In the concealed observation post

In the concealed observation post

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Long-range reconnaissance forces are masters of camouflage. In order to observe their targets in the hinterland of an adversary while remaining undetected themselves, they build elaborate tactical observation posts in which they stay for days.

  • Ein Soldat mit Hut und Mundschutz schaut aus einem von Zweigen und Heidekraut verdeckten Eingang zu einer Erdhöhle.

    Well-camouflaged: Long-range reconnaissance forces in their concealed observation post

    “Try to find them,” says Hauptfeldwebel (OR-7) Erik Mayer and points to a hilltop in the Oberlausitz training area. A week ago, he and four long-range reconnaissance candidates built an underground observation post somewhere in this area. But to the untrained eye, nothing gives away the location. No tracks in the sand, no dead twigs, nothing. Mayer grins, pleased. Then he pokes the sand with his foot by a fallen birch tree. Dark-coloured hessian matting emerges and an entrance suddenly becomes visible between clumps of heather.

  • A camouflaged soldier lifts up a makeshift trapdoor between shrubs and bushes.

    Blending into the environment

    The long-range reconnaissance soldiers have used hessian matting, sticks and chicken wire to build a sort of lid. Its top is skilfully camouflaged with heather so that it completely blends in with the environment. “That is the entrance, the hatch,” says Mayer. He pulls it up and disappears underground.

    The space below is surprisingly roomy, probably about seven square metres. L-shaped, with an average height of around one metre, with the viewing port – the observation opening – aligned toward the reconnaissance target. Not a palace, but tolerable. “It always makes me think of my childhood,” Mayer says. “A bit like building hideouts when I was a kid.”

  • A soldiers sits in a well-concealed position underground.

    Hours of digging

    This is not a matter of draping your grandma’s throw blanket over the kitchen table. A lot of sweat went into building this hideout. “First we dug out the basic shape and lined the pit with trunks and branches where we needed to,” Mayer says. That is why long-range reconnaissance teams also carry pickaxes and shovels along with their folding spades. Sandbags filled on site are used to support a roof constructed out of stout logs and tarp. “Everything has to be waterproof,” Mayer explains. As a finishing touch, sand is heaped onto the roof and planted with heather. Bits of deadwood are scattered seemingly at random to make the deception complete.

    The devil is in the detail. “We cut the wood for the interior furnishings a couple of hundred metres away.” Around twenty small trees, Mayer estimates. “Rotten wood is out of the question. It can't support such a structure.” Additionally, a few tonnes of excavated material have to be hauled away so as not to give away the position. The sand is then camouflaged with pine needles and other natural materials. Nothing should betray the presence of the long-range reconnaissance soldiers, who stay in their observation post for days.

  • A soldier sits in an underground position, his camera pointed outward. Daylight shines into the position.

    Arbeit im Schichtsystem

    “We built this structure by the book,” Mayer says. “It took us 24 hours, easy. But in a real operation, it would take even longer.” That is because on operations, long-range reconnaissance forces move only at night. They would thus also have to build their observation post under cover of darkness, using their night-vision devices.

    A camouflaged soldier sits below ground in a small cave holding a tablet computer.

    Co-living underground: Seven square metres must be enough for three long-range reconnaissance soldiers.

    Bundeswehr/Christian Vierfuß

    The next challenge is spending time underground. The observation post may be comparatively roomy, but with three long-range reconnaissance soldiers and their equipment, it does get cramped. They work in shifts. ”One man sleeps and two observe.” There is no toilet. The soldiers relieve themselves into bottles and bags that they have brought along. “It certainly isn't for everyone, but there is no other way,” Mayer says. After completing the observation mission, the long-range reconnaissance forces cover their tracks as well as possible before they depart. Ideally, they will leave nothing behind to indicate that they were ever there.

  • A soldier with equipment raises a fist above his head.

    Under fire

    As specialised scouts, long-range reconnaissance forces operate far behind enemy lines. Remaining unobserved is essential for their survival.