Sunday, December 12, 2010

Undercover Santa

Zweibrucken Air Base, Germany was an exciting place to be stationed.  Our aircraft were the RF-4C.  Instead of being fitted with the killer ordinance of the Wild Weasels, it was fitted with something even more deadly, cameras and sensors. They could fly along the Iron Curtain and tell you how many people were in a barracks, and if any of them were running a fever.

RF-4C Rolling out of a TabVee Zweibrucken AB Germany

When the Phantom runs up its engines...lights those afterburners...the earth and sky rumbles so hard you feel it in your chest.  That bright blue flame licking the runway as it rolls out is a sight to behold.  You forgot how old they were...they were high performance machines.  There are many stories for me to tell about my time with the RF-4C...but this story is about another mission the base had.

The Germans are a people of hobbies.  They often would gather near the base perimeter and collect aircraft tail numbers. Strangely enough...this is information our enemies would find useful. The base would from time to time conduct special operations at night...oddly enough the Germans would come out at night to collect tail numbers.

At the time I was a Security Police Training Instructor.  Among the many jobs I had there the one I loved the most was being the "Hey, lets try this...".  Normally that would come out of our Ops Officers mouth..like "Hey, lets buy some old post WWII  tanks from France and put them on the perimeter to make the Russians think we have a tank battalion here?"  The man was literally nuts.  But he got his tanks. I loved it.

French Built AMX-13

The tanks were totally stripped down and not operational...but they did make for an impressive sight lined up along the perimeter.

Zwiebrucken was set to get a new mission, the Ops Officer decided to conduct an experiment.  He was the most persistent person I have ever met.  After several phone calls he got the ball rolling.

It was two weeks before Thanksgiving 1984.  One night out by one of the aircraft shelters along the base perimeter...large Light All Units made night into day.  The silhouette of  men moving equipment and working near and in the shelter could be seen.  A team of four guards were on duty 24/7.  This activity continued until two days before Thanksgiving.

Every night the perimeter would be visited by several cars.  Germans trying to get a glimpse of the commotion?  Maybe...maybe not.  While they watched...a team of Americans watched them..taking photos..writing down plate numbers.  On a couple of occasions, the German Police visited the onlookers.

One day a crowd of Americans, invited guests and their families gathered near the mysterious aircraft shelter...after a short speech...the hanger doors opened..and out popped a C-23A Sherpa .  It was painted black with a big red circle on its nose, and Santa was in the pilots seat.  The kids loved it...the German Hobbyist...maybe not so much.

Short C-23 Sherpa Military Transport Aircraft
C-23A Sherpa

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