Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Military Liaison Mission

SOXMIS Vehicle Report Card
After World War II, British, American, Soviet and later the French allies agreed to accredit military liaison missions near the headquarters of each other's occupation zones in Germany. On November 14, 1944, the first directives were written down in the London agreement of what later became an important tool to limit tensions during the Cold War.

The first Military Liaison Mission (MLM) was established in September 1946 by the British and Soviet forces. The British Mission (BRIXMIS) was located in Potsdam, within the Soviet occupation zone which would later become the German Democratic Republic, commonly known as East Germany. Their Soviet Military Mission counterpart (SMM BAOR),  also known as SOXMIS, was consecutively located in Bad Salzuflen, Lübbecke and in Bünde, all inside the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) occupation zone in West Germany.

The U.S. and Soviet forces signed an agreement in March 1947. The U.S. Military Liaison Mission (USMLM) was also housed in Potsdam. Their Soviet Military Mission counterpart in the U.S. Army Europe occupation zone (SSM USAEUR) had its offices in Frankfurt am Main.

The French and Soviet missions were established in April 1947, with the Mission Militaire Francaise de Liaison (MMFL) building in Potsdam and the Mission Militaire Sovietique (MMS CCFA) in the French occupation zone, Commandant en Chef Français en Allemagne (CCFA) in Baden-Baden.
Keeping the Cold War Cold

The military liaison missions continued throughout the Cold War until 1990. Initially implemented for economical monitoring and a communications channel between the different allied powers in occupied Germany, the liaison's mission gradually changed into a military intelligence mission when tension rose between the West and the Soviet Union. To relief the Cold War tensions, the MLM's were used more and more to verify the build-up, movement of troops and their equipment in East and West Germany. This enabled them to see whether bilateral agreements regarding troops and equipment were respected.

No spooks allowed!
Although having a quasi-diplomatic status - it was not allowed to stop their vehicles - they were forbidden to travel within certain, mostly military, restricted areas. They were always in uniform, drove official military vehicles with very recognizable license plates and never carried weapons or radio equipment. Needless to say, the MLM's were not allowed to mount real intelligence operations. They never operated covertly but did get involved in clandestine actions.

Monitoring and Spying

Of course, to get the most interesting military intelligence, the rules had to be bent once in a while, in order to get the perfect photo of some new tank or aircraft. However, caution had to be taken to avoid creating tensions or jeopardize the MLM agreements. Nonetheless, several severe incidents occurred, even with fatalities, like USMLM Major Arthur Nicholson who was shot by a Russian guard at a Soviet tank storage building near Ludwigslust in East Germany.

USMLM Car in East German forest
Image: ColdWarSpies
Stationed in Germany, we were instructed to immediately report any SOXMIS vehicle we spotted. Undoubtedly, the same was done on Soviets side, and although the MLM vehicles were officially never stopped, they could "accidentally" receive a bump or got "unintentionally" pushed off the road. Although tensions could rise quickly in case of incidents, neither side was eager to blow up the liaison agreements as this would also deprive themselves from the opportunity to gather intelligence in the occupation zones of their Cold War enemy.

Despite the cat and mouse games on both sides, the Military Liaison Missions were an important contribution to the stabilization of tensions during the Cold War, especially because they showed that the adversary was not gathering large offensive forces in East and West Germany, the Cold War frontier of Europe.

On you find a detailed history section (1964 - 1988) of the U.S. Military Liaison Missions. The site also contains several audio interviews with former USMLM members and a large photo archive. The older USMLM.US website is available at the Internet Archive. You also can visit the BRIXMIS Association, the MMFL Veterans) (in French, archived) and Unsichtbar Unterwegs in der DDR, a nice article on the challenges the MLM drivers faced during their missions (in German).

Firsthand Accounts
Cold War Conversations has a podcast interview with Major Nigel Dunkley who served in Berlin with a tank squadron, defending the British sector of Berlin and he gathered intelligence for BRIXMIS in the Soviet occupation zone in East Germany. A fascinating 90 minutes interview

At the Spy Museum Podcast there are also two fascinating podcasts, one with Brigadier General Roland Lajoie in 2011 and one with Major General Michael Ennis last April. They both served in the USMLM. The Livedrop interviewed Stephen Hoyt, former analyst and president of the USMLM Association.

The excellent 45 minutes documentary Meet The Real Cold War Spies Of BRIXMIS, with former members of the Military Liaison Mission.

The Cold War Pioneers talk by Stephen Hoyt at the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC).


Anonymous said...

found som old pics, we took:

Dirk Rijmenants said...

Here's a direct link to great photos from above comment.