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British Forces in Germany -The lived experience

British Forces in Germany -The lived experience

Peter Johnston
ARRSE Rating
4.5 Mushroom Heads
Judging from the Acknowledgements toward the end of the book it would seem both the author and a considerable number of people from BFG spent a large amount of time and hard work putting this book together from the original concept of the GOC, BFG and his successor. In fact this area is almost a story in itself recording many of those who were involved in putting together a book abut what had happened to the British Army in Germany from the end of the war up to almost the present day. For the wealth of information it contains I feel it would be better at the beginning of the book where it might act as a comprehensive Introduction immediately after the Foreword of Brigadier Clements who was the Commander British Forces Germany in 2019. After the List of Subscribers, which follow the Acknowledgements, is a series of Maps in an Annex which indicate the major Formation locations during the periods covered in the content of the book.

The layout is in chronological order with chapters whose titles indicate the contents. The first two chapters cover the final months of the war and the problems involved in the British Zone where a combination of refugees and returning PoWs from the former German army gave rise to considerable problems concerning housing and food. Far from merely enforcing the terms of the surrender on the Germans in the Zone there was also a massive task in assisting the Germans to rebuild their economy. The net result was the setting up of British Army garrisons and the efforts at stopping the troops (and their civilian support) from fraternising with the locals. This was to change with coming of the Cold War and continuous tests by the Communist powers who at one point took the step of blockading Berlin from the outside world, which was the cause of the Berlin Airlift, caused the western powers involved in Germany to hold regular exercises because it was believed at one point that war with the Soviets was inevitable. The British Army was no longer deemed to be an army of occupation but a deterrent against the Soviets. In the mid fifties this meant a new Headquarters and garrisons were required together with exercises to train the troops for a possible conflict. This eventually led to the concept of Western Germany rather than different Zones and the Germans being accepted as Allies in Western Germany which helped to lead to the formation of the Bundeswehr which is essentially the information contained in the third chapter.

The fourth and fifth chapters cover approximately two decades and explaining how the Western forces reacted to the construction of the wire and wall which effectively divided Germany into two and the effect it had on British forces. This situation rather than dividing Germans actually had both them and British forces regarding each other as neighbours and for many British units time in Germany became a sort of second home.

Chapters six to eight detail some of the problems the British Army had at certain times by having to move troops to other theatre of operations such as Northern Ireland and Canada for exercises while still providing a suitable deterrent against the Warsaw Pact forces. The author does not really dwell on preliminary aspects of the decline of the Warsaw Pact though there is some detail of the Wall between East and West Germany coming down. The reunification of Germany causes some questions to be considered with regard to what is to happen to the British Army in Germany but then came a Gulf War and it is quite funny to read of events which caused problems within Germany such as a Burgermeister worrying as to get hold of a band to play at their Schutzenfest if the British forces were no longer there.

The last two chapters cover our commitment in the Gulf and Afghanistan and the effect it has had on local communities in Germany. It almost seems such a strange transition that since 1945 British forces have become such a part of life in Germany for both the British and the Germans. However, the author explains how for many units it soon became time to pull out of Germany due to the political overtones in the western countries although units would still be visiting in order to partake of exercises and training on some of the ranges within Germany.

This is a very interesting book especially for those who have seen the major changes which have taken place within the infrastructure of Germany during the forty years between occupation and the first of the Gulf Wars. It covers some pertinent history and is well supplied with graphical details of such as photographs and maps. Unfortunately the book seems to have been produced as one of those “coffee table” books, being heavy (good solid pasteboard), of difficult dimensions being some 285mm (just over 11 inches) and 245mm (just under 10 inches) involving a sans serif typeface which is not conducive to prolonged reading. It is definitely worth reading and keeping on a bookshelf of suitable dimensions.

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