The group ‘Foo Fighters’ takes its name from this war mystery


Berlin was a dangerous place during the Cold War. A preserved piece of the wall containing a memorial fresco of 146 Germans killed while trying to escape Communism is brutal testimony.

A large central station for East-West espionage, the city was a playground for all kinds of secret agents. And its place in the history of the twentieth century far outweighs its size. Indeed, 37% of Americans considered the fall of the Berlin Wall to be the most important event of the 1980s.

This wall fell after 28 years because Americans in uniform were a barrier to Soviet aggression. The vast majority of these GIs were clearly visible. But a small contingent operated behind the scenes, not even being recognized until long after the end of the Cold War. It was only this year that they were fully and publicly recognized.

Born in the mid-1950s

Although the status of forces agreement signed by the four powers occupying Berlin banned elite forces, each country had its own lurking in the city. However, it was 10 years after the end of WWII before the United States officially established such a unit there.

In August 1956, the 10th Elite Special Forces Group, based in Bad Tolz, Germany, stationed Army Secret Unit 7781 (also known as the 39th Special Forces Operational Detachment) in Berlin- Where is. It consisted of six modified detachments which became part of the Headquarters Company of the 6th Infantry Regiment. Each team had six members.

Two years later, the unit was renamed Detachment A and assigned to the US Army Garrison Headquarters Company in Berlin. Then in April 1962, he was attached to the Berlin Brigade. His area of ​​operations was primarily this city, but he could undertake missions elsewhere in Europe.

Top secret spy photos taken by Det-A in the early 1960s showing details of the Berlin Wall. (Photo: Bob Charest)

“Detachment A was literally in the eye of the Cold War hurricane,” said Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, commanding general of the US Army Special Operations Command. As an unconventional and classified group of 90 men (a normal tour of duty was three years), Detachment A conducted clandestine operations.

Originally operating in small cells, in the late 1960s it expanded to 12-man “A” teams. The members of the unit were as unique as the US military had ever recruited. Many were refugees from Germany or Eastern Europe who still had families trapped behind the Iron Curtain. In the early years, a significant number were also veterans of World War II. As a result, they brought much needed skills to the unit as well as knowledge of other nations and languages.

Training and tools of the trade

The physical training was extensive and gradually intense. For example, winter war training in Bavaria consisted of downhill skiing and cross-country skiing equivalent to extreme skiing. Specialized demolition training was required for various targets in Berlin. Some teammates took the CIA Specialized Demonstration Course in Harvey Point, North Carolina. Another required skill was scuba diving.

Each month, members performed parachute jumps from Tempelhof Air Base in Berlin. Detachment A participated in NATO escape and evasion exercises. The Berlin-exclusive exercises included dead drops, live drops, primary meetings, surveillance and communications. Team members trained with elite West German border guards and Border Protection Group 9, British Special Air Service and special police units.

The group 'Foo Fighters' takes its name from this war mystery
The boys of Det A ready to don cape and dagger around ’72. (Photo: Bob Charest)

But they also taught an urban course to other members of the 10th SFG, as well as the SEAL 2 team based in Crete. As masters of espionage, the team members wore items reminiscent of a James Bond movie.

Coal filled with C-4 explosives was used to potentially sabotage the railway ring surrounding Berlin. Single-shot cigarette lighter guns, vials filled with metal shavings for destroying turbines, and soundproof weapons for taking out targets were all part of the arsenal. The German Walther MPK 9mm SMG that fits in a briefcase was the weapon of choice.

All diving equipment was German made, including the portable one-man decompression chamber. Each member was fluent in German and wore mostly authentic German civilian clothes. They sometimes carried flash documents and non-US IDs. Double passports, or dual nationalities, were part of the hoax.

Opponents of this potentially deadly cat-and-mouse game included the infamous East German Secret Police (Stasi), the Soviet KGB (Committee for State Security), and even Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces). Vigilance with regard to Soviet surveillance was obvious. The KGB had members under constant surveillance and had records of everyone in Detachment A. Yet the Green Berets have always deceived their opponents into believing they were an exponentially greater force than they were. were actually.


In the mid-1970s, the unit’s mission began to evolve. Although the classic enemy of the Cold War has always remained, a new enemy has emerged in the form of terrorism. The murderous Red Army faction – a rabid Marxist group targeting the US military from 1972 – stepped in, killing six GIs in all. It meant being prepared to take on terrorists with snipers and SWAT tactics.

“They were very courageous men and took on difficult missions,” recalls Sidney Shachnow, who led Detachment A from 1970 to 1974. Yet the Soviet threat loomed over the divided city. In 1978, the unit was commissioned by the CIA to unearth several mission sites positioned throughout Berlin for maintenance operations. Also, to maintain the equipment therein, weapons and demolitions, for example.

In April 1980, Detachment “A” participated in “Operation Eagle Claw,” the attempt to end the hostage crisis in Iran by rescuing 52 diplomats detained at the United States Embassy and Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs in Tehran, Iran. The Det-A portion of the mission was codenamed “Storm Cloud”.

The group 'Foo Fighters' takes its name from this war mystery
Patch for Operation Storm Cloud. (Courtesy: Bob Charest)

Detachment “A” was responsible for pre-mission reconnaissance of targets by successfully infiltrating a team in Tehran on several occasions and contributed an element to rescue three hostages held in the MFA.

When the first mission was aborted due to a crash involving a C-130 and a CH-53 in the middle of the Iranian desert, a second attempt was scheduled for later in the year. This was canceled when the negotiations were successful.

Four years later, the mission of this unique outfit was deemed unnecessary even though the Cold War was far from over. At the end of 1984, Detachment A was dissolved.

“I knew when I closed the door,” said Eugene Piasecki, the last commander of the detachment, “I would no longer serve in a unit like this. “

Bob Charest, a retired master sergeant, served in Detachment A from 1969 to 1972 and from 1973 to 1978.

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