Rain is the thing that you always remember about Berlin. It was raining on the twenty-second of July 1954, the day Kevin got there, and it was raining the day he left, three years later to the day. He liked to tell the story that one year he had taken a three-day pass to Munich in the American Zone of Germany and had missed what little summer there was altogether.
Most of those who participated in the operation still don't realize it, but the fate of Project PBJOINTLY hung in the balance on the eighth of September, and rain was the thing that tipped the scales to failure, and Kevin the person. That was the day that the tunnel they were digging hit water eight feet below the concrete of the basement floor in the warehouse that provided cover for what they were doing.
"If my mother could see me now," said Kevin, up to his ankles in the brown ooze that seemed to have stopped rising. "She thought that I had a nice safe spy job, where all I had to worry about was fighting off all those Mata Haris, trying to wring secrets out of me."
"Is that what I signed up for?" quipped Blackie. "My recruiter wouldn't tell me anything except that it was too secret to tell me about it. If I had known about the Mata Haris, I'd have signed up for four."
"Three years or four. It doesn't matter. Just help Kilroy there figure out where the water is coming from!" ordered Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker. You would have thought that neither one of them had ever handled a shovel before, he said to himself. "You two clowns probably broke open a sewer drain. Now find out where the hole is so we can close it back up and get back to work!" continued the sergeant whose job it was to keep the tunnel moving forward.
It wasn't a sewer drain--it didn't smell bad. It didn't smell at all. It was just rain water, and there was always plenty of that in Berlin. It was trapped by a layer of clay that none of the geologists on the survey team had predicted. The geologists were reasonably intelligent and would have found it, if the project wasn't so secret that they had not been allowed to take core samples. The irascible Chief of Base, whose sarcasm was sometimes heavy enough to crush rocks, not to mention less-than-sturdy egos, had given their request short shrift.
"You want to what?" exclaimed the Chief of Base. "If you take core samples out in the compound enclosure, we might as well send an engraved announcement to the Russians to let them know that we are digging a tunnel under the Sector border to tap three of their communications cables. Why don't we do it up right, and put a neon sign on the roof and sell tickets!"
So the geologists, who recognized the space between a rock and a hard place when they saw one, looked in some old books, took some pictures, walked back and forth on the Operations-Site compound and wrote: "The prevailing soil type in the Rudow district of Berlin is dry sand to a depth of 32 feet below the surface, which is the prevailing level of the water table in the subject area." So much for prior planning. At a depth of 16 feet below the surface, Kevin was standing in a foot of water, wondering just how deep it would get.
"I don't think it is a drain," said Blackie in the direction of the tunnel opening in the basement of the warehouse.
"That's your problem all right, you don't think," yelled Sergeant Laufflaecker, whose parade-ground voice was almost as big a threat to the security of the project as having the geologists drill test holes. It was loud enough that you could hear it from one end of the compound to the other, and on a good day with the wind behind it, it would probably reach all the way to the East-German Vopo tower that kept an eye on the Site from across the Schönefelder Chaussee on the other side of the Sector border in Alt Glienicke. Everybody hoped that the guards in the tower didn't speak English.
That voice, however, was part and parcel of Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker, Thomas E., O.D. green in color, unit of issue, each. He was from the old army, the one that had fought World War II, and he measured your worth by the sharpness of the crease in your uniform pants, the length of your hair and the depth of the shine of your shoes. On his scale of worth, Kevin and Blackie were the lowest of the low. He was about as thrilled to be in an intelligence unit as the 9539th Telecommunications Unit was to have him. Now that's a joke, if I ever heard one: military intelligence. There ain't no such animal, he thought to himself with great regularity.
There was a rumor that he had pissed off the assignments clerk in Personnel when he showed up to talk about his next tour of duty by telling the clerk what a slob he was.
"You ain't fit to wear this uniform, if you can't keep it clean and them creases razor sharp. If you was in my unit, you wouldn't look so sloppy. That's one thing I never put up with in my units. Who's your top sergeant?"
So much for Sergeant Laufflaecker's long sought-after assignment to headquarters, 7th Infantry. Both he and the 9539th TCU would have been much happier if he had gone there, but he didn't.
Kevin often wondered if the clerk had thought about the pain and suffering that he was inflicting on the 9539th when--with the stroke of a pen--he sent the blustering Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker to the 'hell' of an 'intelligence' unit instead of to the "seven steps to hell" of the 7th Infantry. Perhaps he was only focused on the pleasure of doing a job on Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker, a pleasure that did not last too long, and was accompanied by some very unpleasant consequences. Half an hour later, he was facing the music in his top kick's office. Sergeant Laufflaecker had dropped by to complain to an old buddy in Personnel, also from the old, World-War-II army, about that slovenly bum in a wrinkled uniform behind a desk, filling out papers, instead of on KP, doing pots and pans in the mess hall where he belonged.
He should have had more consideration for his fellow man, thought Kevin to himself. He had spent more than his share of time doing pots and pans in the mess hall, and was not sure if he preferred KP to digging the tunnel or not. He would have to give it some more thought.
Damn weenies is just goldbricking, said Sergeant Laufflaecker, lightly under his breath. I wish I had gone to 7th Army, where they got real men and not these 'Marys', he complained.
"I'm comin' down there and that water had better be up to your assholes," said Sergeant Laufflaecker in his command voice, the one that made Blackie's and Kevin's blood run cold.
He came down and shot right back up like a yo-yo. Even though the water was not as deep as he had specified it needed to be, he chased Kevin and Blackie up the ladder ahead of him. That was the good side of Sergeant Laufflaecker. He hated the peacetime army, and when things were quiet and safe, he treated his troops like the lowest form of animal life, but when the going got tough, he was ready to put his life on the line to protect the imbeciles, whom the army, in its infinite wisdom, had placed under his care.
Sergeant Laufflaecker picked up the receiver of the field telephone that was on the crate that served as his desk in the basement of the warehouse with a hole in its floor. He spun the crank a couple of times, and waited for the distant end to answer.
"Yes," said the civilian duty officer on the other end of the line, who knew that this could only mean trouble.
"You'd better get the Chief of Base down here right away. We got a little problem," intoned Sergeant Laufflaecker in a calm, conversational voice that conveyed a greater sense of urgency than his usual loud-speaker-like pronouncements.
The duty officer--even though he was a civilian--knew better than to trifle with Sergeant Laufflaecker. He picked up the secure line to the Chief of Base, who dropped everything and started the counter-surveillance run that would take him 47 minutes to complete, before a closed panel truck dropped off some "supplies," consisting of the Chief of Base, inside the warehouse. The world could be ending, but cover had to be maintained at all costs. This was, after all, a covert project. It wouldn't do for the Chief of Base to be seen coming to the Site.
When he got there, he saw Kevin, Blackie and Sergeant Laufflaecker at the edge of the tunnel opening, watching the water rise. It was about three and a half feet deep by then.
"You mentioned a little problem, sergeant?" inquired the Chief of Base.
"We appear to have some ground water seepage, sir," replied Laufflaecker.
"Pumps?" asked the Chief of Base.
"Not a one to be had through normal channels," answered Laufflaecker, who had been on the phone for about twenty minutes.
"And through abnormal channels?"
"I can get you two small drainage pumps for four bottles of whiskey and eight cartons of cigs, but they'll only slow it down. We'll need something bigger to turn the tide."
The Chief of Base turned to the duty officer, who was following along behind him like a nervous dog. "Get him the whiskey and the cigarettes!" The duty officer disappeared.
"When can I have my pumps?"
"They'll be here in about ten minutes. I thought that it was a fair price, so I placed the order on approval."
"Tell the duty officer to make that six bottles of whiskey. The other two are for you. Since you'll be drinking it yourself, tell him I said to give you the 'Black and White.' My personal favorite," added the Chief of Base.
"Thank you, sir," responded Master-Sergeant Laufflaecker in a pleased voice. You could do a lot with two bottles of whiskey besides drink it, and Laufflaecker was going over the possibilities in his militarily efficient mind. If he went to Potsdamer Platz where the American, British and Soviet Sectors met, there was a brisk trade in deficit goods there, occasionally referred to as the "black market," where he could convert his two bottles of Scotch into something more useful. He eventually got two cuckoo clocks for them that would fetch him a hundred dollars back in the States. An August Schwer eight-day Leaf-and-Bird and an Anton Schneider chalet-style cuckoo clock with a moving chimney sweep!
"Once you get the small pumps running, you and your miners can take off till I can get the big pumps in from the Zone," continued the Chief of Base.
If the Chief of Base had known what was going to happen when the miners dispersed all over Berlin, he would have made them stay and bail out the tunnel by hand, but he wasn't clairvoyant, so he turned on his heel and was gone.
At about this time, another 1,356 feet east of the tunnel face, circuit 39 on cable A went active.
Circuit 39: 08:32-08:37Z 08 September 1954
FEMALE 1: MOSCOW, This is WUENSDORF in GERMANY. Please give me the GRU duty officer for my party.
FEMALE 2: Of course, WUENSDORF. Just a moment.
MALE 1: GRU Headquarters. Captain DEZHURNYJ speaking.
FEMALE 2: Your party is on the line, WUENSDORF.
MALE 2: General SERPOV, please.
MALE 1: May I say who's calling?
MALE 2: Colonel MOLOTOV from WUENSDORF.
MALE 1: I will see if he's in.
MALE 3: VYACHESLAV MIKHAJLOVICH! Good news on project JITNEY, I hope.
MALE 2: Yes, JITNEY is off to a good start, VLADLEN MARKOVICH. Captain SILNYAKOV and his team were efficient as usual. We have the subject in custody.
MALE 3: Is he cooperating?
MALE 2: No, but what else would you expect with an American. They're still working on him. He'll change his tune yet.
MALE 3: Change his tune or not, at least he's out of the game. He's been a thorn in our side for some time.
MALE 2: That he has. You said that there might be new instructions?
MALE 3: Yes. If he cooperates and we can double him so that he will work for us, you're not to harm him any more than is necessary to gain his cooperation. He needs to be able to go back under his own steam so that it will look as if nothing has happened.
MALE 2: There's nothing different in that. That's what we always do.
MALE 3: Yes. I am just making sure that we are both reading from the same set of sheet music.
MALE 2: Of course.
MALE 3: If he does not cooperate, then you are to make sure that he cannot go back to work against us ever again. You are authorized to take any measures short of killing him to achieve this goal. He has to be able to take a message back with him when he goes.
MALE 2: We could just pin a note to the body and drop it in the American Sector.
MALE 3: We want him to deliver the note, so that he can convince them that we are serious.
MALE 2: Oh, you want him to be able to put the contents of the note into context?
MALE 3: Yes, exactly.
MALE 2: I've seen him, and I don't think that we have a messenger. I think that he'll make a good double agent.
MALE 3: Don't underestimate these Americans. They can be tougher than they look.
MALE 2: We'll see. How long do I have to work on him before I have to decide how to send him back?
MALE 3: You have until Monday the 13th.
MALE 2: Good thing I'm not superstitious.
MALE 3: He has to be found so that he can deliver his message by 14:00 Local that day.
MALE 2: We'll have to work fast.
MALE 3: See that you do.
MALE 2: And the message he is to take back, if I can't double him?
MALE 3: It is being finessed in both English and German to convey just the right tone. We will send it out to you on the teletype when we've got it ready.
MALE 2: Give me a call when it goes, so that I can be on the lookout for it.
MALE 3: I'll have the case officer call you as soon as he has a file time for the message.
MALE 2: That should be fine. If he's to be found in time to deliver the message by 14:00 Local, I will have to decide how to send him back by 08:00 Local, that's 10:00 your time. I'll give you a call when I decide.
MALE 3: Very good.
MALE 2: You have an alternate way of delivering the message, in case I can turn him?
MALE 3: Yes. It is all laid on, ready to go at an hour's notice.
MALE 2: I'll try to see that you have to make use of it.
MALE 3: You do that, VYACHESLAV MIKHAJLOVICH.
MALE 2: I serve the Soviet Union, VLADLEN MARKOVICH.
Kidnapping: In 1951, the Bowman Gum Company issued a series of trading cards with the title Fight the Red Menace: Children's Crusade Against Communism. There were 48 cards in the series, and card number 33 was Berlin Kidnapping. In the foreground, the card shows an American PFC (Private First Class) in the grip of three Red Army soldiers (recognizable by their uniforms), and, in the background, a military sedan with uniformed Russian driver can be seen waiting. According to The Secret War for Europe: A Dossier of Espionage, by Louis Hagen (Stein and Day, 1969), between the end of World War II and 1959, there had been 255 kidnappings and 340 attempted kidnappings in West Berlin.
Kidnapping in Berlin as a part of an espionage operation is the central theme of the movie The Man Between (1953), staring James Mason, Claire Bloom, Hildegard Knef and Geoffrey Toone.
Want to read another chapter? Chapter 29 is available on www.SpyWise.net.