Chapter One

East-West Train

There was the usual bustle on the British military platform at Berlin-Charlottenburg station on the night of March 31, 1948. The nightly “duty train” supposed to carry only military personnel or allies accredited to the Control Commission was being made ready for departure. A usual mixture of passengers, soldiers going home on leave, officials going to the British Zone on business, typists going to spend a week or ten days at one of the British leave centres – and a few Germans.

The curious – and a journalist must always be curious – would have noticed that the train guard had been doubled and that just before the train left, the British deputy-chief of staff, Major-General Westropp, arrived at the station, and had an earnest discussion with an R.A.F. Wing Commander, who was the senior officer travelling on the train. Westropp seemed to have left home in a hurry. He was wearing civilian clothes under his military overcoat.

The train left at 8.30 p.m. on schedule, and arrived on time at Marienborn on the border of the Russian and British zones of occupation at 1 a.m. on April 1st. It had been doing so for over three and a half years.

A British sergeant-major stepped off the train on to the platform with a typed passenger list in his hand, as he had been doing for months past. There were a number of blue uniformed Soviet Zone police on the platform and some Soviet officers. The sergeant-major was greeted politely by the officers, and he handed, as usual, the passenger list over to them. A Russian interpreter explained that as from April 1st, the Russians would have to check passengers' identity papers to ensure they corresponded with the passenger list. The sergeant-major said he was sure British officials in Berlin knew nothing about this as he had received no fresh instructions. He suggested that as it was only an hour after midnight on the 1st, that the Russians let the train through.

He produced new cards, attached to the passengers' travel orders, written in Russian, stating that each passenger was accredited to the British Control Commission. The Russian officers were polite but firm. It would only take a few minutes: to check identity cards and then the train could proceed. Otherwise not. The sergeant-major said his orders were not to allow any Russians to board the train.

After half an hour's courteous discussion, the sergeant-major carried out normal instructions by calling the senior military officer on the train. Wing Commander Galloway came out, rubbing his eyes. He also was astonished at the new regulation of which he knew nothing. Neither he nor the sergeant-major knew what I and General Westropp knew – that the Russians had informed the three Allied Chiefs of Staff in Berlin some time before, that as from April 1st, they would check passengers' papers on all trains, including the military trains, before they left the Soviet Zone.

The Russian repeated this to Wing Commander Galloway and looking at his watch, said: "And you see it is already April 1."

The Russians knew as well as anybody who ever travelled on the military trains that the passenger lists did not correspond with the actual travellers on the trains. They knew that German political personalities, allied agents, sometime war criminals on the Russian "wanted list" were travelling back and forth across the Soviet Zone in the allied military trains, contrary to agreements that the trains were to be used only for allied personnel accredited to the Control Council.

The discussion started all over again. Galloway said his clear instructions were to prevent any Russian from boarding a British military train. The Russians were equally adamant. The train could not continue until identity cards had been checked. Galloway offered to line passengers up at the train window. He would walk along inside the train, and make everyone produce his card at the window, and the Russians could walk along the platform checking coach by coach. A White Russian interpreter sharing a compartment with me became pale and agitated when he heard this suggestion being made. Although he was in British uniform it seemed he had good reason to keep out of sight of the Russians, so I judged he had probably been a member of the renegade Vlazov army which had fought with the Nazis.

The Russian officer refused this suggestion, however. "If you have nothing to hide," he said, "why not let me walk along with you through the train corridor?"!

Inside the train, passengers were beginning to wake up and ask what was going on. It turned out that in addition to several Germans there was another former Soviet citizen aboard who was very apprehensive that the Russians were going to board the train.

The discussion was still polite and friendly on both sides, but after an hour and a half of arguing it was obvious no solution could be reached. Wing Commander Galloway, in accordance with orders received before the train left, asked if he could use the telephone. He was taken to the station office and called the number he had been given by General Westropp to call in case of difficulties. There was no reply. He tried at half-hourly intervals, but still no reply.

More trains were due in, so ours was shunted back on to a siding until morning, when Galloway would try to get hold of officialdom in its office hours.

At 4 a.m. we were joined by the British military train coming into the Soviet Zone from the British Zone. The same discussion and arguments. Then it was shunted in alongside our train. Half an hour later we were joined by an American train, then a French military train and another American train. They were all shunted in alongside the first train and looked like a cluster of submarines at anchor. By this time telegrams were going out alarming the world with a new Soviet "atrocity." The more "Blimp-minded" of the officers aboard the first train were all for "shooting our way through," in the Charge of the Light Brigade tradition.

After some hours the French train allowed Soviet officials aboard, passenger lists were checked and it proceeded on its way half an hour later, accompanied by jeers from some British subalterns, who felt the French were showing "cowardly weakness." Another American train came in from Bremen and the officer in charge allowed the Russians aboard. A few minutes later it continued its journey to Berlin. The officer-in-charge narrowly escaped a court-martial when the train got to Berlin.

"It's an April Fool's Day joke," said one optimist, "they'll send the instructions and we'll move on after mid-day."

But by mid-day we were still there. The soldiers lit fires, a train with foodstuffs from Brunswick was allowed through by the Russians, the women passengers opened cans, brewed tea and put up a good open-air lunch. It was a sunny day with the first breath of spring in the air. We sat around on a grassy bank and discussed the situation while officials in Berlin held conferences, telephones buzzed and messages flashed back and forth between Berlin, London, Paris and Washington. Those who had to connect with trains for London gave up as the day wore on without any decision to go back or to continue. Galloway spoke with Berlin every hour or so, but no definite orders were given. A special wireless communication car was shunted through to facilitate communications.

Those few hours, while we dozed on a grassy bank at Marienborn, were decisive in setting the "get tough with the Russian" line of policy. The Russian demands were reasonable and within bounds of existing agreements as we shall see later. The French and American military trains which allowed the Russian control, were allowed to proceed with the minimum of delay. But this for General Clay and Co. was too good an opportunity to miss.

At 8.20 p.m., just about 20 hours after the train had arrived at Marienborn, orders were received to return to Berlin. That was the beginning of the events leading to the blockade of Berlin, and the counter-blockade of the Soviet Zone. It could have been settled by one phone call to Wing Commander Galloway without loss of face for the Western Allies.

The next day most of the passengers started out again, this time in a fleet of Control Commission coaches. Passengers were given the same sort of travel documents, and the coaches were stopped at the Russian check point at Helmstedt, 130 miles from Berlin. This time, however, the Russians were allowed aboard to check identity cards against passenger lists. (After all, it was difficult to hide Germans or renegade Soviet agents in a glassed-in coach.) The explanation given for allowing Russians aboard the coaches and not aboard the trains was that coaches were civilian, trains military, although the occupants might be identical.

In Berlin, correspondents demanded to know what was the actual legal position regarding control of roads and railways leading from the Western Zones to Berlin, through the Soviet Zone. To our astonishment, we learned there was no legal position. It had been one of the things overlooked in 1945, when the European Advisory Commission, forerunner of: the Allied Control Council, framed .its agreements on four-power partition and government of Berlin. After much searching through files and archives, somebody dug up copies of notes of a four-power staff meeting where it was agreed that the Western Allies could use the railway and autobahn leading from Helmstedt to Berlin for moving military and control commission personnel and supplies, and that the Russians would be responsible for the "control and maintenance" of the railway and autobahn. They had actually waived their right to control until it became clear that the privileges were being abused.

In Austria the Russians had exercised the right of control from the first days of occupation. As with Berlin the joint occupied capital ofAustria lay deep inside the Russian zone of occupation. Identity cards are checked by Russians on all Allied trains, grey Russian passes must be held by any Allies using the motor roads through the Soviet Zone to Vienna. No difficulties have arisen because of this. Allied trains and motor transport have moved back and forth without a hitch. Russian officials peer into sleeping car compartments on the British sealed military train, and no one bothers about it. It is accepted and normal. And if so in Austria, why the panic in Germany?

Can one imagine the situation in reverse? Russian military trains running through the British or American Zones to an international capital in Frankfurt or Dusseldorf? Would the Western Allies have demanded the right to check identity documents? Most certainly. And especially if it were suspected that some of the travellers were German "Communist agents" bent on stirring up troubles in the Ruhr, or carrying out espionage activity in the Western Zones.

With the question heading up almost to a war situation, it was the feeling of many in Berlin, that the question of the military trains could have been settled amicably and made a test case as to whether co-operation was to be desired. By the way it was handled on the Western side, it could lead to the suspicion that we were eager to accept the incident, to preserve it unsettled. The more such incidents that could be collected the better chance of making a "Pearl Harbor" out of Berlin, and speculation on such possibilities was very popular in circles close to General Clay at that time.

The Russians well knew what type of German was being carried on the military trains. And we knew that they knew it. For weeks before April 1, the Russians had been complaining about it. The chief of the British Travel Bureau in Berlin, a good old soldier turned civilian, Mr. Phil Scott, ruddy-faced and prodigious drinker of pink gins, had been thumping generals' desks for weeks past pleading that Germans be sent back and forth by plane, instead of on the trains. There was no possibility of Russian control of air passengers. Scott knew the Russians had "caught on to" the transport of Germans when they asked that all passengers should have a Russian translation of their travel orders which stated that they were Allied and accredited to the Control Council. He was forced to give these same passes to any German that the British political division wanted to move back and forth between Berlin and the British Zone.

Evidence of some of the types of Germans who used to be given such documents came to light in an "Open Letter" to the Social Democrat Party, dated April 9, 1949. It was written by Heinz Kuehne, former head of the Berlin branch of the Eastern Bureau of the Social Democrats in the Western Zone. (Eastern Bureau was a Social Democrat espionage centre, specialising in the Soviet Zone.) The letter was published in the leftist press in Berlin and the Western Zones on April 11 and 12. Kuehne wrote that he acted as a courier between the West Zone Social Democrats and former Social Democrats in the S.E.D. in the Soviet Zone, from February, 1948, until he took over as chief of the Berlin branch in 1949. He said he had become disillusioned when he found that he had been turned into an espionage agent for the Western Powers.

"Under the pseudonom of Heinz Mueck," he writes, "I went for the first time into the Soviet Zone in the beginning of March, 1948, with Richard Lehner.

"This round trip made it clear to me that leading members of the Eastern Bureau were in regular contact with the English and Americans. Apart from the fact that we had false identity documents that the British helped us obtain, we were also provided from the same source with food, cigarettes and ready money. We travelled in an English military train which could pass the frontier without any control... After this first trip I made fifteen more. I travelled to Mecklenburg and Saxony, to Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, visited the agents in each of the Lands and in Berlin. With each trip it became clearer to me the criminal role the Social Democrat leaders were following. Not only I but..." and he mentions the names of five other couriers, "constantly used forged papers that we received through an English agent, to legalise ourpresence in the Soviet Zone... The travel documents for the interzonal and military trains were provided by the deputy leader of the Eastern Bureau, Stephen Grekowiak (pseudonym Stephan Thomas), who maintained constant contact between the S.P.D. and the British occupation authorities. The representative of these authorities at the Eastern Bureau, Mr. Carr, sometimes provided the couriers with forged passports of officials of the Swiss Red Cross. I myself once had one of these, issued in the name of Lieutenant Jean Andre...

"I was repeatedly given the task on my trips of' collecting military information that would be useful to the English and Americans.

"Thus for Mr. Carr, I had to check about warships at Rostock Harbor and at Warnemuende, about their types and armament, about the type of coastal fortifications, the loading capacity of the harbors and the cranes, as well as the type of radar antennae used on any Soviet warships.

"Also for the English I gathered information in Thuringia about the Ohrduf works which before the surrender produced V weapons, about petrol storage depots and their capacity, and the state of the roads leading to them. The British and Americans were very interested in information about Soviet troops stationed near the border areas, their strength, equipment and locations..."

One could fill many pages with the "Open Letter" of Heinz Kuehne as he details his activities for the S.P.D. Eastern Bureau. The interesting thing is that it was just in early March, 1948, when Kuehne says the Eastern Bureau began to get busy sending its couriers back and forth on the military trains, that the Russians began to get tough and demand control of passengers.

It is more than probable that they were well-informed as to what types of Germans were travelling, even if they could not put their fingers on the actual proofs.

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