Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army's Elite, 1956–1990

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This book tells the history of a unique US Army Special Forces Detachment and the men who served with it. Initially known as Detachment “A” - Berlin, it was stationed far behind the Iron Curtain in West Berlin, inside the Soviet-controlled German Democratic Republic. This unit existed for one reason: to cause havoc behind the enemy’s lines.
Its classified title was the "39th Special Forces Detachment."

Like all Special Forces units, Detachment “A” traced its origins to the Office of Strategic Services, but its methods of operation were unlike any other. The book describes the unit’s origins and the reasons for its existence through recently declassified files and first person histories of those who served there. These voices will show the unit’s evolution as the enemy and the environment changed.

The Detachment was a one of a kind unit that had no parallel. It would leave a legacy of a new type of soldier trained in unconventional warfare, clandestine operations, sabotage, counterterrorism, and intelligence tradecraft (among other useful skills). These were soldiers who could work alone or in small teams. They operated unseen in a city awash with spies looking for information on their every move. It was a volatile mix that sometimes would have unintended consequences for friend and foe alike.

The details of their improbable mission, how they prepared, and how it was to be accomplished is told from the soldiers’ viewpoint along with the strategic overview from the top.

SF Berlin’” wartime mission was classified Top Secret and was largely unchanged throughout its existence, but it had a second, important peacetime mission. In the late 1960s, unrest struck the capitals of Europe as left-wing radicals and Palestinian nationalists began to use terrorism to achieve their political goals. In response, the US European Command ordered the unit to prepare for a new mission: Counterterrorism. The level of expertise it achieved, along with its skills in urban unconventional warfare, led to its participation in the attempted rescue of the American hostages in Teheran, Iran.

The book tells the behind the scenes story of the ill-fated Iran Hostage Rescue mission - an aspect of the story that has never been covered – SF Berlin’s mission and its men on the ground who led the way.

In 1984, the unit went deeper underground with a new organization and cover name: Physical Security Support Elelment. Its classified title was the "410th Special Forces Detachment." It continued operations until 1990.

These men were members of a unit who remained on continuous alert to meet the Cold War threat from 1956 to 1990. It was the earliest of the future special mission units and the premier unconventional warfare and intelligence organization. But when the doors closed on a cold day in December 1990, so did the records. The US Army didn’t keep a record or ever seek to publicize the “secret” units - they just faded away like MacArthur’s “old soldier.”

In 2012, the veterans of SF Berlin decided to preserve the history before it was lost. They realized that it would only be a matter of time before all who knew of it were gone. A “volunteer” was found and slowly documents were located, and interviews conducted to put together a comprehensive picture of the units’ history.

The result is a narrative that comes from the men who served in Berlin from 1956 to 1990. It is not an official record but taken together, it tells more than has ever before been revealed about one of the US Army’s most secret units.

Submitted by:
James Stejskal

About the author:
James Stejskal is a military historian, conflict archaeologist, and the author of a number of articles on military history and the well-received book: Special Forces Berlin: Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army's Elite, 1956–1990, which was released by Casemate Publishers in February 2017. After a short stint at the University of Nebraska he enlisted in the US Army in 1974. Training as an airborne infantryman, he qualified for Special Forces training and successfully completed the arduous training to win his “Green Beret.” He served with US Army Special Forces in many “interesting places” worldwide, including Germany, the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa before retiring as a Special Forces Chief Warrant Officer 4. He was then recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency and served as a senior intelligence operations officer (Case Officer) in Africa, Europe, and the Far East before retiring again in 2012. He holds a BA in History and a MS (Honors) in Military Studies. His first book was: The Horns of the Beast: The Swakop River Campaign and World War I in South-West Africa, 1914-1915.

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