West Berlin

Cold War Europe

The Operating Environment of the 301st RB&L Group

Europe in the early 1950s was a tense political environment due to the Cold War between the U.S., the Soviet Union, and their allies. The Cold War stemmed from many events, including the post-WWII partition of Europe; the Soviets’ blockade of Berlin starting in June 1948 (and the West’s airlift of supplies); the 1949 ‘loss’ of China to the Communists; and the June 1950 North Korean invasion of the Republic of Korea. President Harry S. Truman had committed to supporting foreign peoples against outside Communist aggression (later called “containment”), a central approach to U.S. foreign policy strategy for years to come.

Even though the U.S. was fighting a hot war in Korea to contain Communism, Germany was widely regarded as the center of the East-West divide and the place where the next world war would start. After WWII, the victors partitioned the formerly unified Germany as part of the postwar occupation. In 1949, Germany split into two sovereign nations: the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG [‘West Germany’]) under Western sponsorship and the German Democratic Republic (GDR [‘East Germany’]) under Communist sponsorship. Situated in the GDR, Berlin was similarly divided into West Berlin and East Berlin in 1949. Erected in 1961, the Berlin Wall separating East from West Berlin stood for some 30 years as a harrowing symbol of the Cold War.

1949 Germany
Division between East and West Germany after 1949

When the 301st RB&L Group deployed to the FRG in November 1951, U.S. forces in Europe were shifting focus from occupation duty to defense and deterrence against the Communist military threat. In September 1951, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency estimated Soviet strength in the GDR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria (Soviet Zone), Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria, as 455,500 ground troops and 2,600 aircraft. Of these totals, 66 percent of soldiers and 50 percent of aircraft were in the GDR. Soviet forces bolstered these nations’ own militaries, which contained another million soldiers.1 A member of the 301st RB&L Headquarters Company, Corporal Alan E. Bandler, recalled “a genuine fear that the Soviet army would attempt to overrun Europe.”2

1 Central Intelligence Agency, “National Intelligence Estimate: Soviet Control of the European Satellites and Their Economic and Military Contributions to Soviet Power, Through Mid-1953,” 7 November 1951, 9, 11.

2 Bandler’s quotations in Peter Hellman, Shaping the Skyline: The World According to Real Estate Visionary Julien Studley (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 69.

At the time, the U.S., as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), had about a third as many soldiers in the FRG as the Soviets did in the GDR.3 The U.S. boosted its numbers significantly over the next two years. By late 1951, European Command consisted of three major commands: Seventh U.S. Army (consisting of V Corps with the 2nd Armored and 4th Infantry Divisions, and VII Corps with the 1st, 28th, and 43rd Infantry Divisions), Twelfth Air Force, and U.S. Naval Forces, Germany. It also controlled fourteen additional subordinate commands and units situated in Europe.4 Thus, the tense political atmosphere and massive military buildups on both sides made Europe, especially Germany, ripe for a potentially major and devastating conflict.

3 Established in 1949, the U.S.- and Western Europe-based NATO was chartered to provide collective security to member nations against Communism.

4 “Organizational Structure of the European Command,” 1 January 1952, http://www.usarmygermany.com/sont.htm link (accessed 11 June 2013); “Organization of the European Command,” 1 January 1950, “Organization of the European Command,” 1 May 1952, and “U.S. Army Tactical Organization in Germany,” 31 December 1952, in Oliver J. Frederickson, The American Military Occupation of Germany, 1945-1953 (Historical Division, Headquarters, United States Army, Europe, 1953), 151, 153, 157, 198-199.