One Hell of a Haul
Capt. Sylvester Mackensen
First published in
SFOR Informer#160, April 3, 2003
The sun shone brightly over the mountains in the Neretva
delta. German Army personnel are waiting at the quay in the
port of Ploce on the Adriatic coast, enjoying the fine weather.
Behind them stands the array of vehicles and containers they
have moved over 200 kilometres southwards from the snow-covered
camps of Filipovici and Rajlovac to the Croatian coast. A
long-haul operation known in German as the 'Blaue Fahrt' (Blue
Journey) is in progress. It deals with the largest exchange
of equipment ever carried out for German contingents in the
Balkans. Materiel and vehicles are being shipped back to Germany
to ensure readiness.
Ploce - The term 'Blaue Fahrt' appeared in a variety of orders
since late last year. Every unit that is required to give
something in has checked that the items in question are all
there and the gear is complete. A total of 300 tons of materiel,
transported in 20 containers and on 27 vehicles - from a trailer
to a 'Luchs' armoured scout car -, are ready to be shipped
back to Germany. The commander of the German Contingent SFOR,
Col. Klaus Gerlach, is waiting on the quay with the G 4 of
the German-Italian Battle Group (GE-IT BG), German Lt. Col.
Bernhard Rabe, waiting for the ship to arrive.
German, but also multinational
"During the entire preparation phase, we were bang on
schedule," the G 4 reports. The new 'Movement and Transport'
cell provided substantial support in implementing the plan.
The container transport operation is the result of multinational
teamwork. Rabe is full of praise for those involved: "The
Italian and French forces assisted us in moving the materiel
to Ploce on time by providing special equipment."
Staff Sgt. Thomas Pix, commander of the Military Police detachment
in Ploce, made sure that the convoys were able to cross the
Croatian border near Metkovic without any trouble. He and
his four men contacted the border authority and arranged for
the convoys from 'Fili' (Filipovici) and 'Rajlo' (Rajlovac)
to be appropriately escorted. "Our main job is to regulate
the traffic and ensure security at the harbour," says
Pix. But that was not all. The entire week, a guard team had
the task of protecting the materiel against theft. Four men
from the Service Company and two from the Electronic Warfare
Company kept guard of the vehicles and containers in eight-hour
stints. The leader of the team, Sgt. Lelle, and his boys set
up a guardroom in a Corimec shelter.
On the quay
Pvts. 1st Class Falk Bräuning and Volker Kiefer are on
patrol duty on the quay: "We are responsible for security
here, and the harbour area is different." The two soldiers
from the Electronic Warfare Company will themselves take the
ship to Germany when all the equipment will be loaded.
At last, at 08:30 a.m., the huge grey hull of the 'Sloman
Provider' slips alongside the quay wall. Capt. (Merchant Navy)
Gert Schäfer is in command on this German Roll-on/Roll-off
from the shipping company 'Sloman Neptun' in Bremen. While
the gear is being taken on board, he recounts: "I once
had something to do with the Bundeswehr. I served from 1972
to 1976 with Amphibious Transport Battalion and was stationed
The former Petty Officer 2nd Class became a Captain 18 years
ago. He has since being going to sea for over 35 years. While
the loading operation is in full swing on the quay, he talks
a bit about his ship. "When the Bundeswehr charters a
ship, there are one or two special provisions that have to
be taken into account. One, for example, that we can only
have German seamen on board. Another is that the loading ramp
on the ship has to have a greater load-bearing strength than
those on other Ro/Ro ships so that it can take heavy armoured
vehicles," Schäfer added.
Experts in support
At the moment, preparations are being made near the loading
ramp: prophylactic measures are to be carried out against
epizootic diseases. Tarpaulins are being spread out and the
sprays are being filled with 2% formic acid. The vehicles
have undergone a preliminary wash-down at the camps. But to
make sure, Sgt. Maik Altus and his four men from the ABC Defence
Team of the Engineer Company have set up a disinfection point
at the harbour. They will have completed all the disinfection
measures by next Thursday. The senior veterinary officer in
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Major (Medical Corps) Dr. Zoltan Bajtay.
"It is easy to do this at the port of Ploce. The tyres
and wheel housings merely have to be sprayed down once again
just short of the loading ramp in order to rule out any risk,"
Experts support the loading operation. Thirty-five soldiers
from the Harbour Handling Company (5 Coy / Mountain Supply
Battalion 82 from Regensburg) travelled from Greece, where
they exchanged equipment for KFOR. Capt. Volker Reulein, chief
harbour transhipment Company from Regensburg, speaks about
his troops. "This is routine for the soldiers, as each
one of them has already logged a large number of days on duty
abroad doing precisely this kind of job." So, after an
hour, the vehicles have disappeared onto the lower deck of
the 'Sloman Provider'.
A commander on board stands out in his blue gear: the 'Super
Cargo'. Norbert Seipel is the so-called loading attendant
and responsible for monitoring and checking the load on board.
This includes, for example, tightening the rigging during
the crossing. When materiel is taken on board, he settles
matters between the ship's captain and the handling section.
Forty kilograms of nails
Once the huge loading ramp at the stern of the ship has been
closed, the containers are loaded. Staff Sgt. Dominik Wilke
was responsible for packing 12 containers at Camp Rajlovac:
"We used a total of 40 kg of nails, 500 brackets, and
nearly two kilometres of squared timber and have fitted half
a kilometre of boards and wrecked a hammer." Not only
are the seaworthy 20-foot containers packed neatly, but there
are also no complaints about the ammunition. Specialists verified
Master Sgt. Detlef Oetken and Senior Chief Petty Officer Joachim
Auth, from the Bundeswehr Logistics Centre, were among them.
They established contact with the port agency and the stowing
companies and checked the documentation.
It is a few minutes before midday - the job is done. Unfortunately,
the soldiers from the camps, so accustomed to the cold and
snow, can only enjoy the fine weather for a short while. For
duty calls and it is soon time for them to make their way
back to Bosnia and Herzegovina winding up another successful
Nations of SFOR: Germany