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BAOR - Münster and Osnabrück 1965-1969

The next four years of relative stability in BAOR enabled the 1st Battalion to 'mature'. At last the Battalion was given the highest priority for manpower, both the role and associated equipment of a mechanised battalion were demanding while the need to work as an all-arms battle group presented new challenges. After arriving at snow-bound Waterloo Barracks in Münster, built on the site of a Luftwaffe wartime airfield, training was soon underway to boost the numbers of drivers, signallers and vehicle commanders. This training gathered momentum as the last batches of armoured personnel carriers (APC), the AFV 432 series, were delivered. Soon after its arrival Battalion HQ took part in a brigade command post exercise (CPX) while many of the Battalion were involved in the far larger 1(BR) Corps CPX. There was no better way to gain an understanding of the wider military scene in Germany.

During 1966 many members of the Battalion travelled throughout western Europe. The Band and Drums played at the State Visit of HM The Queen to Brussels and Ypres in mid-May, at a performance of massed bands at Osnabrück and Bielefeld, and at the Queen's Birthday Parade in Münster. Major Lovejoy and some twenty-five Devon and Dorsets took part in a parade at Fontainebleau to say farewell to the French Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces Central Europe - a prestigious international event - but one that was not without its lighter moments. Despite French withdrawal from direct military involvement in NATO, there was no indication of a reduced threat from the Warsaw Pact.

That summer there was plenty of time for cricket and athletics while the dinghy sailors won the 2 Division Regatta. Others participated in the Handorf Marches, adventurous training at Füssen, sub-aqua diving or golf. A spell of leave was followed by formation exercises during the closing months of 1966. These commenced with a long move with equipment to Larzac, a couple of hours from the French Mediterranean coast. Here the Battalion worked closely with its affiliated gunners, O Battery (The Rocket Troop) of 2 Field Regiment, and the armour of C Squadron, 15/19 King's Royal Hussars. Then it was back to the 6 Brigade test exercise at Soltau and Bergen-Hohne where every phase of war, including river crossings, was practised. Finally, there was the 2 Division test exercise. Working as a complete battle group, though not as yet fine-tuned, they crossed the Teutoberger Wald in fog to secure a crossing over the Weser, encountering the Canadian 'enemy' en route. A later phase of the exercise involved recrossing the Weser.

The 6 Brigade Remembrance Day Parade and a successful Annual Administrative Inspection had separated November's exercises. Then there was time for more sport: Battalion teams reached the fourth round of the Army Football Cup and the semifinals of the Army Hockey Cup. The attalion also achieved the highest infantry battalion position in alpine skiing. By this time the 1st Battalion was over 700 strong, and was accompanied by more than 800 dependants. Nevertheless personnel turnover was continuous - during 1966, 125 soldiers left while 175 arrived - and the BAOR training cycle was remorseless.

Early the next year there were warm-up CPXs, followed by an experimental, month-long 6 Brigade concentration at Sennelager, covering individual to company-level skills. On 17 May 1967, the Colonel-in-Chief, Princess Marina, visited Münster, accompanied by the new Colonel of the Regiment, Brigadier 'Speedy' Bredin. Within days, the Battalion was flying to El Adem and Tmimi in Libya for Ex Ballotage, using pre-positioned APCs. This was a wonderful three-week opportunity for field-firing and manoeuvre on a scale unimaginable in Germany. Unfortunately, with the outbreak of hostilities between Arabs and Israelis on 5 June, the situation was turned on its head.

Disturbances across the Arab world spread to Benghazi, where isolated British military personnel, including families, were living in barracks. According to the Commander Cyrenaica Area: 'Mobs in the town were completely out of control and they attacked and severely damaged both British and American Embassies and, in addition, they wrecked and burnt down the British Council building, the USIS offices, the British Reading Room, our NAAFI Club and a number of Jewish shops. Rioting went on from ten in the morning to eight at night without a stop.' Two hundred miles away across the desert with 'all sub-units dispersed and the second Battle Run in process one company was placed at immediate notice to move to Benghazi in an Internal Security role'. Within two hours the whole Battalion was ordered to move to Benghazi: the CO went ahead by helicopter while the rest followed with all speed, avoiding centres of population, but against the flow of Libyan forces heading for Egypt. Sgt Ingram was seriously injured when a Libyan Saladin deliberately drove at his Land Rover, mounted it on the offside and squashed it almost flat. Having arrived at Benghazi, the 1st Battalion secured D'Aosta and Wavell Barracks while B Company was despatched to El Adem to protect the airfield. The battle group formed two combat teams, Camel and Zebra, with the first acting as a mobile strike force while the second secured Tobruk and activated part of the tank stockpile there. The Battalion also had the unenviable task of moving a vast quantity of stores 80 miles across the desert from Tmimi to the relative security of El Adem. By such actions the 1st Battalion helped to defuse avolatile, and potentially explosive, situation.

A letter from a signaller of 245 Signal Squadron to his father, an ex-Devon, summarises the important contribution made by the Devon and Dorsets: 'Do you know which Battalion came to relieve us? Yes, the Devon and Dorsets. Honestly, Dad, they are the best disciplined and organised battalion I have ever had the luck to serve with. I'm very proud to know that you are an ex-Devon and those lads have certainly not let the name down in any way whatsoever. They are first class in all they do and everybody here is most impressed. Of course, I let them know my father is an ex- Devon. When you go to the next Reunion, you make sure that they know that the young 'uns are as good as ever.'

Back at Münster following Ex Ballotage there was a spell of leave, the opportunity for summer sport and grape-picking for some in the Moselle valley. In early autumn Lieutenant Colonel Archer handed over to Lieutenant Colonel Adrian Rouse, just in time for the fast-moving 6 Brigade Ex Fug Fury. That was followed by the divisional Ex Hermelin. These exercises were challenging - but also great fun - with the 1st Battalion operating at peak efficiency. A week later, as he was conducting the Administrative Inspection, the Brigade Commander spoke to the Warrant Officers and Sergeants in their Mess. Of the Battalion's performance he said: Absolutely devastating. You defeated the enemy (and exercise planners) by nine hours on the first day and by twelve hours on the second' - but that was without live ammunition, of course!

By the following year the Army was once again being reduced in size and 6 Brigade was disbanded. Thus the Battalion moved in January 1968 to Osnabrück to join 12 Mechanised Brigade, and into poor accommodation once again, at Quebec Barracks. That winter, the 1st Battalion achieved outstanding success in the boxing ring, winning all their BAOR matches, before losing to 1 Kings in the Army Boxing Final. Many soldiers were introduced to skiing for the first time during the adventurous training Ex Snow Queen, held in the Bavarian Alps. In the spring the training cycle began again, with three weeks of field-firing at Sennelager, followed by a further three weeks of tactical training at Soltau, where the Battalion was joined by C Company of the newly-formed Wessex Volunteers. In June 1968, Major Shortis set up an adventurous training camp at Forgensee in Bavaria. Parties rotated through the camp, taking advantage of the opportunities to canoe, climb and walk in magnificent surroundings.

Then it was time to go to Larzac in France once again. B Company exchanged with B Company, 1 Glosters and visited Berlin for two weeks while C Company visited Denmark. At the same time Support Company mounted a KAPE tour to the West Country. Full though BAOR life was, the urgent need for new recruits could never be overlooked: the very survival of the Regiment depended upon its ability to maintain manning levels.

Many members of the Battalion were off station when demonstrations took place throughout West Germany in protest at the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia on 20 August 1968. The Soviet Mission (SOXMIS) to the Commander-in-Chief, BAOR, which was based at nearby Bünde, came under threat and, from a diplomatic point of view, had to be protected. A composite platoon was duly despatched under the MTO, Lieutenant Field. From within the SOXMIS compound they successfully guarded the Soviet Mission and the demonstrations eventually petered out. This was a sensitive task, conducted with speed and efficiency, which elicited grateful thanks from the Russians. Just a week later came the sad news that our Colonel-in-Chief, Princess Marina, had died.

Having hosted the visit by the Joint Services Staff Course in the autumn, the 1st Battalion took part in Ex Keystone, the 2 Division work-up, and the last exercise of 1968. Another winter in Germany enabled more soldiers to be introduced to the pleasures of skiing. Both the alpine and langlauf teams met with success, winning the Infantry Cup, although not without mishap, as Lieutenant Hare broke his back.

February and March were devoted to the Fitness for Role (FFR) Inspection, which had replaced the old Administrative Inspection. This was followed by individual training at Haltern, which ended with a 40-mile march back to Osnabrück, along the Teutoberger Wald.

Following the amalgamation of two Welsh infantry regiments, the 1st Battalion absorbed around 100 Welshmen, a number of whom swiftly found places in the Battalion rugby team! There was no let-up in the training routine: following the Teutoberger March, B Company (Major Goodbody) formed the infantry element of the 1 (BR) Corps Firepower Demonstration, Ex Full Blast; ACF cadets from both Devon and Dorset visited the Battalion for their annual camps while, during the closing months of 1969, the Battalion made a battle procedure film entitled Castle Key. There was then a change of command, with Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lovejoy succeeding Lieutenant Colonel Rouse. There were also feverish preparations for the Battalion's next move. While four years in BAOR had provided both stability and variety, a move to the air-portable role on Malta was certain to provide a complete change.