Published: November 01, 2008 02:24 am    print this story   email this story  

A proud and skillful organization

Jerry Hogan - Columnist

Jerry Hogan - Columnist
Rockwall County Herald-Banner

Several weeks ago this column described the story of Larry Thorne, a man who fought the Russians in the uniform of three countries: Finland, Germany, and the United States. The article described his WWII exploits and his service in the US Army Special Forces Green Berets. It also discussed the 10th Special Forces Group, the first and oldest organization of this type in the US Army post WWII.

Since that article was published, comments have been received from as far away as Finland from readers who have had additional questions about the 10th Group, Larry Thorne, and some of the other soldiers and events that happened during those early years in Europe.

There were exciting things that happened in the early years of the 10th Special Forces in Europe. Since I was there for three of those years, I have personal knowledge of some of those events, and after reviewing the published history of the Group and finding that much of what happened is not classified, let me relate in a short version things that actually happened in the early years of Special Forces in our Army in Europe.

The 10th Special Forces Group was initially formed on June 19, 1952 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina with one officer, one warrant officer, and seven enlisted men. By the end of the month, 122 soldiers of all ranks were present for duty. These men came from the old OSS WWII organization, Airborne and Ranger groups in the US Army, and Lodge Bill Soldiers. These later men were non-US citizens from politically oppressed countries who could become US citizens by serving in the US Army. Many former soldiers from Eastern Europe were included in this group.

In November of 1953, the original 10th Special Forces Group was split in two and half deployed to Bad Tolz, Germany and the remainder stayed at Fort Bragg to become the 77th Group. Arriving in southern Bavaria, the 10th Group Soldiers started their training for Unconventional Warfare behind enemy lines in the event of a war in Western Europe. In the summer of 1956, six operational detachment “A” Teams moved to West Berlin with the specific mission of “stay behind” Unconventional Warfare. The concept here being if war did start and Berlin was overrun with Russian soldiers, these Special Forces teams would already be in place to start operations behind enemy lines. As you can expect, these teams, labeled Detachment “A”, or “Det A” for short, were shrouded in secrecy and no recognition of their presence in Berlin was ever made until their deactivation in 1984. (And that made for some strange ways of doing business when one of the soldiers from Bad Tolz went to Berlin to meet with guys from Det A!)

Down in southern Germany where the main elements of the Group were located, the concept of exchange training with other countries was starting to take effect. Linkage with other “special” units of foreign Armies became one of the primary goals. Joint training with teams from England, France, Norway, Germany, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia was held. More extensive involvement happened with several countries.

For example, in Jordan a group of Special Forces soldiers established and ran the first airborne school for the Jordanian Army. Another group went to Saudi Arabia and trained 350 officers and non-commissioned officers of a guerilla force supported by King Faisal. Four teams went to Iran and helped train the Iranian Special Forces as well as Kurdish tribesmen in the mountains of Iran. One team went to Pakistan where they trained with their Special Warfare Warriors in the hills and deserts of that country. Another team, led by a friend of mine, Steve Snowden, went to Turkey where they trained the nucleus of the Turkish Special Forces.

Some real-life missions also happened during those early times. One was the recovery of bodies from an American C-130 aircraft that had crashed on top of the highest mountain in Iraq. Not only were the bodies recovered but also classified material that had been on board the plane. This successful mission was led by Captain Larry Thorne after several previous attempts by others had failed.

As outlined in the history of the Group, in Africa, the 10th Special Forces served without fanfare, often wearing no identification, patches, berets, or other insignia, sometimes even operating in civilian clothes. In the summer of 1960 the Group received orders to assist in the evacuation of the Congo as a wave of violence surfaced against the remaining whites in the former Belgian colony following their independence on July 1, 1960. Lieutenant Sully Fontaine was given this mission.

Sully was a Belgian by birth who had worked with the British Special Operations during WWII and had parachuted behind Nazi lines into France because he spoke better French than English. He later held a commission in the Belgian Army and had previously served with that army in the Congo. He chose five other men from the 10th Group to go with him on this mission: Vladimir Sobiachevsky, a Russian; George Yosich, who had worked with partisans in Korea; Pop Grant, an old Special Forces soldier; Snake Hoskins, who later won the Medal of Honor posthumously; and Stefan Mazak, a Czech and former French Foreign Legionnaire.

The US Ambassador in the Congo ordered a small unit to Leopoldville in the Congo to help save American and European lives. The team consisted of three helicopters, three light single engine airplanes, an Air Force radio expert, and the Special Forces group from the 10th. A meeting with the Ambassador, the SF Team, and the Belgian paratroopers took place and the mission was defined. At the larger airfields the Belgian paratroopers would be in charge. The Special Forces Team would control operations on the smaller airfields. The mission was to get as many Americans and Europeans out as possible. Despite enemy contact resulting in a few holes in the aircraft, the mission was accomplished. Nine days following their arrival in country, the team had evacuated 239 refugees without a single casualty.” No publicity that US Special Forces Soldiers were involved with this action was ever made.

In addition to the Unconventional Warfare mission, the Group in the early 1960s also started to pick up the mission of counter-insurgency. Most of the training missions described earlier fit into this category. With this new mission, in addition to Eastern Europe, the Group found themselves responsible for North Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia as far east as Pakistan. So in addition to teams qualified in the languages of Eastern Europe, now the new languages of Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Greek, Turkish, and Pashto could be heard in the coffee shop and around the team rooms. In fact, at times English was really the “foreign” language of the 10th Special Forces Group.

Since these early days the 10th Group has gone through several geographical displacements and now, after a stop in Fort Devens, Mass., the Group headquarters is in Fort Carson, Co. One major element of the organization has remained in Germany but has relocated from Bad Tolz to Stuttgart, Germany. And the old Kaserne in Bad Tolz, home of the original 10th Special Forces Group in Germany and a former German SS Officers School complete with an indoor Olympic swimming pool, has been turned back to the German government.

Green Beret Soldiers from the 10th Special Forces Group have served in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and every other hot spot where the United States is fighting this Global War on Terror our country has been thrust into. Medals, up to and including the Medal of Honor, adorn their chests as they help in protecting our freedoms. The legacy that started back in 1952 with the establishment of the “Green Berets” continues today. It is proud organization composed of proud and extremely skillful Soldiers who continue to set the example. If you ever see one, how about telling them thanks and also tell them how glad you are they are on our side!

Jerry Hogan is a retired US Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel who lives in Heath, Texas. He can be contacted at jerryhogan@sbcglobal.net or 214-394-4033.