1972 Munich Olympic Hostage Crisis The Mistakes made by Germans

The 1972 Olympic Games held in Munich, Germany started out as any other games held over the years (Bard 2). The games were being held 36 years after Germany had hosted the Olympics during Hitlers reign. Germans made several mistakes that resulted in a crisis during the games. The mistakes made are outlined and discussed in this paper.
According to Reeve, the Munich police ignored a letter sent to them by the German secret police about a potential attack on Munich. Reeve argues that the Germans reportedly trivialized the danger by assuming that the threat would be limited to parcel bombs, therefore minimal precautions were taken (228). The terrorists who carried out the attack had an easy time going about their operation undetected. Wolff notes in TIME magazine that the German authorities have been largely criticized for mistakes and oversights that led to loss of lives at the Olympics (4).

The German police, which was in charge of security at the Olympic Village where the games were taking place, showed considerable ineptness in dealing with the terrorist situation (Reeve 48). There appeared various tactical errors that could have been avoided had there been more consultations between the Germans and Israeli intelligence. It should be noted that Israel had an inside knowledge of the Black September and would have shared valuable insight with their German counterparts (Wolff 5). Germany was keen to present itself to the world in a more positive light after the debacle of Berlin Olympics when the nation was under the rule of Adolf Hitler. The authorities therefore relaxed security in a bid not to appear too overbearing (Wolff 1). This move was questioned by the Israelis who felt that security ought to be more visible. In connection to this lax security, the Germans did not do a background check on workers at the Olympics. This oversight provided the perfect opportunity for the some members of the terrorist group to be selected to work as waiters and provide other services in the living quarters of the Israelis (Reeve 2).

Reeve reports that the authorities, having resolved to put the athletes and spectators at ease (35), did not stop people from jumping over the fence to gain access to the village. This proved tragic since it provided a route for the terrorists to gain access into the Olympic village. Wolff notes that several people saw the terrorists climbing over the wall but thought nothing of it (3). In Maslins review of the book Striking Back, she notes that the situation was compounded by apparent ineffectiveness on the part of the organizers who had put the Israeli team in a secluded part of the village with minimal security (1). Such lapses in the security detail ensured that the terrorists had an easier time executing their plans with no one being any wiser until it was too late. After the hostages had been taken, more blunders on the part of the Germans made the situation worse.

Response to the terrorist attack came in the form of border patrol police who were ill-equipped and certainly not trained to handle such a situation (Bard 35). They committed tactical errors that gave the terrorists a big advantage over the police force that was trying to counter their moves. For instance, they allowed the media to film the operation such that the terrorists just had to watch the news on television to figure out what the police were up to (Maslin). According to Wolff the situation grew worse as there were no trained hostage negotiators to talk to the terrorists about their demands (4).This duty fell on Munich police chief Manfred Schreiber who acted as the spokesman for the authorities (4). Israelis offered to help in diffusing the situation but were rebuffed by the Germans who even refused to let the Israelis attend the negotiation proceedings (Wolff 5).

The terrorists demands to be allowed safe passage from Germany was to be granted by flying them to Fiistenfeldbruck airfield where they would be given an airplane to fly them and their hostages to Cairo (Reeve 37). On their way to the airport, the German officers who escorted them realized that there were eight instead of five terrorists they had been briefed about. Wolff reports that this brought confusion to the already ill- planned, under-staffed and under -equipped operation (5). For starters, the officers had no radio to communicate with in order to coordinate the planned attack at the airport. The snipers had no prior training to carry out a rescue attempt of such magnitude, and to make matters worse, they were also outnumbered by the terrorists in a situation that called for at least two snipers for every terrorist (4).

Another mistake had to do with the kind of rifles used. The snipers used twenty inch long barrels instead of the more accurate twenty six inches ones (Wolff 3). There were no telescopic sights or night vision devices on the rifles given to the snipers who were supposed to carry out this operation in the dark. This oversight in providing of proper equipment was made worse by lack of bullet proof vests and protective steel helmets for the snipers (Bard 37). On reaching the airport and having checked the plane, the terrorists must have sensed foul play which prompted them to hasten back to the helicopter carrying the hostages. This move made the German officers to launch an uncoordinated assault on the hardened terrorists who went on to kill all the hostages and one German officer. Wolff summarises the incompetence thus Munich has served as a lesson on what not to do in every conceivable way (6).

Indeed, the Germans failed to provide enough security during the Olympics and then went ahead to plan a rescue that they could not effectively execute. This is a tragedy that might have been avoided had the Germans been better prepared and organized.


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