Germans, taking their dog on the ‘not so well trodden’ path through Sennelager’s woods might peer up in to the sky and witness the fixed wing aircraft and black specks drop from it at an altitude of 3,500 feet. These were likely to be British soldiers who were parachuting for the first time as part of their Adventurous Training for the year. The airfield was on the river Lippe and 7 years later Pope John Paul II would visit it.
Let’s stay in January 1991 and imagine that the dog runs off down the track. He’s smelled something and the dog owner runs after him, through the bushes. The dog barks an appeal to something to his front and he can see a clearing. When he gets to it he is faced with a corrugated iron wall and just over this wall are the roofs of many houses. ‘Was ist?’ – Yeah. What the fuck is that? The sausage eating, ‘kraut’ has only just stumbled across ‘Tin City’, home to the green, khaki, ‘about to deploy’, troops and about 30, pissed up and abusive, civ pop.
I went here twice. Between December 1990 – January 1991 and October – December 1991. Here we go, from what I can remember…
Not so sure on exact date but I do know it was the winter of 90/91. I had to be in Sennelager to do ‘Demo Troops’ whilst the Team Leaders, Multiple Commanders and Troop Commanders looked on. We endured long periods of sleep and short periods of actually going out in the Land Rover, and rehearsing our drills so that we’d look the part. It was a bit like acting. We demonstrated differing patrol formations, crossing obstacles, reacting to contacts from various positions and we had a laugh at the same time. It didn’t last long, the fun week was over in Normandy Barracks, I returned to my brick and we began NITAT Training (Northern Ireland Training Advisory Team).
We had these loading and unloading bays around Roberts Barracks, in Osnabrueck, Germany. We’d be dressed in chest webbing, helmet and carry weapons. This Phase 1 training went on for 2 weeks with lessons being delivered to us: first aid, rules of engagement, skill at arms, PT battle runs, and so forth. The Intelligence Cell would go to the UK and get a head’s up on the methodology in obtaining information, piecing it together and turning it into intelligence. Troop Commanders would be flown over to the Province to do a Reconnaissance, then we’d get people from from Bessbrook Mill to have a chat to us and deliver ‘view foil’ presentations. The view foil presentations were great because we had images of nude women every 6 or 7 slides to keep the lads interested. The girls in the crowd weren’t bothered and leftist, politically correct nonces hadn’t hit the scene with much vigour in those days. The crowd would be transfixed by the odd talented speaker, mesmerised by their charismatic and often hilarious rhetoric, when up would pop a man dressed in a balaclava and fire off a volley of blanks over our heads. Shouts of ‘fucking ‘ell!’ or ‘Cunt!’ could be heard. I nearly shat meself.
We’d do patrols around Roberts Kasserne. We’d start off with an Intelligence brief and get told about certain characters in dodgy cars. We’d do a trace on a map of where we’d be going and what we’d be doing there. So we’d be doing a VCP (Vehicle Check Point) by the QM’s Department, now known as Leonard Street. We’d then be doing a rummage around the sports pitch and look for anything suspicious (there’d be items buried there, no doubt). Our team was search trained so we’d use the ‘Dubloon’ to sweep back and forth for any command wires. We’d use a truncheon type device to check for metals.
On our backs we wore VHF radios and maintained constant communication with each other and the Ops Room. Members of the Intelligence Cell had all the fun dressing up as terrorists or civilians and had to:
- be a co-operative, nice person, or;
- be a cunt.
It was great when they were told to be complete knob heads as that would mean plasticuffing them and arresting them. We were walking, kneeling, scoping open windows, checking number plates, and getting shot at by people from the 3rd floor of accommodation blocks. We’d react by returning fire and sprinting to the firing point and going beyond it to freeze all movement. I’m not sure what the local germans would have thought hearing the cracks of small arms fire and the screams of ‘Halt! Or I will open fire!’
Lynx Helicopters would make an appearance and swoop down to pick up teams. We’d then be flown off to Imphal Barracks and dropped off for a lesson there. This was training for ourselves and it also helped out the pilots who had to maintain their flying hours.
We then spent three days out in the german fields. I wasn’t entirely sure where we were for this, but an agreement must have been made with the local Burger Meister, as we traipsed over countless fields and endured the bitter cold. I remember Rossy wearing a headover during these bleak days. Frost and high winds would bring the temperature down to -5 Degrees and probably colder. One evening it warmed to about 1 degree and began to rain. The pitter patter of rain on the leaves around us in the pale moonlight as we went through a wood in single file is clear to me in my mind’s eye.
You may remember that during this period, I didn’t have a clue what was going on around me. I was blissfully oblivious to the world, the only thing that really held my attention was the moon, the stars and the beauty of the land around me. If only the guys knew the liability, maybe they did – I’m sure Dinga knew this. He had a go at me for my patrolling style, one day in Sennelager.
“That was fucking embarrassing. What the fuck are you on??” He shouted at me, after we’d practised patrolling across a field. I’d adopted a drunken stagger to put the potential sniper off me, so he (or she) couldn’t get a predictive bead on me.
Rossy laughed, he thought it was hilarious. I thought he was going to have a go at me.
The next phase in the training was our involvement in ‘Tin City’. We were told that not all of us would come out of there unscathed and that this was the culmination of all the training. We rotated through the Tin City in Batteries: 29 (Corunna) Field Battery, 97 (Lawson’s Company) Field Battery, and 88 (Arracan) Field Battery. We arrived and were shown our accommodation, there were 16 man rooms, each holding 8 bunk beds so it was pretty tight. You had to be on the ball with your admin and grots got battered if they didn’t shower or clean their duds (underpants).
Each day and night, we’d get our intelligence brief and go out on patrol. We were tested on a whole range of possibilities. The single shoot from a 1st floor window, the IED attack, a complex shoot involving more than one firing point (ambush) and all culminating in to tensions rising in the community and a riot. Petrol bombs were thrown, bricks were thrown and we’d be looking at hungover, squaddies dressed up as civvies giving us a hard time, through the Perspex glass of our riot shields. They bricked us ferociously because these were from the same garrison and we’d end up battling with them at Broadways, which was a nightclub in Osnabruck. They, the ‘civvies’, knew to bounce the bricks under our shields so they could get us in the shins. Bastards. I’d hear a scream, one of our men would go down holding his lower legs and the crowd would cheer. Old scores were being settled.
It was a no holds barred fight, we had cars on fire and eventually an Operation MOTORMAN style Pig went and broke through the barricade of burning cars in a spectacular ‘Mad Max’ style scene.
Little did I know I’d be back here in 11 months time, dressed as an unemployed, disgruntled republican – I’d also get a 3 day hangover and an allergic reaction to Whiskey. I was a particularly naughty boy when it came to drinking alcohol back in the 90s.