Moritz Bleibtreu and Martina Gedeck as Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof in the 2009 film, The Baader Meinhof Complex.

Jeffrey’s posts and videos of the walkabout at the NATO nuclear weapon storage site in Belgium reminded me of a story with a much sharper edge that I retold in Better Safe than Sorry. ACW readers can file this one, along with last week’s account of the U.S. Navy’s encounter with the Foxtrot-class B-59 during the Cuban missile crisis, in the folder labeled “how-did-we-manage-(so-far)-to-avoid-an-epically-bad-headline?”

Politics were stretched to the breaking point in the late sixties and 1970s, when the culture wars took root in the United States, the Cultural Revolution crippled China, and disaffected middle class youth in West Germany gave terrorism a new face. They were called the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

In January 1977, gang members stormed a nuclear weapon storage facility in Giessen, West Germany. They planned to penetrate the base’s storage vaults by creating a diversion, blowing up a fuel tank outside the base perimeter. But they misread the fuel tank gauge, believing the tank to be almost full, when it was almost empty. Their shaped charge penetrated the tank above the fuel line, with no resulting special effects. Gang members then managed to penetrate the base perimeter, but after an exchange of gunfire, they were stopped short of the nuclear weapons storage area.

The base commander, then an Army Captain, told me this story. He later went on to become the Director of ACDA and helped jump start efforts to lock down dangerous weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union – Bill Burns.