104 Tank Battalion, headquartered in the town of Pfreimd in southern Germany, has taken over the role of lead unit for the 8th rotation of Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) and, in this capacity, will support the mission from August 2020 to February 2021. The new assignment came with a logistical challenge: not only military personnel, but also tanks and other items of heavy military equipment had to be moved from the battalion’s headquarters to Lithuania.
A well-organized team: tank drivers and ground guides
Not only the transport of various wheeled vehicles, but – most importantly –the shipment of the first 16 tracked vehicles had to be planned and organized. This demanding enterprise required many helping hands working together in a team. The heavy cargo consisted of 14 Leopard 2 A6 main battle banks, one Marder infantry fighting vehicle and one Büffel armoured recovery vehicle. While responsibility for planning was with the Bundeswehr Logistics Command, the required transportation capacity was requested from Deutsche Bahn.
Moving 60 tons of steel requires precision
Lined up and ready to go
During the first leg of the journey, the tanks travelled in column formation on the motorway from Pfreimd to the Nabburg railhead. Upon arrival, they were loaded onto railcars, tied down and sent off to Lithuania. It took the train five days to travel the 1,400 kilometres to the Lithuanian town of Rukla. The relatively low speed of travel was due to the special nature of the freight. One has to keep in mind that main battle tanks are wider than average vehicles. Their tracks protrude slightly more than 14 centimetres on either side of the railcars. Loading the tanks onto the railcars, therefore, required particular care and precision.
Near its destination, one more challenge awaited the train – a break of rail gauge. The Baltic states use broad gauge with a width of 1,520 millimetres, while standard European gauge has a width of 1,435 millimetres. At the border between Poland and Lithuania, the vehicles, therefore, had to be loaded onto another train.
Arrival in Rukla
The tanks are nearing their destination in Rukla
After five days, the train arrived on schedule at the Gaižiūnai railhead near Rukla. There, Captain Markus W., the transportation officer in charge, took over the train and oversaw the safe transfer of the cargo to its final destination. “With tanks of this size, the unloading team needs to work with the same precision as the loading team back in Germany,” the captain pointed out. The tank drivers worked closely with the ground guides in order to move the vehicles off the railcars.
Though a large and heavy vehicle with a weight of approximately 60 tons, the Leopard 2 can move with astounding precision. After unloading, the tanks were lined up on the road next to the train station, and Captain Markus W. made final arrangements with the German and the Lithuanian military police that provided convoy security. The column then set off for the maintenance area where the vehicles now await upcoming operations. Once the vehicles were parked, Captain W. and his team could look back on a job well done. The captain said: “Logistics is a team effort requiring coordination and cooperation. Without logistics, the soldiers would not be able to carry out their mission.”
Story by Christian Kuhrt