Saturday, January 02, 2021

The Cold War Vogelsang Twins

There are quite a few places in Germany called Vogelsang, but two of them became part of Cold War history. They were located on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain that divided the world into East and West. Although both are named Vogelsang, these military twins were quite different, as twins often are.

Before the Cold War

The first Vogelsang, a place between the villages Einruhr and Gemünd in the Eifel National Park, is located 55 km (35 mi) southwest of the city Cologne (Köln) in Germany, and close to the Belgian border. Until 2006, this place was known as Camp Vogelsang, a military training area. The camp however first had a more sinister history.

The history of this Vogelsang twin starts in 1933. Adolf Hitler, then chancellor of Germany, decided to create four Ordensburg, training centers for the offspring of the leadership of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party).

By 1936, three NS-Ordensburgen were partly build and already in use, Ordensburg Krössinsee in Pomerania, Ordensburg Sonthofen in Allgäu and Ordensburg Vogelsang in the Eifel. The forth in Marienburg was never built. The first Vogelsang NS Junkers (cadets) arrived in 1936.

Ordungsburg Vogelsang (source: VoWo)

The Junkers were lectured, or rather indoctrinated, on Nazi ideology, race science and foreign policy, and they received intensive physical training. The nearby Walberhof airfield provided pilot training.

The Ordensburgen were to become the breeding ground for the future Nazi elite. Regular education in the Ordensburgen ended in 1939 when the Second World War broke out. Vogelsang Castle was handed over to the Wehrmacht and its Junkers drafted in the armed forces.

In the excellent video below you have a 360° view of Vogelsang and inside its buildings. Start the video and grab the video screen with your mouse to look around. The interview is in German, but you can select settings > subtitles > auto-translate and choose your language.

Ordensburg Vogelsang housed troops during the German 1940 western campaign and several fighter squadrons were stationed at Walberdorf airfield. From 1941 until 1944, Vogelsang housed several Hitler schools, and from 1944, military training was given to boys aged 15 to 16 from the Hitler Youth. Vogelsang was cleared in 1945 after Allied air strikes had destroyed several buildings.

Camp Vogelsang Training Area - West Germany

After WWII, Ordensburg Vogelsang was in the western part of divided Germany, officially known as the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The area was taken over by the British Army in 1946. They initially planned to destroy this symbol of National Socialism but eventually turned it into a 6354 hectares (63km² or 25 sq mi) training area.

The people of the nearby village Wollseifen were ordered to leave the area and the village was then completely destroyed (later rebuild as urban warfare training area). Between 1946 and 1950, the British rebuild the castle, heavily damaged by air strikes. The training area consisted of nine firing ranges and an infantry exercise area. The British handed over Vogelsang to the Belgian Army in 1950.

Belgian 2nd Lancers Rgt with M47 Pattons, Vogelsang 1962 (source: legerdiensst)

After the creation of NATO in 1956, the Vogelsang training area was used for nearly five decades by the NATO countries Belgium, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Luxemburg, Germany and France.

Belgian insignia Vogelsang
source: Christophe Cobbaut

Parts of the training area were returned to the civilians in 1960, reducing the training area to 4200 hectares. Over the years, the Belgians restored damaged buildings and added new ones. Vogelsang could accommodate 2500 troops and was used extensively for military exercises until 2005, when the camp was handed over completely to the German government.

Since 2006, the facility is open to the public as Vogelsang Internationaler Platz, part of Eifel National Park. You can visit the camp, which has an exhibit about its history and Nazi documentation on Vogelsang. They also organise guided tours. Burg Vogelsang is a protected monument since 1989.

Soviet Base Vogelsang - East Germany

The military twin of Camp Vogelsang was a Soviet base in Vogelsang near Zehdenick, 55 km (35 mi) north of Berlin, in former East Germany, officially known as the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Although less in size, this one had serious striking power.

Mural monument at the Vogelsang Soviet base (source: Johan van Elk)

After WWII, Vogelsang was still a small village in a vast and dense forest that was difficult to access. The Group of Soviet Occupation Forces in Germany (Rus. Группа советских оккупационных войск в Германии - ГСОВГ ) claimed 2,000 hectares of the forest and commissioned in 1952 the construction of a military base in Vogelsang. The construction of the base was planned, built and paid for by the East German government

Soviet Forces in Germany
The site gradually grew into a town with a population of 15,000 soldiers, their families and civilian personnel. The town included several barracks, medical facilities, shops, a theatre, gym and school, and was basically self-contained. Vogelsang became, next to Wüsdorf, the largest and most expensive garrison of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany GSFG (Rus. Группа советских войск в Германии or ГСВГ )

The garrison housed the headquarters of the 25th tank division, 162nd tank regiment, 803rd Motor Rifle Regiment, 1702nd anti-aircraft missile regiment and the Tactical Missile Division.

In 1959, the Soviet R-5 and R-5M Pobeda (Rus. Побе́да, NATO name SS-3 Shyster) theatre ballistic missile became the main strike weapons of the garrison. They carried a 300 kt thermonuclear warhead that could reach all strategic targets in Europe. The R-5M missiles mainly targeted the PGM-17 Thor intermediate-range ballistic missile in the United Kingdom. Less than a year later, the Soviets withdrew the R-5's.

From 1983, the TR-1 Temp (Rus, Темп-С, NATO name SS-12 Scaleboard) mobile theatre ballistic missiles with 1500 kt warhead were stored in Vogelsang. Enough to raise hell across Europe.

All Russian troops, then called Western Group of Forces, withdrew in 1994 and the abandoned town and the military buildings were partly demolished. What remained of the military town is now gradually reclaimed by the forest, as shown in the aerial video of the base. 

Little was known about secret "object" Vogelsang, but gradually more details surfaced. At the Lenin in Vogelsang website are several memoirs of soldier Serik Kulmeshkenov (translation), Igor Platonov part1 & part 2 (translation part 1 & part 2), the son of an officer, and Colonel Zharky F.M. from the 25th division (translation),

Growing up on a Soviet base in the GDR is a podcast interview with Andrej, whose father was a lieutenant in the Soviet army. He lived with his parents in the GDR at Soviet base Wünsdorf, and in Rudersdorf and Prenzlau. His story gives an inside view on everyday life of the Soviet families in the GDR.
These stories make you realize that those Soviet military and families serving abroad were mostly people just like us, doing the same work, only other leaders and ideology. Cold War Conversations has more podcasts with personal stories.

Vogelsang vs Vogelsang

Although we cannot compare Camp Vogelsang training area with the Soviet Vogelsang base and its nuclear strike capabilities, we should consider the British occupation zone, which also included the Belgian Forces Germany, and the American and French occupation zones. These zones stretched from the western border of West Germany to the East German border. They too deployed nuclear missiles.

The MGM-1 Matador surface-to-surface cruise missiles, armed with nuclear warhead, were deployed in 1953 by the 1st Tactical Missile Squadron from Bitburg U.S. Air Base. These were withdrawn in 1962. Three U.S. Army battalions, stationed in Germany, and two German Air Force wings received Pershing 1a nuclear missiles in 1965, and by 1985, the U.S had 108 Pershing II missiles in Germany and 464 nuclear armed cruise missiles in Germany and neighbouring countries.

And we didn't even mention the many unguided nuclear bombs, stored by both NATO and Soviet units on many locations in powder keg Germany, let alone the thousands of ICBMs, both fixed and mobile, in the US and USSR. In the end, all occupation troops left Germany in the 1990s, fortunately without firing a single doomsday-shot. The last troops to leave were the Belgian Forces Germany in 2005. In hindsight, a bit weird that we slept like babies when stationed there.

Below additional information, many photos and videos from both Vogelsang twins. Non-english pages are provided with translation link.

Camp Vogelsang (former West Germany)

Soviet base Vogelsang (former East Germany)

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

2020 Twilight Summary

This quite strange year is nearing its end, but we're still alive and kicking. It wasn’t easy for anyone. Many lost a bit of personal freedom in 2020, and no idea for how long, but let's put that in perspective. There's always far worse, elsewhere, at any given moment.

1950 winter in Korean very Cold Cold War (source: US Army, also see video)

So what have we been up to this year? Above all, I was happy to finally start writing again in early 2020, as the long 2019 break was not planned. We did manage to finally arrive at 250 posts.

The blog also had some tweaks. New visitors might get lost, scrolling through all posts, so I created the Recommended Posts page as introduction to this blog, and to highlight posts. This page will change occasionally. There's now an Updates page. Old posts are updated regularly with new information, videos or links, but if you don't know, you missed it. You’ll never miss new bits with the Updates page.

The Internet Archive is another victim of my urge to preserve a tiny bit of history. This enabled replacing many dead links with their archived version, and enabled saving existing links, posts and web pages, also from the Cipher Machines and Cryptology website.

Also, keeping the Enigma Challenge running has always been a joy. Meanwhile, already 311 people from 39 different countries joined the challenge. Over the years, we've registered 1360 solutions. No chance to get bored. The most recent to crack all messages was Matthias Schoop on December 19. Well done! Now there's also a Wall of Honor for the Cold War spy adventure Operation Tinker Bell.

All the best for 2021 to all readers!

Unfortunately, there’s also some bad news about Christmas. It’s not clear whether Santa will make it in time. There’s an unexpected delay, caused by some misunderstanding about his mission. let's hope he gets things sorted out.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Reading Tips for Winter Days

The winter days are getting shorter, darker and colder, but no worries! Here are six books about espionage and intelligence that will make time fly fast. This is the real stuff, told by people involved and thorough research. I really enjoyed reading these books. Highly recommended! Don't waste that winter, make it exciting and fascinating!

Must read books on intelligence (click to enlarge)

📖 The Billion Dollar Spy - A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal, by David Hoffman (read my review)
📖 The Widow Spy - My CIA Journey from the Jungles of Laos to Prison in Moscow, by Martha Peterson. More about Martha Peterson.
📖 Nuking the Moon  -  And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board, by Vince Houghton (read my review)
📖 Russians Among Us - Sleeper Cells, Ghost Stories, and the Hunt for Putin’s Spies, by Gordon Corera.
📖 Deep Undercover - My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America, by Jack Barsky (read my review)
📖 The Moscow Rules - The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War, Antonio and Jonna Mendez.

Did you read one of these books, then share your thoughts with the readers in the comments underneath this post.

More books on SIGINT Chatter and Cipher Machines and Cryptology.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Arduino PicoEnigma Simulator

by @arduinoenigma

Arduino Enigma recently developed the tiny PicoEnigma, a universal physical Enigma simulator only 4 inch or 10 cm in size. He already made the Enigma Uno, Mega Enigma, Enigma Z30, and even build the Enigma Uhr switch for the plugboard.

Visit his PicoEnigma page for more details. The Arduino Enigma blog has the complete family of Enigma sims and many technical details on all projects. The circuit boards are found at Oshpark. Arduino Enigma is also on Youtube. The unique hand-made PicoEnigma and other types are available on eBay and on tindie.

Meanwhile, there's a race going on at the Enigma World Code Group forum to see who can build the smallest physical Enigma simulator. Incredible how they manage to build those tiny things. Just for fun, but technically true pieces of art.

I already wrote about his tiny touch screen Enigma Uno in 2014,  but he just couldn't stop creating different new versions in various sizes.

Visit Cipher Machines and Cryptology to learn everything about the fascinating Enigma cipher machine, how it was used by the German military during WWII and the Enigma Sim software for PC.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

James Hall – The Spy Within Field Station Berlin

James W Hall III
James Hall was a U.S. Army signals intelligence analyst, stationed at Field Station Berlin from 1982 to 1985. Although less known to the general public, he became one of the most prolific and most damaging spies of the Cold War.

The listening station on top of Teufelsberg intercepted and analysed East German and Soviet signals (SIGINT) and electronic (ELINT) intelligence during the Cold War, from radio communications, microwave links, satellite transmissions to different types of technical signals. Initially operated by the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) took over in 1977 and the National Security Agency (NSA) provided most of the personnel.

Given its strategic importance and secretive mission, the well-guarded Field Station Berlin was an important target of both the Russian state security service KGB and the East German foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA).

Field Station Berlin on top of Teufelsberg (source: INSCOM)

James Hall was 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Army in 1974. He was trained as a signals specialist and his first assignment abroad was in 1977 to Schneeberg, a U.S. listening station in West Germany near the Czech border. In 1981 he was transferred to Berlin.

From Secrets to Cash

Working at Field Station Berlin, Hall realised he could make a lot of money by selling top secret information. In 1982 he dropped a letter in the Soviet consulate mailbox, offering his services to the Soviets. After a first covert meeting with his KGB contact, Hall started his spying career to increase his low pay, but wasn't quite happy with the cumbersome KGB tradecraft and complex agent communications schemes.

Auto Craft Shop
Source: Berlin Brigade
Already in 1979, the HVA had recruited walk-in Huseyin Yildirim, a Turkish national who proved valuable in 1980 when he started working as mechanic in the Auto Craft Shop inside U.S. Andrews Barracks Berlin. Yildirim was a very skilled mechanic, nicknamed "Der Meister" (the master) by the Army personnel, but he was even more skilled in profiling people and making money fast.

Yildirim, codename BLITZ, was the ideal man to approach people who worked at the SIGINT station and serviced their car in the Auto Craft Shop. In 1984, then 27 year old Sergeant Hall got acquainted with Yildirim and proved to be an extremely valuable source for the HVA. Hall now had an additional and easier source of income.

Operating under the codename PAUL, Hall sold huge amounts of highly classified information to both KGB and their HVA counterpart. Yildirim served as middleman between Hall and HVA agents, and as his courier and paymaster.

Crown Jewels for Sale

Hall compromised ELINT systems to locate and identify enemy aircraft, missiles and vehicles, revealed NSA's SIGINT targets and several top secret programs, including TROJAN, a worldwide intelligence collection and dissemination system, and CANOPY WING, the electronic warfare plans to disrupt and mislead crucial Soviet command and missile communications in the event of a war against the Eastern Bloc.

He also sold the complete National SIGINT Requirements List or NSRL to the KGB and HVA. The crown jewels and holy grail in one. The massive 4258-page NSRL was a catalog of all NSA activities, their list of targets and the U.S. government wishlist of intelligence and enemy capabilities they were interested in.

Hall was reassigned in 1985 to 513th Military Intelligence Brigade in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. The KGB took over running Hall during his stay in the United States because the HVA had no agents over there. Due to Hall's problem with elaborate precautions and using dead drops, his spying was temporarily  halted.

Huseyin Yildirim's entry pass
for U.S. military installations
Hall transferred back to Germany in 1986, this time to 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion (205th MI Group) in Frankfurt where he worked as chief of the SIGINT and EW (electronic warfare) section.

He resumed passing large amounts of classified SIGINT information to the HVA through his trusted courier Yildirim. Hall meticulously copied classified documents during his working hours or smuggled them out to photocopy them.

When Hall applied for an appointment as warrant officer, he was subjected to a routine background investigation. A supervising officer complained that Hall apparently spent more money than his wages could afford, but Hall told him that a deceased aunt left him a large trust of which he received $ 30,000 annually.

Hall was reassigned in 1987 to Fort Stewart, Georgia. After completing his training as warrant officer he was assigned to the G-2 (military intelligence staff) of 24th Infantry Division in early 1988. As a warrant officer, he now had an even greater access to classified material. Yildirim had also moved  to the United States in 1987, but the tide had turned for both men.

Defector vs Traitor

East German professor Manfred Severin, who was hired by the Stasi as interpreter for Hall, defected in 1988 and offered his services to the CIA. His information lead to the identification of Hall, who was put under surveillance by the FBI and Army counterintelligence for several months. The FBI moved Severin in December to Savannah, close to Fort Stewart. Severin contacted Hall to arrange a meeting with a KGB agent in a hotel. On 20 December, Hall was introduced to an FBI agent, posing as KGB agent Vladimir.

FBI mugshot
During that meeting, videotaped by the FBI, Hall believed he was talking to a genuine Soviet contact. He explained to “Vladimir” that he made a lot of money by selling secrets and bragged about his work as an agent. The FBI agent assured him that Moscow pays better than the East Germans, and Hall handed over several top secret documents in exchange for $60.000. When Hall walked out the hotel he was arrested. Yildirim was arrested one day later in Tampa.

In total, Hall had received an estimated $300.000 from the East German and Russian agents, which was actually a bargain for the HVA and KGB. His flood of documents enabled the Eastern Bloc to take countermeasures, prevent eavesdropping and adapt their strategy. An NSA official estimated that Hill caused $3 billion worth of damage to the United States.
The Last Assignment 

On 9 March 1989, James Hall was court-martialed and sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage. Huseyin Yildirim was convicted on 20 July 1989 for conspiring with Hall and carrying classified intelligence to East Bloc agents. He was sentenced to life.

Hall served 22 years in Leavenworth military prison and was released in 2011. Yildirim was released after 14 years in a secret 2003 prisoner exchange with Turkey, under the condition that he would serve his sentence in Turkey. The Turkish government however immediately set him free for humanitarian reasons.

The New York Times archived the 1989 investigation of James Hall and a report on Hall's trial. Smithsonian Magazine brings the story of FBI agent Dimitry Droujinsky who posed as KGB agent Vladimir (mid-page, after Robert Lipka case). The book Seduced by Secrets - Inside the Stasi's Spy-Tech World from Kristie Macrakis has 14 detailed pages on James Hall. You can also read about James Hall at the DOD PERSEREC website.

Der Spiegel published three interviews with James Hall. Hunt for the Stasi Superstar (translation) and many photos of the FBI arrest, the follow-up interview The Treasure from Teufelsberg (translation) and the interview The Scope of NSA Surveillance Surprised Me (in English) with former Stasi agent Klaus Eichne. Huseyin Yildirim's side of the story was published on the 6941st Guard Battalion Berlin website (you can select your language).

The Stasi archives contained a steel container with copies of 13088 classified documents, marked Top Secret and Top Secret Umbra, sold by James Hall to the HVA. After the reunification of Germany, these documents were returned to the U.S. government, as explained in Der Spiegel's Destruction of Traces in the Office (translation).

More about Teufelsberg in the Field Station Berlin post. The damage Hall inflicted on U.S. military and intelligence was comparable to the betrail by John Walker, a US Navy communications specialist. More about the Schneeberg listening station at US Army Border Operations in Germany. Visit the Cold War Signals page on the website for information on signals intelligence.

Some argued that personnel with low income and access to highly classified documents, like James Hall, might be tempted to sell secrets for cash. However, even people with high income committed espionage, out of greed or financial problems. Besides money, the other incentives to spy are ideology (Ana Montes), compromise (Romeo spies and Swallows) and ego (Robert Hansen).

There are several posts on legenday HVA chief Markus Wolf. In a German documentary (subtitles available), Markus Wolf talks about James Hall. Jump directly to Part 2 segment at 21:16 (enable CC Subtitles with Settings > Subtitles > Auto-translate > English).

There's also a documentary, Deckname Blitz, about Huseyin Yildirim and the James Hall spy case, which includes video footage of the actual meeting between the covert FBI agent and Hall (at 36:00). The doc is in German, but no subtitles.