Now that the media is all abuzz with stories of some kind of sonic weapon being used on our diplomats in Cuba, this is as good a time as any to come clean about my own criminality, my own complicity, in carrying out a nefarious attack that probably maimed for life a small number of East German soldiers.
As a lieutenant, I was sent by the US Army to defend the frontier of freedom in the occupied city of Berlin. It was a neat assignment. It was the only place remaining where you got the World War II Army of Occupation medal (the only medal I ever got from a supply sergeant). The city was outstanding. My battalion was partnered with a battalion from the British brigade in city (in order we were partnered with 2 Para, 2 Royal Irish Rangers, 1 Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) which gave you the opportunity to really see how they worked–and, in the case of 2 Para, if you were in the wrong bar you got a chance to see how they kicked your ass. You could go into East Berlin at any time, shop at the Soviet “PX” off Alexanderplatz, and generally impress upon the Germans, East and West, that Americans were too loud and had too much money.
The main training facility for the US Army in Berlin was Parks Range (great German website on Parks Range, then and now). It was notable for two things. A mock city, called Doughboy City, and the fact that it was bordered by Die Berliner Mauer, the Berlin Wall. While you trained, East Germans were in guard towers overlooking the area and photographing/filming what you were doing (here you can see how our maneuver area was right on The Wall). I’m sure that caused a lot of head-scratching on their part because I’m still not sure what some of it was about.
That close proximity to East Germany sometimes had unusual consequences. Right before I was promoted out of the job, I led a platoon of 4.2-inch (107mm) M30 heavy mortars–672-pounds of ‘high angle hell.’ Sometimes we trained at Parks Range using a subcaliber device.
What this video doesn’t show is that the projectile contained a squib that produced a flash and a bit of smoke so you could see the impact more easily. One very windy winter day a gust of wind hit a round we’d fired at max ordinate and wafted it across the Wall to ‘explode’ in East Berlin. I got a cease-fire order by way of the head of the US diplomatic mission to Berlin. Everyone in my chain of command was impressed.
In addition to three rifle battalions, Berlin had other tactical units. We had a ‘secret’ SF unit, “Detachment A, Berlin Brigade,” we had a six 155mm self-propelled howitzers in C Battery, 94th Field Artillery, and we had a tank company F Company, 40th Armor.
F/40 Armor was a really big tank company, about two companies in strength, and, at the time, it used M60A1 tanks with a searchlight. (If you want to see what I’m talking about this is an image). The searchlight had two modes. It could be a Xenon element monster (doctrine said you could use the light as the equivalent of smoke at night by shining it at the enemy troop positions while the infantry advanced…I never saw it done so it might work) that tankers did not like (as one armor commander I worked for said, “when you turn it on you have the target on one end of the light and a burning tank on the other end) and it was an infrared searchlight that enabled early generation night vision devices to work better or at all.
One very cold night at Parks range, my rifle platoon was working with a couple of tanks from F/40. Did I say it was cold? We were waiting for something to happen. Across The Wall, you could see the drones in the guard towers watching us. One of the tank commanders, a young sergeant, said, “sir, watch this.” (As I gained experience I learned that when a young NCO tells you to “watch this,” it is really shorthand for “hold my beer and watch this.”) He tells his gunner to illuminate the East German guard tower with the IR searchlight. Then he gets on the radio and tells the other tank to do the same. We waited some more. In a few minutes, the window to the guard tower was cracked open. In a few more minutes the window was wide open. Then you can see the guard loosening his field jacket.
In addition to providing illumination, IR searchlights produce heat. And two of the huge lamps on the M-60 focused on a single guard tower not 30 yards away, could warm a man right up.
We cooked Herman the German for a little while longer, then we got orders to do something else and moved on. I don’t know what the long-term health effects were of our antics, I was told that F/40 had done this for a few years. Were we partially to blame for that cratering East German birth rate towards the end of the Cold War? Are there Nationale Volksarmee veterans with roasted gonads who deserve compensation from the United States? Or should we have applied for a patent?