RAF Benson Logistics Sqn Staff Ride Ex Berlin Discoverer
Late last year, 10 personnel from RAF Benson’s Logistics Squadron embarked on a staff ride to Berlin to study the history of WWII, the Cold War and analyse the lessons that we can apply to the operational challenges we face today.
In addition, each participant had the opportunity to research and deliver presentations on specific itinerary items, further developing their confidence in public speaking. Staying in central Berlin, with its efficient transport, gave us great access to the city and surrounding attractions, including Berlin’s many Christmas markets!
On the first day we visited the Humboldthain Flak Tower, the last remaining example of a Nazi era anti-aircraft flak tower. Here I highlighted the logistical challenges of building such a tower, as well as RAF bombing tactics and the defensive use of the tower. I concluded by emphasizing the ethics of the RAF’s bomber campaign and the importance now of precise targeting to minimise civilian casualties during operations.
Using the Russian War Memorial as a backdrop, FS Gav Young outlined Russia’s involvement in the Second World War and described the logistical challenges Germany faced after its attack on Russia in 1941. He then discussed Russian attitudes to German POWs at the end of the war and atrocities committed by Russian forces.
At the Holocaust Memorial Sgt Dave Ashton explained how the holocaust occurred and what kind of atrocities were committed. He then discussed more recent examples of genocide, which showed that these horrors could still occur. He concluded that if the holocaust had started in modern times, the international community would have rallied together to stop it. At Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp we utilised an excellent guided tour, which allowed us to experience the scale of the Nazi forced labour camp. The guide explained that unlike Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen was not solely a death camp although tragically this was the fate of many prisoners. SAC Jenny Sparrow then told the story of 3 RAF prisoners that were in held at Sachsenhausen after repeated escape attempts from prisoner of war camps. She also described the post war transition of the camp into an equally brutal Soviet Special Camp.
SAC Dave Canavan gave a well-informed brief on Hitler’s leadership style, aligning it to that of a transactional leader during his rise to power in the 1930s, developing into an autocratic leader once he reached power. One major failing of Hitler’s leadership style was his lack of trust in his senior military leaders. He made many decisions himself, whilst his generals felt unable to question his orders for fear of retribution.
Next on the agenda was the remains of the Berlin wall on Niederkirchner Straβe, followed by the excellent “The Wall” panorama exhibition, which gave a great perspective of life on both sides of the divided city. This was followed by the Checkpoint Charlie museum, which presented various examples of the methods used to attempt escape from the East to West.
The Scloss Celiehoff was the venue for the pivotal Potsdam Conference of 1945, the meeting that would ultimately decide the fate of post-war Germany. Cpl Steve Roberts gave a brief on the RAF’s air delivered nuclear weapons capability and the V Bomber Force. He also discussed the reasons why the Royal Navy currently holds the nuclear deterrent.
After some minor navigational errors we arrived at the former RAF Gatow, now the Luftwaffe museum. The museum was brilliant, especially as the curator opened up the control tower; not normally accessible to visitors. During a briefing by the curator, the group was intrigued to find out that one of the participants, FS Gav Young, had been involved in the closure of the base in 1994. Sgt Ben Howarth examined the vital utility provided by aerial surveillance during the Cold War and also during modern day Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations. He also outlined RAF involvement in the CIA surveillance programme. He then spoke about current ISTAR capabilities and the importance of interoperability with our Allies, discussing the importance of Tornado Raptor surveillance pod.
Fg Off Becks Causer then delivered a presentation on the British Commander-in-Chief’s Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany (BRIXMIS). She covered details of BRIXMIS ground missions, training and equipment, as well as the use of RAF Chipmunk T10 for surveillance including some personal accounts of BRIXMIS aircrew.
We visited the superb Allied Museum, and by kind permission of the curator, had access to the Hastings aircraft that was used during the Berlin Airflift; a fascinating attraction! The aircraft cabin, the perfect location for a presentation on airlift, saw Sgt Dan Smith explain the complications of administering a divided country and city. He further described the Berlin Blockade highlighting the necessity to re-supply West Berlin by air. He related this significant logistics effort to logistics operations today, where he spoke about inter-operability including the integration of civilian aircraft.
The final presentation, delivered by SAC Nick Arnell, explained how the Hastings aircraft was accelerated into service for the Berlin Airlift; later replaced by the Hercules C130. Following this he discussed one of the major turning points in air power history, the development of the jet engine.
On the final day Gp Capt Roly Smith, Air Attaché Berlin, hosted us at the British Embassy. He briefed the group on the workings of the British Embassy and current bilateral political/military relations between the UK and Germany. The group rated the visit to the British Embassy as one of the highlights of the week.
The staff ride gave a mixed rank group a fantastic opportunity to gain a better understanding of an aspect of history that has shaped the UK’s political and military dealings today.