On a clear but cold Sunday, March 22nd 2015, outside the German town of Ludwigslust, 50 some people gathered to remember the lives and sacrifices of LTC Arthur Nicholson and Adjutant Chef Philippe Mariotti. On the 30th anniversary of the shooting death of then MAJ Arthur Nicholson, former members of the USMLM, FMLM, and BRIXMIS gathered with friends from the US, UK, Germany, and other European countries to remember Nick and ADC Mariotti at the monument placed near the site of the shooting on March 24th 1985. (Since 2014, the US has included ADC Mariotti, who was killed in 1984, in its ceremony at Ludwigslust.)
Former USMLM members able to attend were: MG (USMC ret) Michael Ennis, BG (USA ret) Kevin Ryan, COL (USMC ret) Lawrence Kelley, COL (USAF ret) Edward Gallagher and his wife Julie, and SFC (USA ret) Thomas Favia.
From BRIXMIS attended: Major General (ret) Peter Williams and his wife Annie, MAJ (ret) Nigel Wylde and his wife Monika, Andrew Pennington, MAJ (ret) Nigel Dunkley, and COL (ret) Robin Greenham, Michael Barton, William Knight-Hughes.
The French contingent was large, with a total of 17 attendees, and led by BG (ret) jean-Paul Staub and his wife Valerie and BG (ret) Jean-Paul Huet and his wife Annie. Commander Nicolas Molitor, the representative of the French Military Defense Attache’ along with three Military Officer Cadets were also present for the ceremony.
The ceremony would not have happened without the vision of Tom Favia and his willingness to personally ensure the necessary coordination. He was greatly aided by the help of LTC Helge Stahn, Hauptfeldwebel (SFC) Rene Niemann and their German Reservist comrades of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the Reservist Camaraderie Ottweiler of Saarland, COL (ret) Larry Kelley, Hartmutt Hausser of Bugles across America, Allied Museum Staff (Berlin), Cold War Museum Staff, and lastly the local German authorities from Ludwigslust. The monument was dedicated in 2005 by Dr Helmut Trotnow (then director of the Berlin Allied Museum). Dr. Trotnow and his wife also attended.
During the ceremony short remarks (attached below) were delivered by BG Kevin Ryan, head of the USMLM Association, COL (ret) Lawrence Kelley, who served with Nick, BG Jean-Paul Staub, head of the FMLM Association, and MG Peter Williams, Chairman of the BRIXMIS Association. SFC Thomas Favia and Hauptfeldwebel, (SFC) Rene Niemann each stood guard next to the monument as speakers recalled the service and sacrifice of LTC Nicholson and ADC Mariotti. After remarks, the wreaths provided by the Allied Missions, the local German Reservists, Ludwigslust City officials and the French Foreign Legion Reservists were placed and Mr Hartmut Hausser, from Bugles across America, performed Taps and the French “Aux Morts.”
Following the official ceremony, former mission members and attendees who were able, walked from the monument a few hundred meters to the actual site of the shooting. At the site, now a grassy plot with fir trees dotted about and no sign of the tank sheds that once were so important, the gathered attendees bowed their heads and shared a moment of silence for Nick.
The entire ceremony took about an hour and was followed by a reception held by the Ludwigslust deputy mayor, Mr Rades, and the Ludwigslust Rathaus.
Remarks by BG Kevin Ryan (US Army retired)
President USMLM Association
Thank you Deputy Mayor Mr Rades, Member of Parliament, CPT-LT Maika Freeman-Jennert, General Ennis, General Staub, General Williams, General Huet, A special thanks to SFC Thomas Favia, COL Lawrence Kelley, LTC Helge Stahn and Hauptfeldwebel, (SFC) Rene Niemann, and many others for making this ceremony happen.
70 years ago next month, US and Soviet forces linked up on the Elbe River in the waning days of WWII. Not far from here at the city of Torgau a US patrol signalled the Russians on the other side of the river that they wanted to make contact. The Russians were not certain who the soldiers were so they fired at them. Thankfully, no one was hit and the two sides made their historic link up. But for the next 40 plus years it was sometimes the shooting at Torgau and not the hugging that more closely reflected the relationship with Russia in the Cold War. The existence of the Allied Military Liaison Missions was vital to keeping the Cold War cold and preventing individual deaths and incidents from escalating into a major war. That was the duty of MAJ Arthur Nicholson, ADC Philippe Mariotti, and all the men and women of the allied missions.
Today, there are still troubles in Europe, that is true. But I suggest that things are better than during the Cold War because of the brave sacrifices made by Arthur Nicholson and Philippe Mariotti; because of the sacrifices and choices made by the German people; because of the work of many soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, diplomats, political and religious leaders, and common citizens. God Bless Arthur Nicholson, Philippe Mariotti, their families and God bless all of you who contribute every day to making the world a better place. You are making a difference.
Remarks of Colonel Lawrence G. Kelley USMC (Ret.)
Naval Representative, USMLM 1983-86
Ludwigslust (Techentin), 22.03.2015
Thirty years have passed since the shooting in Ludwigslust. When we reflect on that event and ask where the blame for its lethal outcome lies, the answer is clear: With the Soviets. GSFG’s use of force against members of the Missions was routine, if infrequent, and that command tacitly encouraged it. Its personnel fired shots at us multiple times per year. They chased us, rammed us, and occasionally even beat us.
No shots would have rung out in Techentin, and no one would have suffered injury, if even one of several conditions had been met:
1. First, if CINC GSFG had banned the use of force by his personnel against the Missions and enforced that ban. But he did not. Unlike the British, French, and US commands in Germany, GSFG categorically refused to issue such a prohibition.
2. Second, if the Tour crew had spotted the sentry. In this case, it would not have covered the target as it did. This range had a history of violent reaction (even against local joggers on adjacent trails), other reconnaissance options existed, and neither Tour member was suicidal.
3. Third, if the sentry had simply obeyed his own guard regulations, which required him to challenge unidentified persons who approached his post, no violence would have occurred. But Junior Sergeant Alexander Rjabtsev blatantly violated those regulations. Although he had detected the Tour during its ingress and identified it to his superiors as a Mission vehicle, he remained concealed and issued no challenge. Instead, he made his way to a position behind the vehicle and, without warning, opened fire to kill. After the event, he recognized that he had acted improperly: During his debriefing by GSFG officers, he persistently asked one question: How would he be punished? Yet, despite the magnitude of the personal and international harm that he had caused, GSFG did not punish him. Rather, it rewarded him for his actions! Rjabtsev received an early demobilization and a ticket home. (By the way, we have since learned that GSFG, in an effort to protect its generals, falsified its official reporting to Moscow on the shooting. The cover-up came to light only much later.)
Nothing good emerged from the shooting or its aftermath. Unlike some tragic events, this one had no “silver lining,” and the clear, if obvious, lesson that it offered was the need to avoid such incidents. USMLM lost an experienced Tour Officer, and the Nicholsons – a husband and father. The shooting prompted a crisis in US-Soviet affairs, Gorbachev’s first after coming to power in Moscow. The US chain of command imposed restrictions on USMLM that significantly constrained its operations. Responding to official taskings and dealing with the Soviets on key issues sapped our resources for over a year. Decisions made at the highest levels of the Defense Department threatened to cripple USMLM’s viability and restricted Washington’s freedom of action with Moscow at a critical time. The measures to enhance the safety of Mission members that we assiduously developed in negotiations with HQ GSFG proved far less effective in practice than in theory. And in mid-1987 GSFG personnel shot yet another member of USMLM; fortunately, the sergeant suffered only a minor flesh wound.
When I personally reflect on this shooting, I do not think of Nick Nicholson alone, tragic though his death was. Rather I think of the dedication of generations of Allied Tour Officers and NCOs who for over 40 years consciously ran the same risks to obtain the intelligence needed “to keep the Cold War cold”. (By the way, the formulation stems from Dmitri Trenin, formerly a GSFG officer and now a recognized political observer in Moscow.) We all prided ourselves on our ability to cover targets effectively and discreetly. Yet, despite our best efforts, we could never be sure that our actions had gone undetected. The tragedy that befell Nick Nicholson and Philippe Mariotti could easily have represented our fate as well.
The fraternal bonds that shared challenges and dangers forged in the years of our Mission service remain strong today, as our joint presence and efforts here demonstrate. Together we salute our fallen comrades.
Remarks of Brigadier General Jean-Paul Staub, French Army (ret.)
Tour Officer, FMLM 1981-85
Ludwigslust (Techentin), 22/03/2015.
We are here to honour the memory of Major Nick Nicholson, USMLM, and Adjudant-Chef Philippe Mariotti, FMLM, who died tragically thirty and thirty-one years ago, nearly to the day. Beyond that chronological coincidence, is there anything in common between these two events, which caused the only deaths among members of the three Allied Missions during their history?
At first glance, the circumstances of both “incidents,” as one modestly terms them in political-military jargon, would seem to have nothing in common:
– Nick Nicholson was shot while outside his Tour vehicle by a remote Soviet sentry on the former GSFG range next to us. Philippe Mariotti, on the other hand, was killed while driving a Tour car that was deliberately rammed by an Ural-375 truck of the NVA driven by a Stasi member on an open road in the vicinity of Halle-Lettin.
– Nick Nicholson was a single victim, killed on the individual initiative of a Soviet sergeant who did not even follow his own guard regulations. By contrast, together with Philippe Mariotti, two other FMLM members were seriously injured during an operation carefully planned and scripted by the MfS – written orders are available – that considered the possible death of one or several Mission members to be a calculated and acceptable risk.
– Nick Nicholson was abandoned to lie, bleed, and die, while his sergeant was kept at a distance and prevented from providing the first aid that might conceivably have saved him. Philippe Mariotti was killed instantly, but despite some confusion East German rescue personnel ultimately intervened and evacuated the injured Tour Officer to a civilian hospital in Halle, which provided the medical care available within its rather limited means. (The Tour NCO, who was less severely injured, refused such assistance in order to safeguard the Tour vehicle.)
– Finally, it is worth mentioning that US authorities protested strongly, whereas French authorities took a lower profile and would surely have preferred to keep the event secret. The concurrent expulsion of an officer from the Soviet Mission in Baden-Baden was just a matter of chance, even if such rapid reaction may well have surprised the Soviets.
So, were both events totally independent, with no interconnecting links between them? Things are not quite that simple:
– First, these events need to be placed within the geopolitical context of the time, which was marked by the incipient disintegration of the Soviet Empire, the interregnum between Brezhnev and Gorbachev with its succession of elderly and weak leaders, and the Euromissile crisis. It was the last blip of the Cold War at a time when that conflict was somewhat less cold and the international climate clearly favoured such incidents with the “class enemy”.
– Further, GSFG, at its level, did not completely perceive the strategic dimension of the situation. To the contrary, General Zaitsev, the commander of the force, failed to understand that for Moscow, the inconvenience of the presence of the Allied Missions in the GDR was overwhelmingly counterbalanced by the presence of Soviet Missions in the FederalRepublic, and he appears to have made the fight against the Missions a personal matter. Additionally, the Missions represented a thorn in the side of the GDR Government and its “sword and shield”, the Stasi – one that called the country’s national sovereignty into question and provided an enemy to fight. As proof of that point, both Nick Nicholson’s murderer and Philippe Mariotti’s killers were rewarded – not punished, as they deserved.
– Finally, the context of the mid-1980s also led the Missions, perhaps involuntarily, to take additional risks. During the escalating Cold War, it was important to ensure that the Soviet Union had not – or, at least, not yet – deployed SS-20 missiles in the GDR and to determine where the T-80 tank would be introduced next. Techentin was a sensitive area, one frequently visited by the Missions. So was Halle, an important rail junction and the HQ of the Soviet 27th GMRD and the NVA’s 11th MRD. The Missions drove by those units’ installations regularly and with impunity, which clearly represented a source of frustration and irritation for the Soviets and the Stasi.
One thing remains certain: In the Soviet system, in which the GDR itself was a mere pawn, human life mattered little in the face of ideological or power issues. Nick Nicholson and Philippe Mariotti bore the consequences of that mindset. We are here to pay homage to them, in order that such crimes never happen again. But we also remain alert and keenly aware that, while the enemy may have changed his face and his shape, he still remains present and calls for our vigilance.
Comments on behalf of the President of the BRIXMIS ASSOCIATION
Major General, (Ret.) Peter Williams
‘Also present at today’s memorial event are a number of veterans from the British military liaison mission (MLM) (‘The British Commanders’-in-Chief Mission to the Soviet Forces in Germany’, known as BRIXMIS), led by the Chairman of the BRIXMIS Association, Major General (ret) Peter Williams.
For over forty years BRIXMIS military personnel served alongside their USMLM and FMLM comrades, conducting closely coordinated information gathering patrols (‘tours’) on the territory of the German Democratic Republic, as well as maintaining bilateral liaison with the Soviet military authorities in Potsdam and Zossen-Wünsdorf.
Although the members of BRIXMIS were fortunate not to suffer any operational fatalities, they shared the same risks as their comrades in the US and French MLMs and a handful of British operators were seriously injured in vehicle crashes and at the hands of armed Soviet and East German servicemen.
Today the BRIXMIS veterans are honoured to stand alongside their US and French MLM comrades, as well as their Bundeswehr colleagues, as the ultimate sacrifices made by Major Arthur Nicholson and Adjudant-Chef Philippe Mariotti are once again formally commemorated.’