and Grafenwoehr.
My first assignment in Baumholder was as the executive officer for Company C, 1st Battle Group, 16th Infantry. At the time, the 8th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was a pentomic division with five battle groups. In May 1963, the Division reorganized into a traditional brigade structure. The battle group in Baumholder became the 2nd Brigade, with three maneuver battalions: the 2nd Battalion, 68th Armor, the 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, and the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry. As a result of this reorganization, my regimental affiliation was changed from the 16th Infantry to the 13th Infantry (First at Vicksburg). The motto of my new battalion was “Forty Rounds.” When the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry was activated, I was reassigned from Company C to the battalion staff, as the S3 air and plans officer.
My time in Company C was short but extremely useful in understanding the culture of the U.S. Army in Europe (USAEUR). The Cold War had been intensified by the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. Europe was the Army’s top priority in 1963. Equipment modernization programs were being introduced. They included the M113 armored personnel carrier (APC), the M14 rifle, the M60 machine gun, the M60 tank, and the UH-1 utility helicopter. Wartime missions were taken seriously. At the tactical level, training was battle-focused. There were specific plans for deploying from garrison to emergency defense positions near the East German border. These plans were routinely rehearsed and exercised on a no-notice basis. At the rifle company level, APCs were uploaded with ammunition, barrier materiel, food and water, fuel, and other contingency items. First-to-fight vehicles were not parked in the motor pool. They were parked next to the barracks where the soldiers lived. USAEUR was in a high state of readiness to execute its wartime mission.
In addition to the change in mission focus during this assignment, my operational mentality and pace of activity changed from what I experienced in the 82nd Airborne Division. My operational tempo had to shift from a pace of 2 ½ mph to 35 mph based on the speed of our formations. The scale of the map coverage for tactical operations changed drastically. At Fort Bragg, I could complete all training missions on a single map sheet, while in Europe, we would traverse multiple map sheets in a single day. Logistics and maintenance support of armored formations became a top priority.