Special Forces Berlin

Clandestine Cold War Operations of the US Army's Elite, 1956–1990

James Stejskal

Date Published :
February 2017
Publisher :
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ISBN : 9781612004440
Pages : 336
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It is a little-known fact that during the Cold War, two U.S. Army Special Forces detachments were stationed far behind the Iron Curtain in West Berlin. The existence and missions of the two detachments were highly classified secrets.

The massive armies of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies posed a huge threat to the nations of Western Europe. US military planners decided they needed a plan to slow the juggernaut they expected when and if a war began. The plan was Special Forces Berlin. The first 40 men who came to Berlin in mid-1956 were soon reinforced by 60 more and these 100 soldiers (and their successors) would stand ready to go to war at only two hours’ notice, in a hostile area occupied by nearly one million Warsaw Pact forces, until 1990.

Their mission, should hostilities commence, was to wreak havoc behind enemy lines, and buy time for vastly outnumbered NATO forces to conduct a breakout from the city. In reality it was an ambitious and extremely dangerous mission, even suicidal. Highly trained and fluent in German, each man was allocated a specific area. They were skilled in clandestine operations, sabotage, intelligence tradecraft and able to act if necessary as independent operators, blending into the local population and working unseen in a city awash with spies looking for information on their every move.

Special Forces Berlin was a one of a kind unit that had no parallel. It left a legacy of a new type of soldier expert in unconventional warfare, one that was sought after for other deployments including the attempted rescue of American hostages from Tehran in 1979. With the U.S. government officially acknowledging their existence in 2014, their incredible story can now be told.

About The Author

James Stejskal served for 23 years with Special Forces, including two tours in Berlin, retiring as a Chief Warrant Officer 4. He then served 13 years with the CIA as a senior Operations Officer (Case Officer) in Africa, Europe and Asia. He is now a military historian and conflict archaeologist. This is his second book.



I The Origins of Special Forces
II The Formative Years (1956-1971)
III A New Mission and a Midlife Crisis (1972-1976)
IV The Pros from Dover (1976-1981)
V Appointment in Tehran
VI The Final Days (1981-1984)
VII The New Kid on the Block (1984)
VIII Until the Fall (1984-1990)
Epilogue: A Casualty of Peace

Appendix A: In the Sights of the Enemy
Appendix B: Leadership
Timeline: Special Forces Berlin, 1956-1990
Timeline: Iran Mission, 1979-1981
Abbreviations and Acronyms


"... a story that had to be told, and who better to tell it than Chief Warrant Officer James Stejskal who has established his credentials as a historian and researcher in various articles as well as his seminal work on the Swakop River Campaign and World War I in South West Africa The Horns of the Beast. In addition, his service in the US Army Special Forces in Berlin during the 1970s and 80s gives him the insight to comment cogently on that portion of US Army Special Forces history that impacted on the doctrine of both urban unconventional warfare and counter terror operations. ... a historical record without which the story of United States Army Special Forces would not be complete. Congratulations to Chief Stejskal on an excellent work of military history."

- CSM Jeffrey Raker, US Army Special Forces (Retired) , The Drop, the journal of the Special Forces Association, Summer 2016., July 2016

"...part of the book is straight out of a le Carré plot. The Cold War in Europe is an often overlooked part of American military history because it stayed cold. But as this book shows, for the men serving on the front lines next to the Iron Curtain, conflict was always a real possibility that could happen at any time. Their sacrifice and service helped ensure the eventual collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the peaceful reunification of Germany.”

- NY Journal of Books, February 2017

"James Stejskal has performed a great service to not only Special Forces but to the national security community by researching and writing this highly readable and anecdote filled history of one of the most unsung military organizations in the Cold War... this is one of the best examples of applied unconventional warfare in special operations history."

- David S. Maxwell, Small Wars Journal, February 2017

"Reads like a thriller for much of the time - a small, select force ready for action should the Soviets escalate their activities in Western Europe - nothing much has changed in the last sixty years or so!"

- Books Monthly, March 2017

"More akin to a spy thriller...Truly a fascinating time, which this intriguing book examines from an entirely fresh perspective.”

- History of War Magazine, April 2017

"Far too often, unit histories are a combination of tall tales, in-jokes, and details without any context. [Stejskal has] succeeded in placing a very small and unknown unit in the larger context of the Cold War in Europe, producing an account that is historically accurate and judicious and yet enjoyable to read. This study is rewarding for anyone interested in the Cold War, Special Forces, or Berlin. In fact, this is a considerable achievement, a contribution to history that gives the reader a micro-view of the realities of military life."

- Col. Jonathan House, American Military Historian and Author

"This in-depth history of a little-known military organization is written by one of its veterans. It details the myriad ways in which these soldiers planned, trained, and prepared to fight the next global conflagration in East Germany. They also carried out clandestine missions, and as their reputation grew they were even drawn into operation involving Iran during the hostage crisis of the late 1970s. All of this is laid out in the sort of stark detail only a true participant can convey.”

- Military Heritage

"James Stejskal tells an important story… This book is excellent and it is well written.”

- International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol. 31, Issue 1

"A fascinating look inside special ops in the Cold War period.”

- The Armourer

"This book is excellent and it is well written. One characteristic the Directorate of Operations and the Directorate of Intelligence at CIA had in common: understandable diction. Every sentence and every word is understandable.”

- International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence

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