Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army’s Elite, 1956-1990
Published 17 February 2017
The massive armies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies posed a huge threat to the nations of Western Europe. U.S. military planners decided they needed a plan to slow the juggernaut they expected when and if a war began. The plan was Special Forces Berlin.
Their mission should hostilities commence was to wreak havoc behind enemy lines, and buy time for vastly outnumbered NATO forces to conduct a breakout from the city. In reality it was an ambitious and extremely dangerous mission, even suicidal. Highly trained and fluent in German, each man was allocated a specific area. They were skilled in clandestine operations, sabotage, and intelligence tradecraft, and able to act as independent operators, blending into the local population and working unseen in a city awash with spies looking for information on their every move.
Special Forces Berlin was a one of a kind unit that had no parallel. It left a legacy of a new type of soldier expert in unconventional warfare, one that was sought after for missions such as the attempted rescue of American hostages from Tehran in 1979. With the U.S. government officially acknowledging their existence in 2014, their incredible story can now be told.
A few recollections of my time (1978-1979) as a Det-A wife
by Marie von Haas
The women who were in West Berlin with the men of Det-A were integral to the mission of the Det. We were almost always a welcome sight when an assignment allowed them to return “home.” Where was home? Wives and children offered a bit of normalcy to their lives. Also, we were great at keeping secrets. Actually, that wasn’t difficult to do because we didn’t know much about what our guys were doing.
We lived in government quarters like all other Americans assigned to West Berlin, an island of freedom surrounded by communism. But our husbands were not like other Americans. I had a neighbor who lived upstairs from us who thought that Bruno was a “German Interpreter.” This was believable since she never saw him in official military attire. Bruno looked like a German, he smelled like a German, and he spoke like a German.
Living in West Berlin meant that we could go to the Post Exchange and Commissary like all other Americans. We could also visit and spend our money in the local German shops. We could drive our own automobiles around West Berlin, or we could ride the U-bahn.
I recall the many shopping sprees into East Berlin. In order to pass through Checkpoint Charlie, we had to make sure to get permission from the proper authorities. Our automobiles were also properly registered to pass through the frontier. God help us if we didn’t return after a day of shopping. On one spree I met Bruno in East Berlin. I left him there to return in the same way that he got there.
As Bruno’s wife I was also a member of the Officer’s Wives Club. I remember playing bridge with Amika Olchovik and other officer’s wives regularly.
A few of us, women of Det-A, played volleyball against other American women. I don’t recall having a team name. The champion team at that time was made up of Army women. They were in much better shape and practiced more than we did. We practiced whenever our coaches were in town. I recall Steve Santoya and Frank Closen yelling at us to “jump higher” to spike the ball. Their idea of volleyball I think was called “Jungle Volleyball.” Our children were often our cheerleaders.
Back left corner: Rich Herpers Right corner: Frank Closen Back l-r: Steve Santoya, Stewart O’Neill, Ron Braughton, Frank Wallace, Bruno von Haas, Jimmy Reeves, Candy Santoya, Becky Closen, Marie von Haas, Mrs. Wallace, Bilha Herpers Below left: Mrs. Braughton Below right: Mrs. Reeves circa 1978-79
Back row l-r: Johnnie Moore, Barb Moore, Mrs. Reeves, Jimmy Reeves, Ron Braughton, Frank Closen, Becky Closen Front row l-r: Rich Herpers, Bilha Herpers, Marie von Haas, Bruno von Haas, Steve Santoya, Candy Santoya, Robbie Robinson, Mrs. Braughton Far left: John Liner, unknown woman circa 1978-79
Around the table l-r: Holly Closen, Becky Closen, Heather Closen, Frank Closen, Bruno von Haas, Marie von Haas, Ron Braughton, Mrs. Braughton, Candy Santoya, (back of Steve Santoya head) circa 1979
In our spare time we created a cookbook. The women and men of Det-A shared their culinary talents by publishing “Detachment Delights” (1979). It contains 142 recipes.
I have submitted a copy to Bob Charest for the Det-A website and click on the pot below to view the cookbook.
DETACHMENT DELIGHTS Recipe Book
Det “A” Berlin 1979
Adams, Mrs. Shirley
Lemke, Mai Thi
0 lchovik, Amika
Olchovik, Stanley LTC
von Haas, Marie (Cover Design)
The women and men of Det-A shared their culinary talents
by publishing a cookbook (1979). It contains 142 recipes.
About the Author
The author, Marie von Haas, has been married to Bruno for 52 years. She is presently completing her PhD in History at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.
1975-1978 Bruno served with the 10th SF Group (Abn), Bad Tölz, Germany before becoming commander of Team 6, S.F. Detachment “A” Berlin, Germany at LTC Stanley Olchovik’s request. He took the place of Lt. Powell in 1978.
With sadness we left Germany in December 1979 so that Bruno could fulfill his Infantry Officer obligation, IOAC, at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
In September 1969, Bob Charest arrived in Cold War Berlin and reported to Detachment-A, a classified and clandestine US Army Special Forces unit that didn’t officially exist.
The senior communications sergeant would spend nearly all of the 1970s operating undercover and awaiting activation. Charest, a veteran of cross-border operations with MACV-SOG who spoke both German and Russian, understood the stakes at play. If Russia, one of the four divisional powers in Germany, launched an invasion to overtake all of Berlin, Charest and other Detachment-A members would activate and conduct “stay-behind” sabotage missions against strategic infrastructure and vital targets. Without an escape and evasion plan, the team hoped to stall Soviet advances long enough until NATO reinforcements arrived.
On this date 32 years ago, the U.S. Army Special Forces — commonly referred to as “Green Berets” — were officially established as a basic branch of the U.S. Army. But their history began much earlier.
From the days when the 10th Special Forces Group was commanded by “the father of Army Special Forces” Colonel Aaron Bank and numbers barely ticked double digits to Green Berets today serving in 149 countries across the globe — the battlefields may change, but the principles remain the same.
One of the pillars of Army Special Forces (SF) is their language and cultural capabilities. Continue reading
This article was published by Stars and Stripes authored by Drew Brooks of| The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
For years during the Cold War, men such as Bob Charest and Jimmy Spoo toiled in secret.
As members of a clandestine unit of Green Berets based in West Berlin, they wore civilian clothes, spoke fluent German and stayed on high alert 24 hours a day.
But today, the members of Detachment A Berlin Brigade will receive much deserved and long-awaited recognition.
Officials with U.S. Army Special Operations Command will dedicate and unveil a memorial stone dedicated to Detachment A Berlin Brigade at Meadows Field Memorial Plaza on Fort Bragg at 3:30 p.m.
Officials will also formally case the unit’s colors – the flag used to identify the detachment – for the first time.
The men of Detachment A were specially chosen Special Forces soldiers. Many were immigrants from Germany or eastern Europe, brought in for their cultural expertise.
Their missions were always classified, according to Charest, a former team sergeant and communications chief for Detachment A Berlin Brigade.
“Detachment A was a highly trained, one-of-a-kind unit,” Charest said in a unit history. “No one knew much about it during its existence.”
Charest and Spoo will speak during the ceremony, hosted by USASOC commanding general, Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland.
Detachment A Berlin Brigade operated from August 1956 to Dec. 30, 1984, according to officials.
A history of the unit, penned by Charest, outlines a unique and diversified team of about 90 men.
They carried non-American documentation and identification and trained at the highest standards, Charest wrote.
The men carried out secret missions to sabotage railways in the early days of the Detachment and later focused on anti-terrorist, sniper and swat combat.
“We were the Delta Force of Europe,” Charest wrote.
Detachment A also helped the CIA, and their equipment reads like it comes from a James Bond novel.
“One-shot cigarette-lighter guns, vials filled with metal shavings for destruction of turbines, noise suppressed weapons for elimination of specific targets,” lists Charest.
The unit was deactivated after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In Memorial Plaza, Detachment A Berlin Brigade will take its place of honor among other storied special operations units, including Task Force Ranger, the Alamo Scouts and the Office of the Strategic Services Detachment 10, among others.
The stone will feature the unit name above a crumbling Berlin Wall.
Charest said the memorial stone was the result of efforts by Detachment A veterans, many of whom plan to travel to Fort Bragg for the event.
The veterans meet regularly, but their ranks are thinning, Charest said.
“We were falling into oblivion,” he said.
In recent years, the detachment has been honored with a display at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum at Fort Bragg, Charest said. The memorial stone will complete efforts that were begun by Spoo, a member of the U.S. Special Forces Hall of Fame who works for the U.S. State Department.
Spoo, Charest and dozens of other veterans made donations to pay for the stone.
For decades a clandestine Special Forces unit existed in Berlin prepared to launch unconventional warfare and sabotage operations in the event that the Soviet Union invaded. Special Forces Detachment A existed under a cloak of secrecy, their members wearing civilian clothes with relaxed grooming standards. They wore German clothes, they spoke the language, and lived off of the local economy.
WeAreTheMighty.com author Blake Stilwell published this article about Sid Shachnow.
For most people, surviving the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Europe would be the defining moment of their lives. Men like Maj. Gen. Sidney Shachnow aren’t most people. The Lithuanian-born Shachnow survived a forced labor camp and went on to join the U.S. Army, serve in Vietnam, and lead the Army Special Forces’ ultra-secret World War III would-be suicide mission in Berlin during the Cold War.
Detachment(A) member John Blevins found this article.
Written By Will Dabbs, MD
In the 1970s West Berlin stood 100 miles inside communist-controlled territory, a tragically flawed testament to post-World War II geopolitical acrimony. The Berlin Brigade was a token NATO force billeted in this surrounded, beleaguered city. Their mission was not so much their combat effectiveness as it was what they represented. Attacking the Berlin Brigade was tantamount to attacking the United States. However, chances are things would not have ended well for these isolated grunts had the Cold War suddenly turned hot.
Operating in the shadows in West Berlin was a small contingent of Special Forces soldiers known as Detachment A. Theirs was the archetypal Green Beret mission. Should the balloon go up and Warsaw Pact forces roll over West Berlin like a juggernaut, Detachment A troops would melt into the population to foment a covert underground war. To pull this off, these iron-willed studs had a 10,000-weapon stash of military firearms hidden for distribution to would-be partisans. Thank the Good Lord it never came to pass.
There were never more than about a hundred Special Forces operators assigned to Detachment A. Given the unique nature of their mission they were authorized some comparably unique weapons. One of those unique firearms was the Walther MP submachine gun.