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Spies in History & Literature ~
Voices Under Berlin – A Novel of the Berlin Spy Tunnel

By T.H.E. Hill
A veteran of Field Station Berlin

Chapter 29
The 393rd Field Mess-kit Repair Battalion

Cover – Voices Under Berlin

The briefing book on the 393rd Field Mess-kit Repair Battalion was a work of art. It was maintained with meticulous care by the best minds on Site. The level of detail was incredible. It had a complete list of all the officers on the battalion staff, and the names of the company commanders. The commanding officer was Major Kotelek. His chief of staff was Captain Chajnik. The three company commanders – all lieutenants – were Tarelka, Chashka and Lozhka. It included a list of unit telephone numbers that was more complete than the one compiled for the Site. There was a hand-drawn detail map, showing both the garrison and the nearby village of Essgeschirrheim. The motor-pool inventory even included the motor numbers of the trucks assigned to the 393rd. In short, there was everything anyone could ever want to know about the 393rd, except the fact that it was the product of some very bored imaginations.

There was a hint of this in the names. The commanding officer’s name was Russian for “mess kit.” His chief of staff was a “teapot.” The company commanders were –saucer,” “cup,” and “spoon.” And where else could the unit have been stationed, than in a made-up German place name that meant “mess kit”-heim. The real pièce de résistance was the unit mission description. It said that the 393rd was a cover story for a nuclear weapons storage depot. Anybody who read that should have immediately suspected that it was a fake. Aside from that, the briefing book looked just as real as any of the other briefing books on Site. It was, after all, done by the same people who did all the other Site-generated briefing books.

Lieutenant Sheerluck was not one of the people deemed to have a need to know for the 393rd. The Chief of Base was likewise not kept abreast of the current status and activities of the 393rd, which were reported daily and in great detail in the briefing book. Sergeant Laufflaecker, however, appreciated a good joke now and then, and was fully read in. It was hard to keep anything from him in any event. Things would have been just fine, if Lieutenant Sheerluck had not found the briefing book on a day that Sergeant Laufflaecker was away from the Site on a three-day pass to the Zone.

Blackie had been reading the latest installment of the adventures of the 393rd on a Mid. He had gotten so swept up in the story – so he said – that he almost missed chow, and had had to get a move on to keep from missing the culinary, social and entertainment event of the shift, so he left the briefing book lying on his position, intending to put it away when he got back. Well, one thing led to another and he never did get back to his position after chow, and the briefing book was still out when the Day weenies came in. If Sergeant Laufflaecker had been in, he would have caught it on his initial sweep of the area, and all would have been right with the world, except in Blackie’s part of it, where Blackie would have been woken up to come back to work on the detail that burned all the classified paper trash as a reminder that this kind of thing was not acceptable security practice. But Sergeant Laufflaecker was not in, and Lieutenant Sheerluck found the briefing book.

He sat down to read it. It was an excellent piece of work. More detailed than any of the other briefing books he had read. He thought with pride that this was a product of the 9539th, and that he was a part of this fine military unit. He considered it such a good piece of work that he wondered why no one had asked him to brief it to the general who was due by on an inspection tour later that morning, which was really the reason that Sergeant Laufflaecker had taken a three-day pass to the Zone on that particular day. Sergeant Laufflaecker knew that the general’s tour would be an unmitigated disaster, and had made a skillfully executed tactical withdrawal that would keep him out of the line of fire.

The general arrived in the closed panel truck that was used to transport high-profile visitors back and forth to the Site without raising the profile of the Site. He was accompanied by the Chief of Base, who was dressed as the Chief of Base for this occasion. When the warehouse doors closed and the truck could no longer be seen by the Vopo tower on the other side of the Sector border, the general and the Chief of Base exited the truck, followed by the general’s two aides, who had been especially cleared for the project on this occasion. The general and his entourage took the twenty-five cent walking tour of the Site, which included an outing across the Sector border underground. They were impressed by the engineering skill that had gone into the project, awed by the technology that made it run, and appalled by the uniformed denizens of the cavernous space that contained it, in other words, the people who were there to run it. Sergeant Laufflaecker’s assessment of the tactical situation had been faultless.

“That man needs a haircut! That man’s uniform is dirty! This floor hasn’t been swept in months!” said the general’s short aide to Corporal Neumann, who wrote down what the aide said with mock efficiency, wishing that he had had the good sense to work the Mid like Sergeant Laufflaecker had suggested he do. “That man’s shoes need shining! That man needs to stand closer to the razor! This light fixture is covered with dust!” said the general’s tall aide to Corporal Neumann, who wrote down: “Next time, listen to Sergeant Laufflaecker!” The general did not say anything. That is what he had two aides for.

When the tour was finished, the general’s party retired to the small briefing room, where Lieutenant Sheerluck was waiting at the podium to regale them with the important facts about the project. He read off the information with the polished ease of a doctor of philosophy (ABD).

“The tunnel is 1,476 feet long and six and one half feet in diameter. Excavating the tunnel produced 3,100 tons of “spoil” dirt, which is stored in the basement of this warehouse building and in sandbags, lining the tunnel walls. The tunnel sheath consists of 125 tons of specially shaped steel plates, which were manufactured in the United States, shipped by sea to the port of Bremerhaven, and brought overland through the Russian Zone on the daily American Duty Train. Its 4,428 one-foot segments were bolted together in the tunnel, providing the necessary support to keep the weight of the overburden from collapsing the tunnel. Pumps that run continuously, remove 400 gallons of water from the tunnel every twenty-four hours. The tap accesses 273 wire pairs housed on three cables, from which up to 30 telegraphic and 120 voice circuits can be collected simultaneously. Thus far the operation has collected over 17,000 reels of magnetic tape, which translates to approximately 125,000 telephone conversations and 800,000 feet of teletype messages.”

“That’s all very nice,” said the general’s short aide. “But what about the product?” continued the general’s tall aide.

Lieutenant Sheerluck was not ready to move on to that portion of the briefing. He still had lots of information about things like how many watts of electricity were used, how many British Thermal Units of cooling were delivered by the ariconditioners and the average channel number for the 09:00 Local hour, a valuable piece of data that he had himself calculated just this morning. The general’s aides’ wish, however, was the lieutenant’s command, so he skipped to the part of his briefing that contained his summary of the intelligence product that the project had generated. 1,475 true unit designators recovered, 1,893 unit commanders identified by name and rank, 482 garrison areas identified by place name and Army Post Office number.

“That’s all very nice,” said the general’s tall aide. “But could the general have some concrete examples?” continued the general’s short aide.

That really put Lieutenant Sheerluck on the spot. He did not have any concrete examples. “Concrete examples?” he said, stalling for time. “Just a moment.” And then he remembered. He still had the briefing book for the 393rd. He would read that to the general.

“The 393rd Field Mess-kit Repair Battalion, commanded by Major Kotelek, is stationed in Essgeschirrheim. This is not the unit’s true designator, however, it is, in point of actual fact, the 1292nd Nuclear Weapons Storage Depot. . . . All this information was obtained directly from our collection,” concluded Lieutenant Sheerluck, with pride. “Any questions?”

“Why wasn’t the general briefed on this before?” asked the general’s aides in unison.

“This has been our first opportunity to brief the general,” replied Lieutenant Sheerluck truthfully.

The Chief of Base stood up, wondering why he had not been briefed on this before and said: “That’s been very enlightening. Thank you, lieutenant.” Turning to the general, he said: “There’s coffee and other refreshments in the back of the room. What’ll you have, general?”

The general had a Vat 69 on the rocks. His short aide had a Berliner Weisse with a Schuss. His tall aide had a coffee. They left in a benevolent mood with a tin of Russian Beluga caviar and a bottle of Russian Stolichnaya vodka each. You could not get those in the PX or the class VI. Sergeant Laufflaecker’s recommended tactic had met with the success typical of all his tactical suggestions.

The Chief of Base hoped that the general would forget all about it, but he did not. A hand-penned note winged its way through an ethereal back-channel to a military-academy classmate on the Joint Chiefs’ staff, asking why the general had been taken by surprise by this. His friend wrote back: “Jerr, it’s really all very hush-hush, and I shouldn’t be telling you this, but since you already know about the Russians, I guess that I have to tell you, so that you won’t think that we dropped the ball on this one, but you can’t share this with anyone else. We’ll be deploying our own nuclear weapons to Germany in March. I can’t tell you where, of course, but it’s not going to be in your backyard.” The general was pleased with this piece of information and made a mental note to go over to the Site for briefings more often. It was handy learning unusual things like that. Knowledge is power, and the general understood that very well. His wife had been pleased with the caviar.

Circuit 53: 15:21-15:25Z 01 September 1955 Reel 17777

FEMALE 1: KARLSHORST, Operator. This is MOSCOW. I need 4371 for my party.

FEMALE 2: Just a moment. It’s ringing.

MALE 1: 4371.

FEMALE 2: Your party’s on the line. Go ahead, please.

MALE 2: BORIS! A moment of your time, please.

MALE 1: Certainly, EVGENIJ. As always, a pleasure to hear from you. What’s important enough to get you on the phone?

MALE 2: This is a very delicate matter, BORIS. So delicate that there will not be any written communication about it. This will be just between you and me.

MALE 1: I understand, EVGENIJ. Go on.

MALE 2: Your last report from PRIMROSE was very disturbing.

MALE 1: How so, EVGENIJ. That was just so much BS. You know as well as I do that we don't have anything like that in the forward area.

MALE 2: Speak for yourself, BORIS.

MALE 1: Oh, my God! A ‘special weapons facility’ in the forward area? Why wasn’t I told?

MALE 2: BORIS, please. I couldn’t tell you, because, if I did, I’d have to have you shot, and you know how much that would upset NATASHA, but don’t think I wouldn’t.

MALE 1: Not a doubt in my mind. Why are you telling me now?

MALE 2: I want you to check their security profile. If there’s a leak, I want to find it! APO 07243. And be discrete!

MALE 1: No wonder you’re on the phone. I’ll get started immediately.

MALE 2: Only your most trusted people, and nothing in writing. Understand?

MALE 1: Trusted people and nothing in writing.

MALE 2: And impress upon them the seriousness of the matter.

MALE 1: May I tell them that I need no further sanction to terminate those who permitted this security lapse with extreme prejudice?

MALE 2: Yes, you may, but call me before you do! Otherwise there’s twice as much paperwork. Anything on your end?

MALE 1: No, things are quiet enough here.

MALE 2: That’s good to hear. OLGA wonders if you could arrange for some more coffee.

MALE 1: Tell her to consider it done. And ask her to call NATASHA. You could call yourself. She likes to hear from you.

MALE 2: I will. Don’t call in your report. I’ll take it personally when you come back next week on TDY. I can get tickets for the ice hockey game. Dynamo is playing.

MALE 1: That’d be great.

MALE 2: Good evening, BORIS. My best to NATASHA.

MALE 1: And to OLGA. [Hang up]

“Hey, Eddie, take a look at this!” said Kevin, shoving the script under Eddie’s sleeping nose.

Eddie tried to pretend that he was awake, but it was a poor imitation of the real thing. He looked at the script, but was having trouble making his eyes focus.

“I need a cup of coffee.”

Eddie got up, got his cup of coffee and sat back down at his desk to read, what Kevin liked to term his “deathless prose.” It was short. He read it twice.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Report it,” said Kevin unabashed.

“Report what?” asked Fast Eddie, wondering if he was really awake, or if this was just a dream.

“A Russian nuclear weapons depot outside of Templin.”

“Where does it say that?”

“In the script.”

“Oh, you wrote this for the bennie book on the 393rd?”

“Give me a break. You know I don’t fake scripts.”

“OK. I give up. I’m asleep and you’re a figment of my imagination. You’re going to tell me whether I want to hear it or not. Where’s it say it in the script?”

“A ‘special weapons facility’ is a ‘nuclear weapons depot.’ It says so in the technical dictionary that the Fort sent us.”

“OK. I’ll bite. Where’s it say Templin?”

“APO 07243 is just outside of Templin. It says so in the ‘Whorehouse Report.’”

“I’m sorry I asked. And just who is the source of this information?”

“General Besstrashnij at KGB headquarters in Moscow. He and Boris are old buddies. Boris, that’s Colonel Badunov to you, married the general’s sister Natasha.”

“And you know this from . . . ?”

“The telephone number and a stack of other scripts I’ve done on these two. I recognize the voices. We’re practically old friends.”

“And you want me to report this?”

“Now you’re catching on.”

“I am asleep. Wake me up when it’s shift change.”

“Don’t fart me off, Eddie. Write the report! If you don’t, I’ll have the duty officer call in the Chief of Base from home and wake him up.”

Sergeant Fastbinder opened the drawer of his desk, took out a message form, rolled it into his mill and began to type:


The next morning, the Chief of Base was reading the outgoing message traffic before going over to the Site to get to the bottom of where Lieutenant Sheerluck got all that bull shit that he was feeding the general about a nuclear weapons depot in the Soviet Zone. I’ll have his guts for garters, thought the Chief of Base. The coffee was bitter. He added sugar, stirred and turned the page. Fast Eddie’s report from last night was staring him in the face. I wonder how Lieutenant Sherlock got hold of that information to brief the general with before it went out in a report. I’ll have to keep an eye on that young man, thought the Chief of Base to himself. The lucky character of Lieutenant Sherlock’s nickname seemed to have been justified once again.

To learn more about Voices Under Berlin, check out the book’s website – Voices Under Berlin.

An interview with T.H.E. Hill can be found in the Spies in History & Literature section of this website.

T.H.E. Hill’s Voices Under Berlin and his other books are available in bookstores everywhere, as well as these on-line merchants ~

Amazon U.S.
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