Long Range Surveillance in Germany

For who don’t know, I’m a bit of a history buff and I enjoy integrating historical information into how I play milsim games. Over the course of some research I was doing on the Cold War I came across two Long Range Surveillance Companies that were deployed in Germany during this period. Would the Cold War have heated up they would have been sent deep into communist Europe to find targets of importance for their commanders and report back. These units are the direct descendants of the famous Long Rang Reconnaissance Patrols of the Vietnam War. Since they were deactivated, the long range surveillance mission has mostly been handed over to the special operations community due to the type of soldier and training required.

According to our research, two Long Range Surveillance Units served in Germany between 1985 and 1995. The first was Echo Company of the 51st Infantry Battalion. E Company, Long Range Surveillance (Airborne). E/51st was attached to the 165th Military Intelligence 01Battalion in Germany from September of 1986 until November of 1989 (Source 1). They were later disbanded in 1991 after serving in Iraq (Source 2). While in Germany they served under LTC Nicholas O’Dawe (Source 3) and operated out of a base in Weisbaden, moving to Darmstadt later in their deployment (Source 1). A relatively new unit, they initially struggled to obtain access to land and supplies for training but in the end became one of the most requested units to attend various large scale training exercises all over Europe. The unit greatly benefited from the International Long Range Surveillance School in Weingarten and the relationships developed with allied servicemen as a result of it (Source 1). 

Unlike E/51, Foxtrot Company, Long Range Surveillance (Airborne) of the 51st Infantry Battalion has a long legacy of reconnaissance excellence reaching back to numerous missions in Vietnam. F/51st was reactivated in Germany on 16 December 1986 (Source 4, 5) and served in the first Gulf War in 1990. While in Germany, F/51st was assigned to the 511th Military Intelligence Battalion and were transferred to the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion out of Fort Bragg 2 weeks prior to their disbanding November 1991. They were activated again in 1995 as part of the 519th and have served in the Middle East since their reactivation (Source 6).

To better understand the purpose of these units, we obtained a copy of Eyes Behind the Lines, designated “Occasional Paper 10” by Major James F. Gebhardt (Retired). This gave us in depth insight into the mission and equipment of the LRSU soldier. According to Major Gebhardt, the last LRRP unit left over from the Vietnam War was disbandedEco 51st Inf LRRP 1986-89 - YouTube2 in 1974. In 1978, plans were made to study the need for specialized troops in the Army. Out of this study came the directive that two long range surveillance companies be sent to Germany where they would become organic attachments to Military Intelligence units. In 1984, Army Pamphlet 525-42, US Army Operational Concept For Long Range Surveillance Units was published. This pamphlet renamed the reconnaissance units as surveillance units and gave them the following mission tasks:

  • Conduct long-range intelligence collection through reconnaissance and surveillance
  • Determine and report location, strength, equipment, disposition, organization and movement of enemy forces; determine the location of high value targets, to include nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapon delivery systems, nuclear weapon storage sites, reserves, command-and-control elements, and key fixed and mobile installations.
  • Conduct damage assessment and NBC monitoring
  • Emplace and employ unattended sensors and electronic intelligence, target acquisition and designation equipment
  • Obtain information on possible drop and landing zones
  • Conduct pathfinder operations
  • Assess indigenous communications facilities for possible future allied use

Eco 51st Inf LRRP 1986-89 - YouTube7

Field Circular 7-93, Long Range Surveillance Unit Operations (July 1985) and subsequent Field Manual 7-93 by the same name (July 1987) further detailed the position and purpose of the new Long Range Surveillance Units. These units would be capable of conducting patrols up to 150 kilometers away from their Forward Line of Troops on an 8 day patrol and up to 50 kilometers on a 6 day patrol. They were organized to operate in full companies or as separate detachments (6 men) that could be attached to an infantry unit. This organization set the LRSUs up much like the older LRRP units from Vietnam but also put in place some interesting differences. FM 7-93 attached LRSUs to Military Intelligence battalions to keep them out of the front line contact that the LRRP patrols were sometimes thrust into. InterestinglyEco 51st Inf LRRP 1986-89 - YouTube31 enough it also lacked the verbiage stating that surveillance troops would only use their weapons in self defense.

The core missions of surveillance, reconnaissance, target acquisition and damage assessment had not changed but the emphasis was now on static observation and limited movement rather than active patrolling. Similar documents in the late 60s had attempted to limit the movement of the LRRP units in Vietnam but they were still significantly more mobile on mission than the new LRSUs. Finally, the new list of examples for targets of LRSUs has some interesting omissions from those designated for the LRRPs. They are as follows:

  • Critical points along avenue of approach
  • Critical points along key lines of communication
  • Airfields
  • Bridges
  • Rail junctions
  • Ordinance and logistical depots
  • Rail yards
  • Known enemy command posts or headquarters
  • Assembly areas

The omissions are “special weapon delivery means” and “enemy reserves,” which were pivotal targets for LRRP units. Finally, while LRRP commanders frequently used radio relay units to keep in contact with their LRRPs; LRSUs rarely did so. This was mostly due to advancements in radio technology including the ability to send burst transmissions via satellite.

When operating as a surveillance company, LRSUs were to set up a base camp and send out detachments to man observation posts. This was recreated on a smaller scale within each detachment, allowing each to occupy multiple observation posts. The concept of a separate base camp and observation post are resurrected in FM 7-93. This is LRSDquite different from the LRRP’s practices as they generally stayed as a group for the duration of the mission.

LRSUs used multiple avenues to get to their AO and all were to be airborne qualified. HALO, HAHO, surface craft and submersible craft insertions were all authorized, but rotary wing assets or foot patrol were the primary methods of insertion. Combat support was handled by rotary wing assets along with fire support, air defense artillery, engineer and medical support. Emergency helicopter extractions including the use of STABO rigs and jungle perpetrators were also employed but each patrol had a contingency plan to walk out whether as a group or individuals (Source 7).

The first use of these new LRSU forces was in Operation Urgent Fury. LRSUs performed a handful of reconnaissance missions and a search and destroy mission. The next deployment of the LRSU would be to Germany and involved the above mentioned E and F companies of the 51st Infantry.Eco 51st Inf LRRP 1986-89 - YouTube35

On paper, each LRSU soldier was armed with an M16 rifle and each unit was given a still camera, infrared viewer, two PVS-4 scopes and two radiac meters.  In reality, LRSUs were much more heavily armed. We were able to obtain the following equipment list for a 6 man LRSU.

  • Unit carried 3 M249 SAWs and 3 XM177E2s or M16s with attached M203 grenade launchers
  • Mission dependent, one of the SAWs would be replaced with an M25
  • Some teams used the M60 in place of the M249
  • Each rifleman carried 12 magazines, 4 canteens and a butt pack using an LC-2 belt and Y harness or shoulder straps from an LBV-88 He also carried two bandoliers of 40mm rounds.
  • Each SAW gunner carried 2 SAW magazines on his equipment belt.
  • Each member carried a medium Alice ruck with sustainment items, extra ammunition and equipment.
  • Body armor was not worn, and each member used a patrol cap or boonie hat.
  • AM/SSB AN/PRC 70 high frequency radios with burst transmission equipment were used as a primary communication tool within the LRSUs and AN/PRC 90 FM radios were used as back-ups.

Fortunately, the LRSUs in Germany never had to perform their duties in combat. That said, one could argue that they would have been invaluable in the event of the Cold War turning hot. Yes, normal infantry units have (and always will) scout but the LRRPs and LRSUs left a legacy unlike any other. 

Note: for an additional first hand account, read this article.

Cited Sources:

  1. Siaz, SGM Robert. “Reactivation of E Company, 51st Infantry Regiment.” http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/utils/getfile/collection/p15040coll2/id/5385/filename/5386.pdf.
  2. “Inactivation Marks a Sad Day”. http://www.stripes.com/news/inactivation-marks-a-sad-day-1.62969.
  3. “E Co 51st Infantry and Battalion Move From Weisbaden to Darmstadt”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tDUqTw8Sh0.
  4. “Department of the Army Liniage and Honors Company F, 51st Infantry Regiment”. http://www.history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/inf/0051in-cof.htm.
  5. http://www.i-served.com/.
  6. Gebhardt, Major James F. Eyes Behind the Lines.  http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/gebhardt_LRRP.pdf.

4.       “51st Infantry Regiment (United States)”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/51st_Infantry_Regiment_(United_States).

Other E/51st Sources:

Other F/51st Sources: