Good evening, it’s 10 past 9 on BBC 1, we now go to the award winning journalist Janice Fletcher for her exclusive interview with an ex-Bundeswehr grenadier on his experience witnessing the full might of the Soviet army in Amsterdam.
Fletcher: Good evening, I’m Janice Fletcher and tonight we continue our look into World War III with today’s interview on the tragic defeat of NATO forces in Amsterdam. We’re joined by an ex-Bundeswehr grenadier who witnessed first-hand the fighting in Amsterdam against the Warsaw Pact. We understand that our guest wishes to remain anonymous under the alias Hansel, however he is willing to say that he has over 10 years of experience in the German Heer. Hansel is here with us today to talk about the defeat of West German scouts at the hands of the Soviets 5 years ago. Hansel, thank you for joining us.
[A hoarse, gentlemanly German voice begins to speak, it’s tone deepened and warped through sound editing]
Fletcher: So Hansel, obviously we’re talking about that final fight for your battalion on the outskirts of Amstelveen, where your task force was set to scout out enemy occupation North of the front line. Could you set the scene for us please?
Hansel: Yes ma’am, if I recall correctly it was the middle of the afternoon, the sun was high, and I remember it being unbearably humid in my transport. My squad and I were in tow of a reconnaissance panzerkompanie of Leopard 1s, heading North to gather intel on Soviet coverage to the South of Amsterdam. We wished to see how far we could push our main force in a later attack before we started to encounter resistance.
Hansel: We had just come up to a small intersection in the road, then I hear shouting from our captain above the hatch, and my driver hits the gas pedal hard. Apparently, enemy scout units were spotted dead ahead from our position, waiting in the cropfields, as if they knew we were coming. By the time we had seen them it was too late to retreat, they were too close, and we had to fight.
Hansel: Well, I’ve seen some combat before so you kind of drown out the fear after some time and your training kicks in. The fear did kick in again when I peered out of the back hatch during our dismount. I seen one of our Leopard units flank the West side, around this little hill with the missile tracks we had. They moved to shoot some East German anti-tank missiles on the road and… well they must’ve been experiencing tunnel vision because they couldn’t see the T-55s – tanks – on the hill behind them. The volley of fire was deafening and, to my shock, all four of our tanks were vaporised in an instant. That’s when it hit me that this was all real.
Fletcher: And under this pressure you were to just press on and follow orders? What were your orders?
Hansel: We decided that taking the intersection would help fortify our push. There was a tall country house there overlooking the hills, you could see behind the heavy bush that they were using to conceal themselves from there. Our transports and accompanying tank unit gets bogged down in the trees, so the captain pushes us out of our Marder transports under enemy fire, their AA assets were not pointed to the sky but at us as we filed into the building. One of our anti-tank guys got hit outside, and we couldn’t get to him. We had to leave him in the grass, bleeding. It was awful.
Hansel: We had to fight, we had to hold off until they give us enough room to leave in our transports, or damage their numbers enough that they leave instead. Our tanks fired from the woods onto another T-55 platoon coming down the road at us, our Jaguar missiles kept firing upon the tanks on the hill too, it was enough to halt them, but we couldn’t get our heads up from the Shilka’s machine-gun fire to get a good look at the situation. We noticed a dim red glow from our North-facing windows, the fields had caught fire as one of their forward scouts went up in flames. Our own scouts had moved up with us with supporting fire, but they obviously couldn’t see the enemy very well through the foliage, as we could. Eventually they too were cut down by the tanks on the hill.
Hansel: Well, our morale was broken when we seen, from the rear house windows, our second tank company were bailing their tanks and running for the trees. We could tell by the dwindling gunfire that, besides the scouts in the field, it was just my squad and the Russians. I didn’t have to guess their emotions; a mix of panic, fury and sorrow. We knew we weren’t getting out of this unscathed, or at least, at the time we did. The staff and I were wracking our brains for a way out of this mess, the bullets pinging off the walls was a minor distraction.
Fletcher: Ah, I think this is the part of the story our audience might like to hear most. Did you give in? What did you do?
Hansel: Surrender did not cross my mind, I think being in that state of emotion, locked down in that building like that changes your actions. We seen one of their tanks moving down the road, alone. That panzer commander was either very brave or very stupid, perhaps he forgot that we were here or maybe he wasn’t aware in the first place. I remember looking at my captain’s face… I’m not sure if it was determination or insanity in his eyes but I remember exactly what he said next. He whispered to us – in German, of course – “Boys, we’re stealing this tank and we’re leaving.”
Hansel: I was just thinking to myself, “What madness is this?!”, you know? Then you look again and you realise that this panzer didn’t have any support, and it was out of sight from everything. So we do it, this mad hustle downstairs and we jump out the windows, not firing a single bullet. We cross the street and climb right onto the tank! “Get out the tank, or we’ll put a rocket through your hull!”, our 2iC starts shouting and banging on the hatches. It felt like minutes, but there was silence as the tank stopped moving, they definitely heard us. Then, after a while, we hear them muffling “We surrender, we surrender!”, it was the most surreal moment I’d had in the war; capturing an occupied tank, in the open, mid battle, just to drive it back into our own lines! It was just unbelievable.