Nuke Evacuation: A lesson in geopolitics
One night in the early 1960s, Mr. Price, my Intel partner, and I were doing what was euphemistically called "bar surveillance." We were in West Germany’s heaviest industrial area (das Ruhrgebeit), not far from the Möhne Dam that the Brits skip-bombed in May 1943, releasing 135 million cubic feet of water that drowned thousands and temporarily brought Nazi steel production to a halt. Brits are still not welcome in the Ruhr.
Figuring us to be a couple of tourists who might not mind a story reflecting badly on the Brits, an old German told us the Brits were a bunch of fools for building a weapons storage site on top of a huge sewer pipe. It wasn’t clear if he knew the type of weapons being stored. But, after the U.S. taxpayers bought the old German a few more beers, we knew we had a story requiring serious investigation.
Early the next morning, we were in the office of the local city engineer, pouring over drawings of the city’s sewer systems, past and present. Yikes! It looked like the Brits approved a storage site for U.S. nuclear weapons right on top of an old and forgotten sewer line.
We borrowed an M-2 artillery compass from the U.S. commander of our nuclear weapons storage site and headed for the nearby river. Sure enough, a trickle of raw sewage was dripping into the river from a pipe about five feet in diameter. Large enough to walk through. We took a compass bearing from the pipe to the nuke storage igloo we could just make out in the distance. Without a doubt, the pipe ran right under the nuke storage site and onward toward a neighboring village.
Back inside the inner sanctum of the nuke storage site, we borrowed the unit’s encrypted telex to report what we found. Almost immediately, our report was ricocheting off the walls of U.S. Army, Europe in Heidelberg, and NATO headquarters in Brussels. An immediate evacuation of our nuclear weapons was ordered. We knew one actual evacuation convoy and at least one or more dummy evacuation convoys would be arriving soon. So, we headed south to our headquarters in Lüdenscheid.
Driving back in our old VW, we speculated that each of us might get a Letter of Commendation. Instead, we were about to get a lesson in geopolitics. On entering our secure office in the basement of a U.S. artillery group headquarters, we were congratulated by our bosses for a job well done; however, there would be no Letters of Commendation.
The British general and the American general who approved the site plan had just gotten rockets sent up their backsides, as the Brits would say. The evacuation of the site was merely a routine evacuation exercise. No emergency. Move on -- nothing to see there.
The U.S. Army, however, works in mysterious ways. Our bosses saw to it that our fitness reports received the highest marks. That was very good because, in the months to come, Mr. Price and I would create an uproar in the Netherlands and I would be sent on a secret mission to Denmark. All true stories for some other time.
©2022. William Hamilton.