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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 July, 2004, 02:22 GMT 03:22 UK
From occupiers and protectors to guests
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online, Germany

Nearly 60 years after they arrived 25,000 British troops are still based in Germany. But why are they still there 14 years after the end of the Cold War? BBC News Online visited Germany to find out.

A decade after they invaded the country - or liberated it - the British and American troops finally handed over sovereignty.

A Bundeswehr officer looks on
A German Army officer watches British troops beating the retreat in Hannover
But this was not Iraq - which has been given its sovereignty back less than a year after a similar invasion - but Germany.

In 1955 the Federal Republic of Germany was created and the Allies (who this time included the French) finally agreed to give power back to the locals.

They came originally as conquerors, putting an end to Adolf Hitler's Third Reich - which he had promised would last "a thousand years" - but they became occupiers and soon turned into protectors.

The British Army of the Rhine was renamed British Forces Germany (BFG) in 1994
Troop numbers have fallen from 150,000 in 1945 to 55,000 in 1957. Now there are around 25,500
RAF has left but there are 11 Lynx and Gazelle helicopters based at Gutersloh
British Forces Germany look after around 10,000 spouses and 20,000 children. About 600 babies a year are born
Three British military hospitals closed down in the early 1990s but there are 66 doctors, 48 dentists and 267 nurses working at military medical centres
Nearly 8,000 children attend 32 Service Children's Education Schools. Many others are sent to boarding schools in Britain
BFG is estimated to input 1.5 billion euros into the German economy
The end of World War II saw Germany divided into zones of occupation with the British in charge of the north - the heavily industrialised Ruhr valley, the North Sea coast and the key cities of Cologne, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Bremen, Kiel and Hannover.

They were known as the British Army of the Rhine until 1994 when they became British Forces Germany (BFG).

After Hitler's defeat the Soviet Union and its erstwhile allies, Britain, France and the US, became enemies and the Cold War took a frosty grip of Germany.

The Soviets helped set up a communist state - the German Democratic Republic (GDR) - while West Germany became a close ally of Britain, France and the US.

The two military alliances - Nato and the Warsaw Pact - glared at each other across the German countryside and there was an uneasy stalemate.

Lieutenant General Sir Richard Gale
Lieutenant General Sir Richard Gale (left) at the opening of the British Army's German headquarters in 1953
British and American troops spent decades exercising in preparation for the predicted Soviet tank invasion.

In November 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the downfall of communism and the end of the Cold War.

After Germany became reunified France withdrew its troops altogether while Britain and the US slashed the number of men they stationed in the country.

But although the Soviet troops left eastern Germany in the early 1990s there have never been any demands from the German government for the British and Americans to go.

In fact quite the opposite.

The British Army employs nearly 6,000 German workers and British service personnel and their families spend their wages in German shops and restaurants.

Boost to local economy

BFG is estimated to input around 1.5 billion euros a year into the German economy and their departure would be devastating to local businesses.

The standard of living is high in Germany and most British troops posted there enjoy life
When bases in the town of Soest, near Dortmund, closed in the early 1990s the local economy was hit badly as there was very little alternative employment locally.

Many empty barracks were used to house German migrants from the former East Germany and the former Soviet Union - known as Uebersiedler and Aussiedler respectively - who brought with them social problems and crime.

British Army spokesman Alan Patterson said: "In most of Germany any suggestion that we are moving out is met with a degree of angst and fear from those who really think about it."

A spokesman for the German Embassy in London told BBC News Online: "It is not a topic for political debate in Germany. Nobody is asking for them to go home. We are happy to have them."

Between May 1988 and May 1990 10 people were killed by the IRA in a campaign of bombings and shootings aimed at British service personnel based in Germay.
In one of the most horrific incidents, in October 1989 Maheshkumar Islania, 34, a serviceman based at RAF Wildenrath, and his six-month-old baby, Nivruti, were shot dead at a filling station near the Dutch border. His wife Smita was treated for shock.
The campaign ended shortly after two Australian tourists, mistaken for British servicemen, were gunned down in Roermond, just over the Dutch border from bases in Germany. The attack was deeply unpopular even with IRA sympathisers in Australia.
It is estimated it would cost around £5bn to relocate all the British troops in Germany to bases back in the UK and the Ministry of Defence is not in a rush to make any changes.

Claire Bascopé, a British Army wife who has lived in Germany since 1998, said: "Germany as a posting is a bit of a mixed blessing.

"It's financially good, because there are tax perks, but a lot of Army families dread Germany because the troops based here are deployed abroad - in Iraq, Kosovo, wherever - much more and there is a greater deal of separation."

Mrs Bascopé, who lives in Osnabruck, told BBC News Online: "Some of the women here see their spouses less than 25% of the year, because they are either away training or on tours of duty in Iraq or somewhere."

While British soldiers based in Germany pay income tax and national insurance they have other tax breaks, such as cheap fuel.

A British Army source said: "Germany is ideal. It has large areas where we can train with our tanks. The closest thing we have in the UK is Salisbury Plain (in Wiltshire) which is just not big enough."

Rheindahlen Nato HQ
Britain's forces in Germany are commanded from this building in Rheindahlen
British tank crews also train at Suffield in Alberta, Canada and have recently started training at Drawsko-Pomorskie in Poland but Germany will remain their number one overseas base.

There are some, such as the PDS, the former East German communist party, who want the British to leave.

But the ruling Social Democrats, and the opposition Christian Democrats, do not share the PDS's view and the presence of foreign troops has failed to become an issue.

It seems the British troops in Germany are there to stay.

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