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 in Emden."
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," he says.
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 these things.
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 'Blaue Fahrt'.

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: Germany

Click on thumbnail to enlarge
Photos: Sgt. Lars Elstermann

A 'Fuchs' ATV and a 'Luchs' ARV being prepared for the voyage.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Preparations completed.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Guarding the material: on patrol in the port of Ploce.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

German Military Policemen were also on the site.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

All done! The lower deck is fully loaded.


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

Everything in order? Off to the ship you go!


Click on thumbnail to enlarge

The Harbour Transhipment Company from Regensburg.