Berlin, the Cold War Years – Part 3. A Hot War in Reality

At the end of World War 2, what remained of pre-war Germany was divided into four sectors of occupation. Each of the Allied powers; the United Kingdom, United States, France and Russia, controlled one of them.

The capital of Germany, Berlin, was also divided into four sectors. The consequence being, that the three Western Allied powers now controlled territory deep within the Soviet Union Sector of Germany.

Over time, the tensions between the four Allied powers increased, eventually resulting in the Berlin blockade in 1948, when the Soviets attempted to starve West Berlin into submission and force the other three Allied powers out. This failed and the Soviets eventually relented, but an ever-increasing number of East Germans fled to the West; between 150,000 and 300,000 a year during 1951-1953. As a consequence restrictions were placed on movement between the divided country. In 1961, the border was closed and Berlin completely encircled, first by barbed wire, then bricks and finally a concrete wall, along with the infamous ‘death strip’.

Access was now restricted between Berlin and the West. A wall, 124 mile miles in length, was placed around the three sectors of West Berlin, cutting off the city from the rest of the world..

Remnants of the infamous Berlin Wall – February 2012

A checkpoint used by the West Berlin population to cross into East Berlin – 1982

Passage was severely restricted. The British, US and French Governments refused to recognise the East German Democratic Republic, GDR, as a consequence all our dealings were with our ally, the Soviet Union. One of the three routes out of Berlin by train, was from Charlottenburg station in West Berlin to Braunschweig in West Germany. It ran every day, except for Christmas Day. Below you can see the procedure that we had to go through, presenting our documents to the Russian authorities going out and on our return.

Berlin Military Train – 1982

There were also three Autobahn routes, one for each of the western allies. Ours ran from Berlin to Helmstedt in West Germany. At each end, one of the car’s occupants would have to hand over their documents, including the one below, through a small hatch where it was inspected (You were photographed , but never saw the occupants). You then had to march to an armed Soviet sentry, salute, wait while he checked your documents, salute again and return to your car. The document had to match your credentials perfectly. They would check your identification letter by letter, and if there was an error, you would not be allowed to pass.

The documentation had to be exact – May 1984

The Soviet Army had a significant presence in East Berlin. The troops below, were returning to Karlshorst Camp, in East Berlin, after completing an exercise.

Soviet Motor Rifle Infantry – East Berlin 1983

 

Taken from a film found on one of our rummaging exploits – 1983

As I previously stated in Parts 1 & 2, I had an Intelligence gathering role while serving in Berlin. We were in a ‘Cold War’ and it was imperative that we tracked the movement of Soviet and GDR forces at that time. The rail ring-road that circuited Berlin was a major rail junction and we kept a close watch on all movement.

Below we had spotted a military train, usually pulled by a black steam locomotive, and wanted to know its destination. Only one way to find out.

 

T-12, Anti-Tank Guns – East Berlin – 1984

Let’s see where they’re going, and hope to god the transport police weren’t close by. They had very big, vicious, Alsatian guard dogs and boy they could run fast. Although the Soviets were very secretive about the movement of equipment, the East German railways, Deutches Reichsbahn, were very efficient and always had a note showing the destination attached to the flat-car. Very convenient.

T-12, Anti-Tank Guns – East Berlin – 1984

Bat-M, Soviet Military Engineer Tractor . Great for digging trenches for the Soviet Infantry- East Berlin – 1984

Soviet 2S1, 122mm self propelled artillery on the East Berlin rail ring – 1983

Troops on the move on the East Berlin rail-ring -1984

The Soviets, like the GDR, also liked to make life difficult for us. On one occasion we managed to get away from an aggressive ‘Box In’, by literally driving on top of a refuse tip and effectively surfing down the other side.

This time boxed in by Soviet Military Police as well as the GDR VOPO – East Berlin 1985.

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But, I did have one Soviet friend… GRU, KGB, Spetsnaz…..? His recruitment attempts were far from subtle. 🙂

Once, we chased a train at night, down narrow lanes, wanting to see the load and where it was going. Doing over a hundred kilometres an hour, no lights, the driver missed the turning and went straight over a T-junction with a drop on the other side. Pushed the bonnet of the Range Rover right back as we hit the ground below. All shaken but alive, we had to be lifted and towed back.

The Soviet Military Police were never far away. 1985

 Getting caught came with consequences. It happened very quickly. A white car skidded across the back of our vehicle blocking our escape. The intention was to reverse into it and push it through the fence, but the Soviets were on us too fast. We couldn’t call for assistance, so my partner did a runner, as we agreed, to call for assistance and guide our backup into the maze of streets  we were in. No mobile phones in those days. In the meantime they had got into the Range Rover, dragged me out and basically went to town on me, the rest is history. It created a political issue, understandably, and elements of the Soviet regime were banned from the Queens Birthday Parade that year. I had myriad of bruises and a lovely black eye. 🙂 For me, the scariest bit was the unknown. The fear that I would be spirited away, but fortunately our back up was close by. That was unusual, as we generally operated as a single unit. Someone was watching over me that day.

Soviets dispersing after their attack on me. The white car that pulled across to block us off, giving them access to my car, was probably MFS.

The nearest soldier is a Lieutenant

This officer is a Senior Lieutenant from the local Tank Regiment.

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My backup was also boxed in.

Once assistance had arrived, my partner had escaped and called for backup, they boxed that vehicle in with a Gaz 66. The closest soldier is a Warrant Officer and you can see that they had bayonets fixed to their rifles. Magazines were also attached to their AK 47’s.  Soviet senior officers eventually arrived, along with officers from the British Military Government and an Interpreter. We were eventually released and I was taken to the BMH for treatment.

During my recent visit I also climbed to the top of the Berlin Victory Column, designed by a Heinrich Strack after 1864, to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War.

The Berlin Victory Column, inaugurated in September 1873 – Berlin February 2012

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The Berlin Victory Column, inaugurated in September 1873 – Berlin February 2012

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The view towards East Berlin from the Victory Column – February 2012

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Altes Museum, on Berlin’s ‘Museum Island.’ – February 2012

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Having an interest in military history, particularly WW2, this was one place i wanted to visit. The above museum was often used by Hitler for some of his public parades and speeches. See below.

Adolf Hitler leaving the Altes Museum after giving one of his infamous speeches.

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Enough for now I think, although there will be a Part 4. Part 4 will definitely be the last and I will have new topics, so don’t go away! Seeing as we  in an Olympic year in the UK not so long ago, I thought I would share a picture of the Olympic Stadium, Berlin. The British Military Government was situated not very far away, as was the British Military Hospital that was used to treat Hess when he became ill. I lived opposite the entrance to the Hospital.

Olympic Stadium, made famous by Jesse Owen – East Berlin 1984

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Some of these photographs were taken from a helicopter. Helicopters were not part of the original agreement between the four powers, so although they could fly within West Berlin airspace, they had to be shipped through the GDR on low loaders…..

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HarveyBlack-Red Effect150313

My intention is not to portray a particular message, but just share some of my photographs and experiences with you. 

Photographs are copyrighted to Harvey Black

Berlin, The Cold War Years – A Hot War in reality. Part 1.

At the end of World War 2, what remained of pre-war Germany was divided into four zones of occupation. Each of the Allied powers; the United Kingdom, United States, France and Russia, controlled one of them.

The capital of Germany, Berlin, was also divided into four sectors. The consequence being, that the three Western Allied powers now controlled territory deep within the Soviet Union Zone of Germany.

Berlin Sectors

Over time, the tensions between the four Allied powers increased, eventually resulting in the Berlin blockade in 1948, when the Soviets attempted to starve West Berlin into submission and force the other three Allied powers out. This failed and the Soviets eventually relented, but an ever-increasing number of East Germans fled to the West; between 150,000 and 300,000 a year during 1951-1953. As a consequence, restrictions were placed on movement between the divided country. From 1961, the border was closed and Berlin was completely encircled, first by barbed wire, then bricks and finally a concrete wall, along with the infamous ‘death strip’.

Wall

Remains of the Berlin Wall and ‘Death Strip’ –February 2012

During my time in Berlin in the 80’s, I was one member of a small army intelligence unit that had the task of monitoring Soviet and East German activity in the Eastern Sector of Berlin. In February 2012, I returned to Berlin again, after a gap of 25 years; I would like to share with you some of my experiences.

Brandenburg Gate1

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Brandenburg Gate 2

Brandenburg Gate –February 2012

As you can see from these recent photographs of the Brandenberg Gate, the general public now has free access to both sides of this unique monument. On the day I took these photographs a protest was in progress right next to it, unheard of back in the 80’s. By the way, West Berliners don’t normally dress as Monks and wear white face masks.

Brandenburg Gate 3

Brandenburg Gate -­‐ 1983

As this photograph, from the early 80’s, shows access to the monument was prohibited and the Berlin Wall is in plain view.

During the Cold War, there was very much a dark side to East Berlin. Although I had seen the Soviet Special Camp and Ministry of State Security (Stasi) Remand Prison from the outside in the 80’s, on my recent visit I was able to see it from the inside.

Stasi Prison

Outside the walls of the Stasi Prison, Genslerstrasse, Berlin – February 2012

VOPO
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Blocked in by VOPO’s, early 80’s

Although we endeavoured to gain access to all areas, we were often boxed in by the VOPO’s, Volkspolizei, who frequently tried to detain us and often blocked us in, sometimes covering our vehicle in blankets.

Stasi Water

Stasi Prison-­‐water torture cell – February 2012

For this particular site, the Stasi Prison, it was obvious why they didn’t want us near it. The above photograph shows the instrument used for water torture.

Stasi Van

Vehicle used to transport and disorientate Stasi prisoners –February 2012

When arrested, they were driven around Berlin in a sealed vehicle for up to 4 hours to disorientate them. Bear in mind the prisoners were on Remand and had not, as yet, been convicted. They were basically held until such times as they signed a confession, then taken to court and sentenced.

Stasi Cell

Padded cell for isolating the prisoners – February 2012

In the padded isolation cells, as above, the prisoners were held incommunicado. There was even a traffic light system in the corridor to ensure prisoners never met.

T62

Russian T-­‐62 tank, East Berlin -­‐ 1982

When monitoring Soviet troop movements such as these, the reaction was often far more violent. On one occasion, our vehicle rammed side on, so hard and pushed along sideways, that the tyres were ripped off the wheels. And on one occasion, I was personally dragged out of my vehicle and beaten up by Soviet and KGB troops.

BMP1

Russian BMP-­‐1, East Berlin – 1982

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HarveyBlack-Red Effect150313

Photographs are copyrighted to Harvey Black

General Erich Von Manstein, Part 2.

During the battles around southern Leningrad, in October and November 1941, in temperatures reaching -40 degrees, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Regiment, FJR3, 7th Flieger Division, commanded by General Student, was dispatched to defend parts of the River Neva and repulse any Russian attempts at creating a bridgehead. They were used in battalion-sized units in a fire-fighting role and consequently some elements suffered up to 75% casualties. The setting for my third novel, Devils with Wings: Frozen Sun

This unit was just a small piece of the jigsaw of Army Group North’s push through the Balkans during Operation Barbarossa, launched by Hitler on Sunday, 22nd June 1941.

General Manstein’s WW2 career started as the Chief of Staff of Heeresgruppe Süd, Army Group South, coordinating the three subordinate armies during the initial invasion of the West, the infamous Blitzkrieg, and rapidly defeating Poland in its wake.

After only a matter of weeks after the fall of Poland, the General was given the operations order, Fall Gelb, Case Yellow, the plan for the attack on the Anglo-French Allies. The initial plan was for the focal point, using Heeresgruppe B, to be on the right flank in Belgium and Heeresgruppe A, with two armies and a single panzer division, making a supporting attack through the Ardennes.

Manstein quickly identified weaknesses in this approach, advocating that the allies would expect an attack through Belgium and the German Army would be unable to fulfil the new concept of encirclement. With Rundstedt behind him, Manstein wrote to the German High Command, OKH, suggesting that the main push, with Heeresgruppe A, should be through the Ardennes, with four panzer divisions, pushing across the River Meuse, followed by a ‘Sickle-cut’ deep into the allied lines to reach the Channel coast.

His preferences were not welcomed however, and many of his memos were blocked and did not reach Hitler. However, some of Manstein’s supporters managed to leak his ideas to Hitler and on the 17th February 1940, along with other senior commanders, he was invited to breakfast with the Führer himself. Taken aside and asked for his opinion, Hitler adopted this new approach and Heeresgruppe A was increased from 24 to 44 divisions, including the newly formed Panzergruppe Kleist, consisting of five panzer divisions, totalling some 1,200 tanks.

Manstein, although the father of the attack plan, had little involvement in the early stages. Eventually his XXXVIII Armeekorps was involved and was part of a multi-corps assault across the River Somme on the 5th June, eventually pushing the French forces back to the River Loire.

The rest is history, with the invasion of the west being launched on the 10th May 1940, the main allied force being quickly defeated and the remaining French forces defeated by a second Blitzkrieg, ending with the signing of the armistice on the 22 June.

Manstein’s involvement in the Campaign, although short, was successful and he was awarded the Ritterkreuz der Eisernen Kreuzes, Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, and made General of the Infantry. Although there were a number of contributors to the final plan, it was Manstein’s model that ensured German’s greatest military victory.

With Operation Sea lion, the Invasion of Britain cancelled, Hitler’s eyes were already turning east. Manstein was to prove his worth yet again in one of the largest battles ever…

General Manstein, one of the Wehrmacht’s top Generals. Part 1.

During the battles around southern Leningrad, in October and November 1941, in temperatures reaching -40 degrees, the 3rd Fallschirmjager Regiment, FJR3, 7th Flieger Division, commanded by General Student, was dispatched to defend parts of the River Neva and repulse any Russian attempts at creating a bridgehead. They were used in battalion sized units in a fire-fighting role and consequently some elements suffered up to 75% casualties.

This unit was just a small piece of the jigsaw of Army Group North’s push through the Balkans during Operation Barbarossa, launched by Hitler on Sunday, 22nd June, 1941.

General Manstein also had a key role to play in the invasion of Russia, taking command of LVI AK, LVI Army Corps, in February 1941, under the command of Panzer Group 4. He was assigned the 8th Panzer Division, 3rd Infantry Division (motorised) and the 290th Infantry Division and was ordered, along with Reinhardt of the XLI AK, to strike through the thinly held Russian defences and encircle the Russian 8th Army, before continuing their advance towards the Dvina River and force a crossing. The ultimate goal for Army Group North, was to destroy the Red Army holding the Baltic States, capture Leningrad and link up with the Finnish Army.

Manstein was born in Braunfels in Hesse, on the 24th November 1887, one of ten children. Although born to the Lewinski family, his father a Prussian artillery Generalleutnant, he was brought up by his mother’s sister, as they had no sons with whom to carry the Manstein name forward. Manstein was related to a number of famous Prussian Generals and naturally pursued a career in that same field. After completing his training and attending the Royal Military Academy at Schloss Engers, near Koblenz, he was attached, as a young officer, to the 3rd Garde-Regiment zu Fuss.

At the outbreak of World War 1, in August 1914, he initially served in Belgium before being transferred to the Russian Front in October, where, during the retreat from Warsaw, he was wounded and sent to Wiesbaden to recover.

After the war and under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, where the size of the Army was limited to 100,000 men, much of his time was spent in an organisational role and it wasn’t until October 1921 that he got his first command, 6th Company, 5th Infantry Regiment. He was now married to Jutta von Loesch and his second child, a son, was born.

To overcome the restrictions placed upon the Army by the Treaty small study groups were created, leading to new doctrine in infantry, armour and motorised warfare. Manstein was fortunate to be included in one of these groups helping develop new military concepts.

Promoted to Major in 1928 and Oberstleutnant, Lieutenant Colonel, in 1931, he commanded II Jaeger battalion of the 4th Prussian Infantry Regiment in Kolberg. He was at Kolberg when Adolf Hitler became Reich Chancellor in January 1933, and along with the rest of the German Military, swore an oath, pledging their loyalty to him. His Wehrmacht service had begun…