Americans, Britons, French Subject to Occasional Harassment : 3-Nation Force Patrols Berlin’s 103-Mile Wall--and Beyond

Times Staff Writer

“Watch it, sergeant,” the British army officer cautioned. “You’re very close to the border. We wouldn’t want an international incident.”

Capt. Justin Goodbody was leading a patrol, in two Land Rovers, on a regular mission along the wall that separates West Berlin from East Germany. He stopped occasionally to look across at the other side.

“Actually, the border runs about 10 yards on this side of the wall,” Goodbody said, “so we are expected to respect that stretch of land between where we are standing and the wall.”

Goodbody and his men are part of the Allied force in West Berlin, consisting currently of about 6,000 Americans, 3,500 Britons and 2,500 French soldiers. Each group is responsible for patrolling and defending its sector of West Berlin.

Moving About Freely

Small liaison teams from the Allied nations are also based inside East Germany--at Potsdam, southwest of Berlin--and they may move about freely in specially marked vehicles, except in sensitive areas designated as Permanent Restricted Areas.


The Soviets have a similar team based in the American, British and French sectors of West Germany, under agreements worked out in connection with the occupation of Germany after World War II. In the absence of an overall peace treaty, these agreements continue to be recognized.

On occasion, an Allied team is harassed by the Soviets--or worse. Last March, a U.S. Army officer, Maj. Arthur Nicholson, was shot and killed in East Germany about 80 miles north of Berlin.

Most recently, it was disclosed Sunday in Washington, Soviet troops in East Germany deliberately rammed the truck of two American military personnel, who were not identified, and held them at gunpoint for nine hours before freeing them. Neither man was hurt in the incident, which reportedly occurred Sept. 7. Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger disclosed the matter during a television program.

Carried Out Routinely

Despite such incidents in the East, the Allied patrols are carried out routinely in their sectors of West Berlin.

Goodbody’s patrol had begun at Lake Havel and passed through the Spandau Forest, site of the prison where Rudolf Hess, the former Nazi official, is serving a life sentence for war crimes, guarded in turn by U.S., British, French and Soviet troops.

“We maintain these patrols regularly,” Goodbody said, “to keep up the confidence of the Berliners, to let the other side know we are in the neighborhood and to keep an eye on the border and see that there is no encroachment.”

What would happen if he saw someone coming over the wall, needing help to make it the last 10 yards to freedom?

“It’s hard to say,” Goodbody said. “That’s the day I would really earn my salary. I would hope that I would act compassionately and that that would be understood by my superiors.”

The wall is formidable. Between 9 and 12 feet high, it runs for 103 miles around West Berlin. East Germans will admit only privately that it was built to cut off the flow of East Germans fleeing to the West.

74 Killed at Wall

Western observers say that 74 people have been killed trying to cross the wall from East Berlin to West Berlin and another 110 on the border between East and West Germany. But people are still getting across. Among those who have made it this year were six East German soldiers.

Beyond the wall is an open, dirt area, 100 yards deep, that is raked regularly so that any fresh footsteps can be seen. Powerful searchlights sweep this area at night. Some parts of it are believed to be mined. There are observation posts and firing stations, and patrols with Alsatian dogs.

“I’m told they don’t feed the dogs very often, to keep them mean and hungry,” a British sergeant said. “They stay hungry until they die, and then fresh dogs replace them.”

Goodbody pointed out that in this area the East Germans are replacing the wall with a high wire fence that, presumably, can be electrified. The patrol stopped to watch as East German troops worked on the fence.

Officer Always Armed

“They always have an officer with them,” one of the British soldiers said. “He is always armed, and he stands between the soldiers and the border.”

Spandau Forest, the soldiers said, is alive with deer, wild pigs and rabbits and is a favorite hiking place for West Berliners. Here and there, a lookout platform has been put up that allows Westerners to look over the wall into the East. Elsewhere in West Berlin, the authorities are removing similar platforms because they are considered unsightly.

Each Allied reconnaissance team in East Germany--they are known formally as military liaison missions--consists of about 14 members. It is recognized on both sides of the Iron Curtain that these missions are for the purpose of gathering intelligence, and some diplomats believe that, despite occasional international incidents, the missions have helped to keep the peace in this sensitive area.

In Event of Attack

“If the Soviets were ever to attack,” a diplomat in West Berlin said, “there would have to be massive troop movements beforehand. We would hope that our teams in East Germany would be able to spot such movements. And if they were really hampered in their normal patrols in the East, this, too, would assume significance.”

The liaison missions and the Western military forces stationed in West Berlin serve to underscore the unusual status of the city, once the capital of a united Germany. It remains the capital of East Germany, though it is not recognized as such by the three Allied powers.

Constitutionally, West Berlin is not part of West Germany, though it is tied to the country economically, politically and judicially. West Berliners run their own affairs to a considerable extent--they have their own police force, for example--but supreme authority is still in the hands of the Western powers.

General Is Senior

The highest authority in the American sector of West Berlin is a U.S. Army major general who serves as military deputy to the U.S. ambassador to West Germany in Bonn. There are similar arrangements in the French and British zones.

“Technically,” a Western official said, “we are here by right of conquest, not by anyone’s permission. We continue to exercise that right. From time to time, we send patrols into East Berlin, and the Russians do the same with us.”

“I don’t see,” another Western official said, “how an illogical situation like this can last, but I don’t see any logical mechanism to end it, either.”

The Allied military people in West Berlin have no illusions about their situation. One of them remarked:

“West Berlin is really indefensible. We are here by historical accident. We are surrounded. We would put up a good fight, but we couldn’t last long in a real war. On the other hand, it would be madness for the Soviets to take West Berlin except in the context of a full-scale European war.”