German GSG-9 Der Bundespolizei

Posted by David Burnell on

The GSG-9 der Bundespolizei (originally the German abbreviation of Grenzschutzgruppe 9 or Border Guard Group 9) is the elite counter-terrorism and special operations unit of the German Federal Police and is considered to be among the best of its kind in the world. Many nations have modeled their counter-terrorism units after the GSG-9.

History and Name

In 1972, the Palestinian terrorist movement Black September used the Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany to kidnap 11 Israeli athletes, killing two in the Olympic Village in the initial assault on the athletes' rooms. The incident tragically culminated when German police, neither trained nor equipped for counter-terrorism operations, attempted to rescue the athletes. They failed miserably and the operation led to the deaths of one policeman, five of the eight kidnappers and the remaining nine hostages (subsequently called the Munich massacre).

As a consequence of the incident's mismanagement, German officials created the GSG-9 under the leadership of then Oberstleutnant Ulrich Wegener so that similar situations in the future could be responded to adequately and professionally. The unit was officially established on April 17, 1973 as a part of Germany's federal police agency, the Bundesgrenzschutz (federal border guard service, renamed Bundespolizei or federal police in 2005). The name GSG-9 stood for Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (border guard group 9) and was chosen simply because the BGS had eight regular border guard groups at the time. After the 2005 renaming, the abbreviation "GSG-9" was kept due to the fame of the unit and is now the official way to refer to the unit. Its formation was based on the expertise of the British SAS (who also offered great support in the forming of GSG-9) and the Israeli Sayeret Matkal.

GSG-9 is deployed in cases of hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism and extortion. The group may also be used to secure locations, neutralize targets, track down fugitives and sometimes conduct sniper operations. Furthermore, the group is very active in developing and testing methods and tactics for these missions. Finally, the group may provide advice to the different Länder, ministries and international allies. The group assists the Bundespolizei and other federal and local agencies on request.

From 1972 to 2003 they reportedly completed over 1,500 missions, with shots being fired on only 5 occasions. At the SWAT World Challenge in 2005, GSG-9 won an impressive seven out of seven events, beating 17 other teams. GSG-9 defended its championship the following year, but placed fifth in 2007.


Its first mission, which is still one of the most well-known and established the GSG-9's reputation as an excellent unit, was "Operation Feuerzauber" (Operation Fire Magic). It was carried out in 1977 when Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Landshut, a Lufthansa plane on the way from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt, demanding that imprisoned members of the German "Red Army Faction" terrorist group be freed. The aircraft was then flown to several destinations throughout the Middle East. During this time, the Lufthansa captain was executed by the leader of the hijackers in Aden. Following a four-day odyssey the hijackers directed the Boeing 737 to Mogadishu, Somalia, where they waited for the arrival of the Red Army Faction members after the German government had (falsely) signalled they would be released. In the night between October 17 and October 18, Somalian ranger units created a distraction, while members of the GSG-9 supported by two British SAS operatives stormed the plane. The operation lasted seven minutes and was successful: all hostages were rescued, three hijackers died, the fourth was seriously injured. Only one GSG-9 member and one flight attendant were injured. The international counter-terrorism community applauded GSG-9 for the excellent and professional handling of the situation, especially because assaults on planes are considered one of the most difficult scenarios a hostage rescue force could face.


The unit forms part of the German Bundespolizei (Federal Police, formerly Bundesgrenzschutz), and thus has normal police powers, including, for example, the power of arrest. The Federal Police of Germany (and thus the GSG-9) is under the control of the Federal Ministry of the Interior. The Bundespolizei also provides aerial transportation for the GSG 9. In contrast, regular police forces are subordinate to the various States or Länder, as are their Spezialeinsatzkommando (SEK) SWAT teams, while the military is responsible for the Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) (Special Forces command) and the Kampfschwimmer German Navy SEALs.

The GSG-9 is based in Sankt Augustin-Hangelar near Bonn and consists of three main sub-groups, plus a number of support groups:

Regular Operations

The first sub-group of the GSG-9 is used for regular land-based counter-terrorism actions. This may involve cases of hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism or extortion. The group may also be used to secure locations, neutralize targets, sniping and tracking fugitives. The group has approximately 100 members.

Maritime Operations

The second sub-group of the GSG-9 is used for operations at sea, for example the hijacking of ships or oil platforms. The group has approximately 100 members.

Airborne Operations

The third sub-group of the GSG-9 is used for airborne operations, including parachuting and helicopter landings. The group has approximately 50 members.

Technical Unit

This unit supports other units in gaining entry to target areas and is responsible for the procurement, testing and issuance of non-weapon equipment. The members of the technical unit are also EOD experts. They are trained in the rendering safe and disposal of IEDs.

Central Services

This service group maintains the GSG-9 armory and is involved in testing, repairing and purchasing weapons, ammunition, and explosives.

Documentation Unit

This unit handles communications, including the testing, repairing and purchasing of communications and surveillance equipment.

Operations Staff

Handles the administration of GSG-9.

Training Unit

This unit trains existing members, and selects, recruits and trains new members.


Members of the Bundespolizei and other German police services with two years of service can join the GSG-9. The 22-week training period includes thirteen weeks of basic training and nine weeks of advanced training. Besides medical tests there are many physical and psychological requirements, for example running 5000 meters in 23 minutes and jumping a distance of at least 4.75 meters (also rule for German Sports Badge). The identity of GSG-9 members is classified as top secret. Further training often involves co-operation with other allied counter-terrorism units.

Only one in five pass the training course.

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