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Before the Berlin Wall Fell: A Parting Shot

25 years ago on one cold November morning, I awoke to NCOs shouting orders in the hallway and sounding the alarm. Within minutes, Sickles Army Airfield on the next hill was abuzz with Cobra helicopter gunships taking off.

The base motor pool began to thunder with the sound of massive engines as every tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle crew began loading up a full fighting load of arms and men. Downs Barracks in Fulda West Germany had gone from silent to a war footing in mere minutes.

After nightly patrols called back reports of miles of border fencing & guard towers were missing or laying on the ground. Border fencing and towers which had been in place for more than 30 years…

The first report sent the intel analyst into a frenzy, more patrols were deployed and all OP Alpha soldiers were assembled. The second report spawned a call to Regimental command. The unit serving a rotation at OP Alpha took up fighting positions with the few tanks and Bradley’s stationed there.

According to intel analysts at the time, miles worth of barrier fencing and guard towers along the primary path of a long expected Russian tank assault route through the Fulda Gap were brought down in what appeared to be a night-time move to make ready for a Russian tank invasion into West Germany.

The first word that went out: The Fulda Gap was being breached.

What contributed to this fear was the recent conviction of one of the regiment’s intel analysts, Spec. Michael A. Peri in June of that same year. Spec. Peri, the supposed pawn of an East German female spy, had provided East German intelligence with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment’s defense plans for the Fulda Gap, which in turn spawned fears that those plans might be put to some use.

The 11th ACR responded immediately, sending out initial air resources as the 1st Squadron mobilized. Then the first reports from the Cobra helicopter pilots began coming in: Nothing… No Tanks, No movement, not even the normal East German patrols with their Russian taskmasters were in evidence, just miles of downed border fence and toppled East German guard towers.

Nothing made sense, but neither the Russian or East German governments were responding. 2, 3 and then 4 hours passed before the first word came from the East German Government, and even then the East German Government gave no indication of what had transpired and effectively ignored it. Later that evening though, GDR central committee spokesman Guenter Schabowski announced that East German citizens could freely travel to West Germany immediately.

Many surmised that the activities surrounding the tearing down of the miles of border fencing and guard towers were simply a final irreverent thumb-in-the-eye from the East German government brought about by a failing regime: A last futile shot across the bow from an already sinking ship…

It took only a few days before work crews began to take down sections of the Berlin Wall…

Overall, 1989 was a very good year. In the summer & fall of 1989 I was a border patrol driver at OP Alpha with the US Army’s 11th ACR, a job which happily became irrelevant soon after that day… A few years later, the Soviet Empire came crumbling down as well.

Ironically, Michael Peri is still serving out his 30 years for selling intel to a country that no longer exists…

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