Under fire

Under fire

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As specialised scouts, long-range reconnaissance forces operate far behind enemy lines. Remaining unobserved is essential for their survival. If they are forced to fight, however, they bring the noise.

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

    Enemy contact: Long-range reconnaissance forces under fire

    The right fist is suddenly thrust into the air. “Halt!” Hauptfeldwebel Sven Ludwig carefully pushes aside a branch. The team leader’s expression is tense as he peers intently through the tall trees. Then he gives the signal to continue. The patrol follows him in line. Six big men with headsets, carrying their weapons and immense backpacks. All of them are long-range reconnaissance soldiers of 260 Airborne Reconnaissance Company out of Lebach.

  • Several soldiers move in single file through the forest with their equipment.

    One step from hell

    Slowly and quietly, the soldiers work their way forward, communicating with hand signals. Occasionally a twig snaps quietly, tension is in the air. Not far away, the outlines of a log cabin emerge from the mist. Again, the leader signals a halt. Suddenly, an abrupt movement behind a tree catches the men’s attention. Barely 30 metres away, a soldier’s silhouette, weapon at the ready. Then all hell breaks loose.

    A split-second later, the pop-up target falls to Ludwig’s rapid semiautomatic fire. “Contact, front,” the team leader roars and within seconds, the long-range scouts have deployed from their march formation into two separate elements. Three soldiers each provide security and covering fire for each other. The rapid semiautomatic fire of the assault rifles is hellishly loud. The bangs of practice grenades from the 40-millimetre under-barrel grenade launcher add to the cacophony. Red smoke indicates a hit. The impression is overwhelming.

  • A soldier fires a weapon into the forest.

    Well-practiced movement sequences

    Captain Frank Lebus, meanwhile, remains unmoved as he chews his gum. He is the leader of the Lebach long-range reconnaissance platoon and follows his soldiers’ every move. His white armbands indicate that he is the officer in charge of this exercise. Today's subject: disengaging. Today, in Upper Lusatia, his soldiers show how it is done.

    Bound by bound, they move away from the enemy. One element fires, the other bounds. Then they switch. The long-range reconnaissance soldiers make rapid progress. Where possible, they maintain visual contact. The shooting is pure drill. “At some point, that becomes completely automatic,” Lebus shouts over the din of battle. In a short space of time, the long-range reconnaissance forces empty magazine after magazine. Lebus closely observes their movements and the interaction within the team. Caution is in order, as this is a live-fire exercise. “The task is to escape the enemy’s fire while taking full advantage of the terrain,” the captain says. Later on, an evaluation will take place.

  • A soldier fires his weapon in the forest

    The team is on its own

    The soldiers cease fire along the line. Ludwig is still a little out of breath. The instructor has already given him a thumbs up. So it went well. “As long-range reconnaissance forces, we don’t want to be seen,” the experienced senior non-commissioned officer says. “But if we run into enemy forces, we have no way of knowing how strong they are. That is why we have to disengage as quickly as possible.” The scouts can rarely count on friendly support this far behind enemy lines. Hence the sustained fusillade. It is meant to conceal from the enemy how small the team really is.

  • A soldier crouches in a clearing, holding his weapon in the collapsed low ready position.

    Intimidating the enemy

    The principle is called relative fire superiority – basically an intimidation tactic. The calculation is as follows: Massed fire makes the enemy keep their heads down initially. That provides an opportunity for the long-range reconnaissance forces to disengage. By bounds and providing mutual cover, as already described. “We have to put distance between us and the enemy as quickly as possible.” The enemy will soon have determined a search radius, by which point the long-range reconnaissance forces must already have moved beyond that radius. “We then have a chance to survive and avoid being captured.”

    Captain Lebus proceeds to give a few pointers to his troops. Overall, he is satisfied. But he points out one more thing: “As long-range reconnaissance forces, we move under cover of darkness as much as possible. Exercising during the day is only for practice. The true challenge is to master the withdrawal drill in the dark.” A few hours later, the soldiers from Lebach will be back on the line again – this time with their night-vision devices.