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
The 393rd Field Mess-kit Repair Battalion
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
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
“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
“That’s all very nice,” said the
general’s tall aide. “But could the general have
some concrete examples?” continued the general’s
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.
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
MALE 1: That’d be great.
MALE 2: Good evening, BORIS. My best to
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
“Where does it say that?”
“In the script.”
“Oh, you wrote this for the bennie book on the
“Give me a break. You know I don’t fake
“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
“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
“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
“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
“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:
SUBJECT: SOVIET NUCLEAR WEAPONS DEPOT NEAR
TEMPLIN, EAST GERMANY.
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 –
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 ~