Skip to main content

Zugspitz

The First Warning
In 1955 Germany was still a scene of considerable damage.  World War II had thoroughly devastated most of the country. Bricks, dust, broken glass and other debris lay in piles at the side of the road. There were scarred and broken buildings, rooms missing a wall or two and the remains of furniture exposed to the elements. Evidence of firestorms told a story of horror that few Germans had survived. In the cities and villages the pock marks of ordinance, twisted pipes, and other remnants of distruiction, were serious survivors of horror, and death.  Germany was raw and exposed like an untended graveyard with broken headstone. 

The country was divided into four areas; French, American, British, and Russian. I was then a member of the first tactical guided missile group deployed in Europe. We were physically located in Sembach, a small village not far from Kaiserslautern. We were within   the French partition. Our guided missiles were designated the Martin Matador ™ 61C.  By today's standards, they were unbelievably crude. The guidance system was a sophisticated radar that emitted precision pulses. The distance between pulses told the missile the exact path to fly and when to stop flying, and to glide to it's target where it was to  explod on contact.  Sometimes it worked pretty well. 

One of the first Air Force Jet Fighters was the F-80 Lockheed Shooting Star. Our guided missile was the Martin Matador which was the same size, configuration (except there was no cockpit). The missile was powered by a GE J-33 jet engine as was the F-80 Jet Fighter. 

The guidance system was called Shanicle, and like the missile itself, was produced by the Martin Company in Baltimore.  Our training in fundamental electronics beganb at Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado. Then we attended another school in Biloxi, Mississippi, and completed the initial training at Orlando AFB, Florida. The team, including myself, shipped out to Sembach, Germany in 1955. And the fun began.

Starting Out 1954
In Europe our duties were interspersed with time off duty.  Typically,  we worked long hours for a few weeks, and given off duty passes. Sometimes a week long, and sometimes several weeks.   As soon as I was able, I purchased a car.  It was a 1947 or 1948 Mercedes 170, Black, 4 cylinder Sedan, and I wish I still had it. During the  off duty times  my friends and I all drove all over most of Western Europe. All of us had a Secret Job Classification. We were forbidden to travel in East Germany and other countries behind the Iron Curtain. 

As mentioned, at that time in Germany politics and diplomacy were confused.  Sembach Air Base was originally built for the Luftwaffa but the war ended before they could use it.  The installation was in good repair when we moved in. The runways lay over open fields in a rural setting of rolling hills, green forests, and farmland. It was postcard pretty, and about thirty minutes away from the nearest big town, Kaiserslautern.

The U.S. Air Force was a bit disorganized when we arrived in 1955. They seemed a little tentative about how to handle our new missile squadron. They learned quick. For us in the trenches, It was "hurry up and wait" for everything. There was a bit of frustration at first. We were designated the 565th Squadron. We actually did very little work at that location. We assembled and maintained equipment there, opened the mail, drank lots of coffee, and played sports when the weather permitted. 

Our real (and important) purpose in Germany was to off=set the Russian troops stationed just across the East-West border.

It was necessary for the squadron to be deployed to various locations, point our missiles east toward the Russians, and rattle their cage without making a threat. It was still a little tense during those days 1955 - 1958.

There were some locations we favored over others. We took our guidance equipment to a hilltop location on farm land outside of Steingaden, and stayed there in the snow most of a winter season. When the workday shift was over, we returned to the little village where we stayed at a really nice gasthaus. The experience was my first exposure to living in a gasthaus where the owners and staff spoke only Deutch. Also, it was the first time I slept under a feather tick, and the first time I stayed at a place where the staff was several of the owner's teen aged daughters.

Getting our trucks with the 120 ft. mast and radar equipment to the site was a chore.  Tthe last mile or so, and it took about six hours to drive to the site. The MSQ van and the Shanicle electrons van were easier to get in place. Of course we had tents, power generators, cooking and mess equipment, spare cables, a water tank truck, and other misc. stuff. Setting up was lots of fun at 20 degrees.


While at the Steingaden site I accidentally shoved a pocket knife  between my left thumband forefinger, cutting a minor groove on the underside of my four finger tendons/ligaments(?). For this I was rewarded with a trip to the USAF Hospital in Weisbaden, Germany where it was discovered (X-ray) that the damage was minor. They sewed me up and I returned to duty with a Doctor's note excusing me from duty for 30 days. I drove over to Paris with friends and had a great time.

As mentioned, Europe 1955-1958 was encrusted with damage left over from the war. Rubble and broken buildings were everywhere. Most of the  German people were friendly to the American military forces stationed in their midst. The few that were not tended to  avoid contact if possible. Interestingly, the German people were not friendly to the British or French military forces - who were generally disliked quite openly. 

Guided missiles were relatively new in 1955. Our Matador (a small tactical missile) and the Snark (a large strategic missile) were, as far as I know, the first and only American missiles deployed to Europe while I was stationed there.  It was necessary to test our  missiles periodically - but there was no good area available. So our entire 565th Squadron with a supply of missiles as well as all of the trucks and supplies, was air freighted to Wheelus Field, Tripoli, Libya. There all necessary personnel and everything needed for testing was off-loaded. Let me call your attention to a  map of Africa, with Tripoli on your left,  Misurata on your right, and the Atlas Mountains far to the south. This lovely piece of desert real estate was the USAF Weapons Test Range. 

The Shanicle guidance system required four large trucks, each filled with Shanicle's sophisticated electronics. Actually it's probably easier to understand by thinking of these four trucks as two pairs. One pair guided the missile on a path to the target. The other pair told the missile when to stop flying,  and when to glide and hit the target. By today's standards it was a crude, slow, not so accurate system. In  those days it was "state-of-the-art."

Getting to the test range from Wheelus Field was a challenge. Tripoli was easily the biggest town in Libya. Misurata was west of it and smaller. Looking south from a line drawn between those two places - was scrub brush and sand, nomads and camels, flat land and wadis, and nothing else as far as you could be see. The Atlas mountains were too far away and hidden in a heat haze most of the time. Somewhere, south into the desert was a more or less permanent encampment believed to be the hottest inhabited place on earth - in the summer of course. As I recall it has reached 138 degrees in the shade.

There were no roads south. Our caravan split up with the azimuth crew and equipment headed south east, and the range crew headed south west. All trucks left the road and all trucks were in trouble before travelling a mile. The "flat" desert turned out to not be flat, and the crusted sand to the north towards the Mediterranean quickly became a soft beach sand that heavy trucks could barely navigate at two miles an hour.  At that, the wheels on a few of the trucks would often become buried in the sand from time to time. The entire caravan had to stop and dig them out. The trip one hundred miles or so into the vast desert wasn't a challenge, it was a nightmare.

I mentioned that the desert looked flat at first. We quickly discovered rills of sand and dry wadis two or more feet lower than the surrounding terrain. We also discovered that Arabs, sometimes one and sometimes more than one, regularly crossed the desert on foot. The truck drivers and passengers would look out deep into the desert and see no living thing. Absolutely empty land. Yet, in ten seconds the caravan would be knee deep in Arabs. Because of the mid-day heat they would find a bank of a wadi that was in the shade, stop and make peanut tea, rest, and sometimes go to sleep until the sun had passed the meridian.  Then they would continue their walk off into the desert. The picture above is Herman Grooters and myself on the right and two nomadic Arabs on the left. The Arabs had walked into our site one day at dawn. Neither could speak a word of English but one spoke a smattering of Italian, which was about the only language none of our crew knew at all. So, we communicated by pointing, gestures and once in a while, sketching a picture. The Arab on the left was Abdullah, and  on the right was Muhammad. They came upon us independently and were not traveling together. After we provided the obligatory cigarettes we discovered they wanted a job.  Nothing fancy.  Anything would do.

Our two employees turned out to very interesting characters. Their answer to anything was a smile. They usually didn't speak but they managed to convey many of the differences between their culture and ours. For example; there was no concept of property. If something was laying around they would pick it up with no sense that they had done something wrong. Anything smaller than a breadbox somehow ended up within the folds of their multi layered robes. One the crew would come out of the tent and call to Abdullah; " I've lost my watch. Have you seen it?" Abdullah would nod yes, reach into his layers of clothing, pull out the watch, and smile. The crew man would hold his hand out, Abdullah would put the watch in his hand, still smiling. The crewman would say "thank you" and walk away to do whatever he had to do. 

This little scenario was repeated time after time during the day. Meanwhile the Arabs were to shake the scorpions out of empty boots, wash clothes for the men, clean the metal GI Trays after a meal, haul fresh water from the trailer supply, and dig a new latrine when required.  And they did their jobs very well. Oh, there were a few comical misunderstanding now and then, but none worth a complaint. The Arabs were paid according to a negotiated scheme. Each man received 1/2 pack of cigarettes each day plus 3 meals and a couple of snacks. They were friendly and innocent and did their jobs well.

After a month or two, we had to fire them both. We suspected, and somehow confirmed, that they were tubercular.  Apparently tuberculosis is vigorously contagious. It was sad to see them both walk back into the desert.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Intellectual / Incompetent / Liberal

We all know that there are serious problems with ou American political system. The federal government and national media have been telling us that we continue to lead the world in just about everything. Unfortunately, we do not. Measuring our status against other nations is difficult as it entails comparison of different attributes and characteristics. Comparisons are, at best, crude.  Surely, if we look, it's clear that America is no longer dominant among the world's communities. 


For decades following the 1929 economic depression, America has enriched foreign industries at the expense of our own. We have subsidized foreign military powers while allowing the depletion of our own. We've defended other nations borders while, at the same time, not defended our own. We've spent trillions of dollars to subsidize unworthy governments, and let our own infrastructure to fall into disrepair. 

The use of our economic power as a diplomatic tool may have been the correct thing to d…

Cruel and Thoughtless . . .

A disheartening situation has hit our family. A cousin, one that we don't know very well, has reached 93 years of age. Most of the Chapman family made it to the mid 80's, but Mary Lou Chapman has managed a few years more. And, she's not gone yet. Mary was unmarried her entire life. She grew up in a good home, was well educated, has always hd a good job, and has enjoyed pretty good health - until just a few years ago. While she is still very much alive, I sometimes speak in the past tense as if she had already died. Mary is either confused or in her own little world now. She began losing some of her sparkle a few years ago. At first it was mild memory loss, and then mild hearing loss, and then drifting in her speech as she lost track of what she wanted to say. Her Doctor said it was a mild dementia coming on with old age, and nothing to worry about yet. A few month's passed by before she began to have problems driving herself to the market and appointments and so forth,…

Mark Turner - Another Look

MARK TURNER.  I'm an interested ex-corporate exec., now retired, and have little to contribute to this. Perhaps you can help? At first I thought Mark's story was so complicated it couldn't be true. I discovered later that  Mark's business may indeed have  generated as much money as he said it did. His story is long and complicated, but regardless of his guilt or innocence, there is definitely  something wrong with the legal process he encountered. Maggie Thornton says his business dealings were honest. I'm not thoroughly convinced, but she may be right.  There is no question that he was improperly sentenced in one court, and deserves an appeal process in another. 


I have received several comments from a blogger named "Anonymous". He (or she) has chosen to remain unknown but clearly has an inside track to information about Mark's problems. I have removed my original speculations from this blog and regret there were so many errors. Sorry folks, my fault…