Deuringen Training Area, located in the triangle Steppach - Leitershofen - Deuringen in the Westliche Wälder (western forests) is looking back at a really eventful history. Located at the perimeter of the vast forests along the valley of Lech and Wertach, it could be reached within a short time from Sheridan Kaserne. During the long presence of the U.S. Forces, everyday life here was completely different from that in the densely populated kaserne suburbs of the city.
The Army Administration of the NS-Reichsregierung acquired as early as in 1937 about 337 ha (= 823.4 acres)* of forest around Deuringen. The necessity for a training area ”far away from Augsburg” was caused by the increasing civilian usage of the historical training areas (Exerzierplätze) within the city. It was even considered to resettle Deuringen and utilize the abandoned buildings for combat training.
After the beginning of WW II, while units of the 17th German Panzerdivision (out of the 27th Infanteriedivision) were already involved in the warfare on all fronts, the area was still utilized by infantry and artillery. That is why only a small portion of the forest was cleared – without the tanks there was no longer any requirement for vast open areas. As there was, already at that time, no perimeter fence around the area, it was necessary to announce in detail in the official Amtsblatt (news bulletin) for the Landkreis Augsburg that a Gefechtsschießen (field firing-exercise) was scheduled for February 1939.
The Americans are here
After the end of WW II, the U.S. Military Government occupied the former infantry training area at the beginning of 1949. The tranquil 1000 souls village was therefore looking forward to decades of permanent stress caused by a military training area.
In a regulation about the Deuringen firing range in the Landkreis-Bulletin Nr. 6 of February 11, 1949, responsibilities and processes of utilization were listed in detail. At that time there were only the Constabulary units in Augsburg, who, however, had M26 Pershing medium tanks with a 90-mm gun. These and other combat vehicles shot with live ammunition in the Deuringen forest. The MP tried to keep the target zones of the comparatively small training area free of unauthorized persons. Due to the utilization as training area for tanks, further forest areas had to be cleared. The “Panzerkessel” clearing covered an area of around 700 meters west - east and about 200 - 300 meters north - south. This was about 18 ha (= 44.5 acres).
On June 19, 1951, the NATO Troop Statutes became the legal basis for the stationing of NATO troops and their dependents on the soil of other NATO members. With the Paris Treaties (Pariser Verträge), signed in October 1954, foreign forces in Germany were no longer occupation forces but stationed armed forces. Germany’s Occupation Statute was replaced by the German Treaty (Bonner Konvention) on May 5, 1955, and later turned into the Federal Republic of Germany’s sovereignty.
Already on April 12, 1951, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, SACEUR**), visited Deuringen Training Area during firing and combat trainings of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. This unit was gradually replaced by National Guard units of the 43rd and parts of the 28th Infantry Division, located at Gablingen.
The area was called Garrison Parade Ground, Garrison Training Area, Training Area, Garrison Firing Range, Tank Training Area or Tank Training Site. In vernacular, the citizens of Augsburg basically just knew it as “Panzerkessel” (tank basin). The term “Kessel” is probably deducted from the topographic development by the forest clearing and the resulting unoccupied space where tanks could operate. In regard to the height of the area (530-540 m above sea level), the name “Kessel” is actually misleading.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower (middle) at the “Panzerkessel” Deuringen. (Photo: Presidential Timeline)
The Cold War confrontation and its results
Increasing military efforts could already be seen in the middle of the 1950s, when the 11th Airborne Division ’Angels’ Sikorsky cargo choppers were hovering above the Training Area, letting down jeeps and equipment. Low flying jets were also there. The communities in the vicinity, especially Deuringen, had to endure whatever type of military equipment was available. But not enough – already in 1951, motorcycle-races across steep slopes attracted up to 15.000 spectators in the “Panzerkessel”. No wonder that motorcycle-crazy U.S. soldiers were among the weekend spectators in Deuringen. Enduring peace and quiet was therefore very rare in the area.
As heavy military vehicles and tanks were driving on the narrow roads of Deuringen year after year, road repair work was never ending. It is said that even a brand-new asphaltic concrete surface course was crossed without second thought during a NATO alarm. Clouds of dust and exhaust fumes surrounded the village. It was quite difficult for Deuringen’s mayor to get any support by the political institutions. Especially critical was the situation for the Waldhaus Klinik at the northern boundary of the village, which had to endure helplessly the stress and emissions of the training activities. Once, it was even intended to construct a tank road immediately along the perimeter of the hospital. Luckily, this was stopped in the beginning as the quarrels between military, community politicians and residents became too harsh in early 1984. Also, there were old-age residences in the neighbourhood.
Permanent military activities and soldiers that did not know their way around sometimes even resulted in GIs moving with their “tracks” outside of the boundaries of the training area. At least when they were running into some playing kids, the crews realized that they were in the wrong area. When tanks were passing the schoolrooms in Deuringen for never ending hours, reasonable teaching became impossible. Time and again GIs gave chocolate, chewing gum or peanut butter as a kind of ‘compensation’ to the kids. When it became known the 1960s that the training area was to be extended by another 100 ha (= 247 acres), the resistance of the residents began to increase. The sense of the training area “so close at the perimeter of a city” and its nearby recreation area became a permanent topic.
These permanent difficulties resulted in the foundation of the “Aktionsgemeinschaft Westliche Wälder Augsburg e.V.“ which made a big noise for the interests of environmental conservation, recreation value and quality of life of the area’s residents. After a number of acts of resistance and noisy meetings of citizens, 24th Infantry Division’s Brigadier General George H. Young, known as “Rambo-General”, reacted contrary by even increasing the hardships for the Germans! Later, he apologized und made a clear statement to ensure strict training discipline. In March 1970, Young was withdrawn due to multiple other exceeding of his competences in Augsburg. As a result of the 1972 Gebietsreform (region reform), Deuringen (as well as Leitershofen) was incorporated into Stadtbergen.
Trucks, warning signs and fox-hole in Deuringen’s forest
Nevertheless - in order to ensure permanent readiness - tank motors were often roaring around the clock in the “Kessel”. In August 1968, invading Soviet troops had violently ended the Prague Spring in the CSSR. The intended enlargement of the training area lead to statements of the Aktionsgemeinschaft that the “hectic advances for an enlargement” came from the Bundesvermögensamt (Federal Real Property Agency, the owner of the training area being the FRG) only, while the Americans actually wondered about that. In an article in the Augsburger Allgemeine of August 09, 1969 one could read about “a request of the U.S. Forces” that was only speaking of increasing training requirements. That meant the intended use of so far sparsely utilized reserved parts of the training area. These requirements were based on the early 1968 restructuring of the U.S. Forces in West Germany.
Scenes of everyday life around Deuringen
Observation tower at the Sub-Cal Firing Range. Right: Access road to the training area.
In spite of everything, a change of military conduct became evident with the opening of the Field Station at Gablingen in the mid 1970s, although the last tank unit (3rd/63rd Armour) left Augsburg for good only in 1983. The unit was replaced with several artillery battalions with self-propulsion howitzers that could only drive around in the “Panzerkessel”, because their guns were just ranging too far. These as well as the M60 Patton Main Battle Tanks, were entrained for combat training in Franken/Oberpfalz. Via railroad, they were moved from Oberer Schleisweg (entraining point at Augsburg’s district Bärenkeller) to the vast training areas at Grafenwöhr and Hohenfels.
Due to the construction of the new Bundesstraße B 17, the Panzerstraße as the direct connection between Sheridan Kaserne and the training area was severed. Therefore a underpass near Fryar Circle Housing Area was necessary to enable tanks and other vehicles to reach the western forests unrestrained. This also protected the civilian traffic on B 17 against poorly visible military vehicles and soiled roads. The name Panzerstraße is still the official German designation of that road. Because of the dust problem, U.S. pioneer units put - in stages - an A.C. surface course on the dirt road from the kaserne to the training area. At the end of the access road was a pond that would provide water in case of a fire.
The Panzerstraße, beginning at Sheridan Kaserne - ending at Deuringen forest
With a changing attitude of military authorities, the U.S. began to act more sensible, so that the residents had to endure (at least a little) less noise during later REFORGER exercises. The Area Control Center (ACC), at that time also called Commander’s Hill or Signal Hill, on the summit of Deuringen, was a sometime exercise strongpoint and flight control War HQ, equipped with big generators. These also provided the energy to heat the camp in winter so that the computers would function. Noise and exhaust fumes of these generators stopped after an underground supply cable for a fenced in power facility had been installed by the Army. A sometimes additionally required generator was sound dampened by straw bales and truck trailers. The residents of Deuringen accepted this with respect and gratitude... As the training activities later took place on a headquarters level only, the citizens suddenly saw a remarkable number of female soldiers.
Power Facility on the Deuringen summit.
The diversity of the Panzerkessel did not stop then. Per drawings dated January 1960, a Mini Tank Range for tanks with a sub-caliber barrel was constructed on the height of the cleared area. In 1983, opposite this range, several hardstands for a howitzer Sub Caliber Range (12.7 mm) were built. The safety area was determined via more than 900 m distance at a 40o angle.
At the same time, an Obstacle Course was constructed, and The Mini Tank Range was altered into a Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) for the new NCO Academy at Sheridan Kaserne in order to train skill and teamwork capabilities of the future NCOs.
A definitely civilian area was the German Freizeitpark (recreation park) with numerous playground equipment for kids and adults, including Germany’s alleged longest chute, in a 30.000 m2 area at the boundaries of the training area. The recreation park in the neighbourhood of the “Ziegelstadel” inn was open for everybody, but is no longer there for a long time.
For the boys from Deuringen, Diedorf and Leitershofen loitering about the camps and mock battle zones, especially around the field kitchens, after school was fun and pastime from the very beginning. So, at a very early stage, transatlantic relations started on a pretty easy level, often to the awe of the boys’ parents. In contrary to those in the city, these kids learned to know the Americans purely on their working level. Smart walking-out dresses or big shining limousines were not to be seen in Deuringen.
The Mini Tank Range on the western perimeter of the Panzerkessel
Road to range with hard durable surface..
Training soldiers on the Obstacle Course. (Photo: Kevin Schultz)
Embarrassing concomitant problems
A special topic was the dump yards of Augsburg’s U.S. facilities along the access road, at the so-called “Schlaugraben”, a roadway ditch. Already in the 1950s, several sanitary landfills were made and filled with all kinds of garbage. At that time, dump yard management or care was non-existing. This applied to the Germans as well. For decades, the garbage of Augsburg was dumped in and on a gravel pit lake north of the Autobahn, now called the “Dump Mountain”. Today’s definition of “Sondermüll” (toxic or otherwise dangerous garbage) was then strange.
This finally was a reason for concern, as the water supply area of Leitershofen was only some hundred meters away. Since then, about a dozen exploratory borings show the present problems caused by the garbage dumping procedures in the past. This subject caused also political turmoil and blockade thinking of the involved authorities.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Army ordered soil and ground water pollution tests by local German Architect/Engineer. After the dump yards - all time favourite playgrounds of the boys of the vicinity - had been filled up, the garbage was transported to a gravel pit at Gablingen Kaserne (later also A/E tested). Any opening of Deuringen’s dump yards might cause incalculable risks for the environment. Besides, nature is devouring more and more of the barely visible remnants.
Hidden witnesses of a bygone era: scrap-metal and slag heaps.
After Base Closure
No more “tracks”, gunfire, motor noise and clouds of exhaust fumes after the closure of the training area***) – Deuringen realized again the true value of its idyllic residential area after the closure of the Training Area – with a grain of salt. The waste, desiccated, track-compressed sandy soil with the numerous mire and swamp holes had become an ideal habitat for rare flora and fauna species. Amphibious animals, batrachians, and flying insects adapted to the biology of the landscape. Specialists registered e.g. 30 different types of dragonflies alone.
After the American activities had come to an end, nature started a new life of its own. The cleared areas desiccated and bushes started to grow, the vegetation changed and with it the species of small animals that were living there. Clearing by fire, sheep pasturing and technical alterations of damp areas were tried to support the environment. It was even considered to compress the cleared areas - with tracked scoop loaders, closing a strange circle. Fact is that the area can now be fully utilized by the Naturpark Westliche Wälder Augsburg as a nearby recreation area - surprises not excluded. Citizens of Deuringen and the Bund Naturschutz in Bayern e.V. are working on the project ”Deuringer Heide“ (heath), in order to protect the environment also in the future. However, so far it was not possible to reach a long-range agreement with the FRG, the owner of the real property. After base closure, the entering of the area without a permit of the FRG real property agency was officially prohibited - a standing operation procedure. The reasons were, basically, liability and formal protection against vandalism.
In the center: Deuringen!
Nature is taking back the deserted tank heath. (Photo: Bund Naturschutz in Bayern).
And something else happened in 1986: In the far east corner of Deuringen Training Area, the U.S. got a 9-hole Golf Course at the perimeter of Stadtbergen. For years, the Golfclub Leitershofen was an example of the intensive sportive life of Americans and Germans on the “Bavarian Hills”. The relocation was required because of the construction of the new Bundesstraße B 17, passing between Sheridan Kaserne and Fryar Circle, both on the boundary of the existing U.S. Golf Course at Leitershofen. But that’s another story.
*) 337 ha (= 823.4 acres) per AWWA; other sources state 430 ha (= 1.062 acres) up to projected 750 ha (= 1.852.5 acres)(1 ha = 10.000 m2 resp. 2.47 acres).
**) SACEUR December 18, 1950 - May 30, 1952. 34th U.S. President 1953 - 1961
***) Official closure of the training area: August 1998.
Resident local national contemporaries,
Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung,
Aktionsgemeinschaft Westliche Wälder Augsburg e.V. (AWWA), and others.
Translation: H. Strüber 05.07.2012