GSG 9: “To Protect the Fatherland”


    1. Introduction

    The GSG 9 der Bundespolizei, also known by their formal name Grenzschutzgruppe 9 (GSG 9) is the police tactical and primary counter-terrorism unit of the German Federal Police (Bundespolizei). They formed it like most European police intervention teams in direct response to the 1972 Munich Massacre at the Olympic Games. (Source) Moreover, the German state classifies the identities of GSG 9 members. (Source)

    GSG 9 is a core member of the counterterrorism ATLAS Network, like other European intervention units. The 1972 Munich Massacre demonstrated the need for a specialised counterterrorism intervention unit and this is what the unit specialises as. (Source) However, not that they are not capable of other tasks as well, being highly trained. Furthermore, their motto is “To protect the Fatherland”. (Source) Moreover, the unit has served as the basis for many other nations’ counterterrorism units. In addition, the US Army consulted GSG 9 when creating the US Delta Force

    The overarching mission of GSG 9 is the protection of the German nation, and they regularly deploy abroad within Europe to support other nations’ capabilities. Furthermore, women may join but it is unknown whether any have successfully passed the rigorous training. However, it is confirmed some have served in non-specialist roles. (Source

    Badge of GSG 9

    2. History of GSG 9

    The GSG 9 was founded on the 26 September 1972 as an anti-terrorist and hostage rescue unit as a direct response to the German experience of the Munich Massacre. During this massacre, German police attempted to rescue the Israeli hostages, but had no sniper team and limited equipment, leading to all the hostages dying in the ensuing firefight. (Source) Moreover, the unit’s original leader was Oberstleutnant Ulrich Wegener. (Source)

    Origins of GSG 9

    Many German politicians of the time opposed such a move, fearing it would bring up memories of Nazi Germany’s Schutzstaffel (SS). These fears resulted in GSG 9 being created out of police units rather than military units. This also served the purpose of getting around constitutional limits, which stopped Germany from using elements of its military against its civilian population. (Source) Allegedly, they formed the unit like the Israeli counterterrorism unit Sayeret Matkal. (Source)

    2.1 GSG 9 Today

    In 2005, the Federal Border Guard Service was just renamed to the federal Police, but GSG 9 has not changed their name because of being known by abbreviation. (Source) GSG 9 has carried out over 1500 missions since their founding, yet has only discharged their weapons on five occasions. (Source) The overwhelming majority of the unit’s missions remain classified, but they were extremely active in combating the German Red Army faction during the Cold War. Moreover, in 2009 foreign protection services who provide security for German ambassadors abroad were combined into GSG 9 showing their ability to deploy abroad. (Source)

    3. Organisation of GSG 9

    GSG 9 forms part of the German Federal Police and therefore possesses the power of arrest. The unit is under the control of the German Ministry of the Interior. On 1 August 2017, GSG 9 was transferred to the federal Police Directorate 11, which is the supreme command for German special police units. (Source) Moreover, the unit has between 250 to 500 members. (Source) Air transport is provided by the federal police. (Source)

    GSG 9 insert onto a submarine

    3.1 Structure

    GSG 9 is divided into four combat units and multiple larger separate support units with access to working dogs and doctors within each unit. (Source) The units are: (Source)

    • GSG 9/1: The first unit specialises in regular land-based counterterrorism, including hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism, extortion and has a dedicated sniper unit.
    • GSG 9/2: The second unit specialises in maritime operations, such as the hijacking of vessels or oil platforms.
    • GSG 9/3: The Third unit specialises in airborne operations such as parachuting and aerial insertions.
    • GSG 9/4: This is a newer operational unit based in Berlin functions with an emphasis on urban combat and reacting to any terrorist attacks on the nation’s capital. (Source)
    • Technical Unit: This unit supports the other units in gaining entry to targets and procedures and tests all non weapon equipment. They are also Explosive Ordanance Disposal (EOD) experts.
    • Central Services: this unit maintains the units armoury, testing, purchasing and issuing of weapons and ammunition.
    • Documentation Unit: this unit handles communications, including the testing and purchasing of surveillance and communication equipment.
    • Operations Staff: this unit handles the administrative needs of the unit.
    • Training Unit: this unit handles training/selection of new recruits and improving the skill-sets of existing members of the unit.
    GSG 9 prepare to clear a building

    3.2 Selection

    Members of the German federal police and other state police agencies can apply for GSG 9 as long as they are:

    • Under 34 years old
    • Have at least 2 years of service

    Once these basic requirements are met, the applicants undergo the following processes and tests as part of selection: (Source)

    • Final interview
    • Marksmanship tests with duty pistol and submachine gun
    • Medical examination
    • Physical tests including 5000 metres run, 100 metres sprint, jump, chin-ups, bench press, and an obstacle course
    • Psychological tests

    This selection is tough with only 10-15 percent of applicants passing it and once successful candidates undergo extensive training. Moreover, training lasts 22 weeks and includes 13 weeks of basic training and 9 weeks of specialist training. (Source) Furthermore, training at later stages often includes training with other nations intervention units such as GIGN or FBI HRT.

    GSG 9 Frogman

    4. Equipment of GSG 9

    GSG 9 are equipped to the highest standards the German state can afford. Moreover, there is a preference for equipment and weapons from domestic arms producers such as Heckler and Koch. (Source)

    GSG 9 BPOL,

    4.1 Small Arms

    GSG 9 use a wide array of small arms including as follows: (Source)


    • Glock 17
    • Glock 19
    • Smith and Wesson model 19
    • Heckler & Koch USP Tactical

    Submachine Guns:

    • Heckler and Koch MP5, in various versions/configurations
    • Heckler and Koch MP7A1


    • Remington 870

    Assault Rifles: 

    • FN SCAR 
    • Heckler and Koch 416 Commando
    • Heckler and Koch 417 Commando
    • Heckler and Koch G36
    • Heckler and Koch G8
    • Sig Sauer SG550
    • Steyr AUG A3

    Sniper Rifles:

    • Heckler and Koch PSG1
    • AMP Technical Services DSR-1

    Other Equipment:

    • Heckler & Koch MZP-1 (40mm grenade launcher)
    • Sinn UX GSG 9 diving watch
    GSG 9 equipped with G36’s

    5. Notable Operations

    Given that GSG 9 has carried out over 1500 missions there are plenty of notable operations. However as most remain top secret only the most notable will be discussed.

    5.1 Operation Feuerzauber (Operation Fire Magic)

    Operation Feuerzauber was the first mission undertaken by the newly formed GSG 9 in 1977 and immediately cemented their reputation as a premier counterterrorism force. A Lufthansa plane called the Landshut was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists on its flight from Palma to Frankfurt. Moreover, the terrorists demanded that members of the imprisoned German Red Army group should be released in exchange for the passengers’ lives. The plane was then flown to multiple Middle Eastern nations during negotiations during which the terrorists murdered the captain before finally landing in Mogadishu. (Source)

    In the early hours of 18 October 1977, Somali army units distracted the hijackers while GSG 9 launched an assault on the plane. In less than 10 minutes, four terrorists were killed or wounded and all of the remaining hostages freed. The mission was an extreme success in the spotlight, restoring the German public’s sense of confidence in the security services.(Source)

    Furthermore, the international law enforcement/counterterrorism community applauded the action and held the GSG 9 up as a model to copy. Moreover, British SAS advisors took part in the operation supporting the unit and supplied them with newly developed flashbang grenades. (Source)

    Lufthansa LH Flight 181 which was stormed by GSG 9

    5.2 Reichsburger Plot

    More recently the unit played a large role in the raids to arrest members of the Reichsburger plot. A right-wing plot to overthrow the government and install a monarch. (Source) Furthermore, these individuals believe the German state continues to exist in its previous pre-WW2 borders. 25 extremists were arrested and plans to create a militia and start a civil war were underway. (Source) Due to a large number of the members being arrested being ex-Bundeswehr (German Armed forces), GSG 9 was deployed as it was believed normal Federal police would be at great risk. (Source) Moreover, due to the large amounts of weapons and ammunition stockpiled this turned out to be a wise decision.

    6. Summary

    In summary, GSG 9 is the premier counterterrorism unit of the German state and will continue to serve as a model for intervention units globally in the future. They will continue to be deployed abroad to protect embassies. Furthermore, with increasing cooperation between members of the ATLAS Network GSG 9 is likely to operate within other European nations’ borders alongside the host nations forces.

    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan Hickey
    Aidan is a Third Year War Studies Student at King's College London with a keen interest in the Middle-East and Insurgency.

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