Not only did Jan Smuts have a Kibbutz named after him in Israel, as well as pub named after him in London, the famous ‘Smuts Barracks’ in Berlin was also named after him. The barracks were the home to an SS Panzer Division during the Second World War and was occupied by the British after the war, the barracks is particularly well-known because it was on constant high alert during the Cold War and Berlin Wall divide.
Smuts Barracks was situated on Wilhelmstraße, a street in the Spandau district of Berlin, and the base of the British armoured contingent to Germany, it’s located next to what was the famous ‘Spandau Prison’ . Also in Wilhelmstraße, Spandau Prison was completed in 1881. It was occupied by seven Nazi war criminals, convicted in the Nuremberg Trials after World War 2, including Rudolf Hess, who remained its only prisoner there for many years until he committed suicide. After Hess’ death the prison was demolished and replaced by a shopping centre.
The British armoured squadron based at Smuts Barracks consisted of 18 modified Chieftain tanks, painted in their renown urban camouflage, and were at a constant state of readiness. This “bombed up” state, ensured a speedy counter attack should the Soviet Union (Russia and East Germany mainly) breach the Berlin wall.
The last unit/squadron to be based here was C Squadron, The 14th/20th Royal King’s Hussars (1989-1993), a Cavalry Regiment of the Royal Armoured Corps. The squadron bar was known as the “Lion and Bear”.
Between 1948 and 1952, the Smuts Barracks was used by the following Regiments stationed in Germany:
Feb 1948 Sqn, 11 Hussars (armoured cars)
May 1949 ‘A’ Sqn, Royal Dragoons (armoured cars)
Mar 1950 ‘A’ Sqn, Royal Horse Guards (armoured cars)
Feb 1951 Sqn, 3rd Hussars
In Feb 1952 a permanent unit was formed, designated 1st Independent Sqn Royal Tank Regt. It was disbanded December 1957. Between December 1957 and Aug 1962, the squadron came from the APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) regiment in BAOR:
Dec 1957 ‘B’ Sqn, l4lh/20th Hussars
Nov 1960 ‘C’ Sqn, 4th Royal Tank Regt
Another permanent unit was established in March 1963, designated Independent Sqn Royal Tank Regt; it was disbanded November 1965.
After that date, the squadron normally came from the training regiment at Catterick:
Feb 1965 Sqn, Queens Own Hussars
Feb 1967 A Sqn, 1st Royal Tank Regt
Jan 1969 Sqn, 9th/l2th Lancers
Dec 1970 Sqn, 1st Queen’s DG
Dec 1972 ‘A’ Sqn, 4th Royal Tank Regt
Dec 1974 ‘B’ Sqn, 5th Royal Inniskilling DG
Dec 1976 ‘B’ Sqn, Royal Scots DG
Apr 1979 ‘D’ Sqn, Royal Hussars
Feb 1981 ‘D’ Sqn, 4th/7th DG
Apr 1983 ‘D’ Sqn, Queens Own Hussars
May 1985 ‘B’ Sqn, 14th/20th Hussars
From 1985, the squadron came from the 14th/20th Hussars who were based at Münster:
Jan 1988 ‘C’ Sqn took over. The squadron was withdrawn in 1991.
Also based at Smuts Barracks were 38 (Berlin) Field Squadron RE. 38 Field Company was stationed in West Germany as part of 23 Field Engineer Regiment when in 1957 it was amalgamated with the RE Troops Berlin to become 38 (Berlin) Field Squadron Royal Engineers. The Squadron remained in Berlin providing engineer support to the Berlin Brigade until 1994 when it was disbanded as part of options for change.
Smuts Barracks was also the home of the Sapper Berlin Field Squadron (38 Fd Sqn RE).
So there you have it, another legacy of Jan Smuts and an island of South Africa’s contribution to the Second World War and the Cold War after it. The Barracks is now closed and under private ownership.
Related work and links
Jan Smuts: A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts
Jan Smuts: “The force of his intellect has enriched the wisdom of the whole human race”- the death of Jan Smuts.
Smuts was the greatest Christian philosofer of 20th century.
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I served in Berlin as a member of 38 (Berlin) field squadron RE.
1977-1980 very proud to have served and lived in the glorious Smuts Barracks.
Best years of my life to be honest.
Germans are lovely people and we worked closely with them.
We removed war gasses from a well in Spandau Citadel which were produced in the Nazi laboratories within those walls and then buried under concrete.
We carried out flag tours in east Berlin and train guards through the corridor.
Fantastic posting for a young soldier.
God bless Berlin.
I worked in Smuts Barracks until 1994, when the British were slowly leaving Germany. Berlin was always my happy place. I spent 21 years in Berlin from 1973 to 1994. My two sons grew up there, and when they were old enough, they joined the British Army. One is still there, he is a Major, the other went into the infantry, spent 11 years in Paderborn and eventually settled in Germany with his partner and teenage son.