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15 OCTOBER 1957 - 15 JUNE 1961 (a noncom perspective)

Bruce Mouser                                              

Emeritus Professor of History, UW-La Crosse 

Member of 280th, Winter 1957/58 to May 1959


Preamble:                   Memory sometimes plays strange tricks. Reflections, when taken immediately following events, often come close to representing actual episodes or circumstances, but even those include interpretation and observation/perspective - often without the insight of time, breadth or inclusion. Reflections, whether relived and reinterpreted over time or collected after 40 years, may resolve some problems, but surely those will create new ones. Some may represent consensus or compromise in an attempt to reach common ground. The social history of the 280th USASA Company (Berlin) contained below represents an attempt to find common ground, without the danger implicit in bringing a number of voices together in a collective setting wherein selective memory and forgetting might be encouraged. A questionnaire containing fifteen questions was generated and sent to known members of the 280th. Twenty-nine questionnaires were returned - covering the full years (1957-61) during which the 280th remained active in Berlin - and more than twenty other persons (including one former officer) provided information useful in this study. None of the questions dealt directly or indirectly with respective professional tasks performed by members for the ASA. Answers provided to the questionnaire were reviewed and members were contacted for more information when appropriate. The first draft was circulated to those who had completed the questionnaire, and corrections/additions were made. A later draft was distributed to the full membership for comment. The May 2007 version below includes revisions suggested by members after the final draft was circulated and new data became available.


Historical Overview before 1957:                 No fewer than eight ASA subgroups were known to have been active in Berlin between 1951 and 1957. These included Detachment F Field Station 8606 from the 318th ASA Battalion Herzogenauch (a.k.a. Herzo) (January 1951 - ); Detachment E Field Station 8606 (April 1952 - , attached to Detachment F in 1953); and Detachment C Field Station 8606 (July 1953 - ). In 1954, Detachment B of Headquarters USASA Europe was established in Berlin and Detachments F and C were attached for administrative and logistics purposes. In 1955, two units, USASA teams 6 and 620J1 (one of these may have been named Detachment B Field Station 8606), joined these groups and a provisional company (perhaps Det. B. 8620 DU) was formed. Several respondents noted that the designation 8620 DU (defense unit) was used before 1956 and was the unit’s mailing address. In a separate line of development, Detachment A of the 302nd Communications Reconnaissance Battalion (part of the 502nd Communications Reconnaissance Group out of Heilbronn) was established in Berlin, as was the 9539th Technical Signal Service Unit (also called the TU Signal Service Team and then housed with the Signal Corps) which was subsequently attached to ASA and reassigned the 22nd USASA Detachment (7222 Defense Unit).

In January 1957, all units were organizationally consolidated in the 260th USASA Detachment which by mid year had been designated the 260th USASA Company. Personnel from these earlier units worked separately throughout the American and British zones, with housing scattered throughout the American zone and in a variety of forms - including tents. Some personnel were attached to Berlin Command Headquarters in the Crypto-Comm Center, while others worked as translators/interpreters at Berlin Command or at the Tempelhof site where the US Air Force was centered. Many of these personnel were involved in setting up and maintenance of equipment used in the ASA mission and in searching out potential sites. Two respondents noted that they were attached to mobile units. It is now certain that at least one ASA electronic intelligence unit participated directly in the CIA’s Berlin Tunnel project from Rudow that lasted from 1954 to April 1956, although it is less certain that ASA-attached linguists were employed in that venture (see http://www.berlin-brigade.de/honor/honor13.html#john). A surviving picture from the project’s control room shows recording equipment and uniforms that look familiar. There also was casual mention of a 1st Platoon of the 279th USASA Company (Frankfurt/Gutleut) active at Rudow in 1956. One respondent from that time described himself as a ‘Tunnel Rat’ and another from the late 280th phase reported that USASAEUR ordered that the tunnel entrance remain closed - ‘Period’. Still another noted that Army Quartermaster warehouses had functioned as cover for the tunnel and that army units had participated throughout the tunnel’s existence – all indications that direct entanglement with ASA had existed.

            The headquarters and housing for the 260th USASA Detachment and later Company (mailing address of Det. B 8620 DU), immediate predecessor to the 280th USASA Company, was located behind the chapel near the main gate at Andrews Barracks after 15 October 1955. Before that date, some personnel attached to the ASA mission were housed along with the Signal Corps across the parade grounds, and some maintained residence there as late as 1957. Some of those attached to the 7222 Defense Unit were housed directly at the Rudow site. One respondent recalled that consolidation of unit functions and housing in mid 1957 meant that ‘the barracks [at Andrews] became flooded with ASAers who had had living accommodations elsewhere in Berlin’. Personnel, especially those working ‘long days’, were expected to take breakfast at the Signal Corps mess hall. Despite those arrangements, personnel assigned to work at work sites where there were no mess halls received ‘basic allowance for subsistence’ (BAS) that equaled the value of daily meals. Some took meals at the enlisted men’s snack bar at Andrews Barracks or near their work sites. For a time, the few persons working at Tempelhof were required to take meals at the US Hospital on Unter den Eichen. While single persons were expected to live in barracks, some apparently were permitted to maintain off-base residences. Sometime before March 1957, the housing for both the company and personnel was moved again across the parade grounds to the opposite end of the building where the Signal Corps was located. That building was memorable principally for its enormous hallways, high ceiling, and sturdy rooms. Officers and married NCO were allowed government quarters or could receive ‘basic allowance for quarters’ (BAQ) and BAS if required by circumstances.

            Those who served during this period report that attitudes toward dress codes and ‘regular army discipline’ were relaxed, partly because personnel worked staggered shifts and because most work sites were manned by as few as one to four persons. Those who worked near or within Berlin Command or in areas easily visited unannounced by Officers were expected to dress properly and often in Class A uniform. The barracks, according to one person, were ‘spic and span’, indicating that it was regular practice that the company employed ‘putzfrauen’ to clean latrines, halls, the day-room, and company common areas, and it was possible - if personnel paid extra - even one’s quarters. For a time, personnel had a resident barber and a tailor. A general perception from respondents focused on a ‘believed’ reticence of Frankfurt ASA Command (USASAEUR) to enforce rigid dress guidelines or conduct within the barracks - as long as problems were not created by that conduct and the mission’s objectives were not compromised. One instance was reported wherein the detachment commander tried to restrict personnel to stern codes, but Frankfurt rescinded those orders within 24 hours.

            Transportation to work sites (while work groups were small) was generally accomplished by government automobile or jeep. One respondent mentioned riding the army bus from Andrews front gate to Berlin Command Headquarters. Individual ownership of automobiles and motorcycles was encouraged and a convenience to the company for that policy relieved the company from the burden of providing transportation to multiple work sites (more than four were mentioned). The detachment commander’s approval and liability insurance were required, as was registration and license with the Military Police. One respondent noted, however, that few single lower-ranked persons owned automobiles during this period. Permanent twenty-four-hour (Class A) passes were also common - a consequence of staggered work hours and rotating shifts over the course of a day.

            Prohibitions were few. Personnel were ordered to stay off of the S-Bahn, but some used it nevertheless when traveling to Wannsee, a popular beach frequented by American troops. One respondent recalled, with specificity and name of person involved, that in 1955/56 one person who was on his way to the beach at Wannsee rode the S-Bahn past the Lichterfelde-Ost stop all the way to Potsdam Station and was taken by a Volkspolizist and turned over to the Russians who held him for a few days before an exchange at Freedom Bridge (also called Liberty Bridge) was arranged. That person, who reported that Russians had ‘threatened [him] with a rubber hose’ during interrogation, was immediately removed from Berlin and sent to Washington D.C. where he was court-martialed, fined $15, and honorably discharged. There was also a report of a second S-Bahn incident during this period. The latter involved a person who was living off base with his girlfriend and who rode the S-Bahn regularly - he was badly beaten by thugs in an S-Bahn station and did not report the attack to authorities because of the certainty of court-martial. A second respondent from the period before 1957 indicated that personnel were similarly warned about using the U-Bahn but specifically noted that use of the S-Bahn was forbidden. Personnel were restricted to base only on May Day when Andrews Barracks was open to German visitors - those working shifts nevertheless were expected to work at assigned work sites.

            During this period, personnel were required to wear class A uniforms or suits (sports coats) and ties when traveling around Berlin or outside the work sites. One could easily arrange for a tailor at the Andrews Barracks or near Berlin Command Headquarters where the PX was well-stocked with merchandise. Burberry’s of London had a shop at BCH and would tailor to specifications. Cigarettes were $1.70 a carton, and beer was 10 cents a glass at the EM club.

            It is difficult to identify major entertainment venues from respondents because so few personnel from this period responded from the questionnaire and some of those answers bridged the years between the 260th Company and the 280th Company. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that favorites included the beach at Wannsee, the NCO Club 48 near Berlin Command, and the famous Rex Casino. There also were several beer gardens located close to the front gate of Andrews that personnel frequented. Among those was the Goldene Sonne (‘The Scum’) located near Andrew’s entrance. Of course, one could not forget the Olympic-sized swimming pool and the bowling alley at Andrews and the enlisted men’s club where the snack bar was located. Two respondents mentioned the game room on the ground floor of the old barracks (barred windows facing the outside road - Finckenstein Allee) where poker games were commonly played. Several mentioned that ‘German kids’ were easily recruited (through windows) to buy beer and knockwurst for personnel playing poker.

            In late 1956, there was one incident when a Russian linguist was accused of being a communist. That resulted in many personnel being questioned of their knowledge about this person and what he knew about the company’s operation and mission. He was sent out of Berlin.



            It is unclear than any dramatic event led to the ending of the 260th USASA Company and the beginning of the 280th USASA Company. ASA, whether in the USA or in Berlin, often underwent significant and abrupt transformation, and this may simply have been one of those substantial changes (examples: frequent changes in the 1951-57 period within Berlin and the rapid expansion of language instruction at the Army Language School at Monterey). West Berlin became famous during this decade as the ‘Capital of Spies’, a center of unpleasantness between East and West and a premier source of information about East Bloc activities. By October 1957, however, the 260th’s headquarters and main barracks were already established at the location across the parade grounds at Andrews Barracks - and without a mess hall. It is reasonable to surmise, moreover, that the company’s mission had become modified and the number of personnel attached to it was increasing rapidly. The Berlin Tunnel project, from Rudow and into the Altglienicke District of East Berlin, had officially lasted only 11 months and 11 days, ending when East Germans entered the tunnel on 21 April 1956. According to two respondents, company personnel were involved in the same or a similar project that continued after 1956 and after establishment of the 280th Company. It is also certain that the ASA was already making major modifications in its mission by late 1957. Several respondents from the 1955 to 1957 period mentioned that they had installed sensitive equipment (some of Nazi vintage and others of East German origin) in various locations - perhaps readying new sites for rapid staffing alterations to come. Many German linguists had joined the company. Some of the tasks undertaken at Herzo and in Heilbronn/Frankfurt were already shifting to Berlin. Perhaps ASA Headquarters in Frankfurt envisioned a different mission and a consolidation of efforts within a single command that would be centered in a redesignated 280th Company. A large number of linguists and crypto-technicians resident at Andrews Barracks would require tighter governance and guidance - two tasks that reflected regular army and professional competence to accomplish the company’s mission. To this effect, several respondents noted an apparent duplication of officers and NCOs - those engaged in governing a company of personnel and another in charge of the company’s greater mission within ASA. There was a perception that no one knew for certain just who was in charge, and it seemed, depending on circumstances and location, that lower ranked personnel held greater power or as much authority as did officers. Security clearance classifications may have encouraged that uncertainty. Several respondents noted that it was common that personnel knew few personnel who worked outside their own work sites and ‘tricks’ - a further indication that fragmentation and ‘need-to-know’ attitudes were encouraged by command, a likely attempt to limit damage should someone fall into ‘unfriendly hands’. Then, as now, compartmentalization and access on a need-to-know-only basis were common practices in the collection, production, and distribution of intelligence.

            A note about nomenclature - words used within the company. Linguists who had been trained at the Army Language School at Monterey were coined as ‘Marys’ (German Marys, Russian Marys, and so forth), while technicians trained at Fort Devens were called ‘Devens Dollies’. Those involved with Morse code were also called ‘Diddley-boppers’. Newcomers were ‘Newks’ or ‘Weeds’ (someone kept busy pulling weeds and painting unmovable objects) and held that designation until assigned to a trick or until another and newer person arrived. A ‘Shirt’ was a person in command and generally considered as an operations officer. The term ‘Tread’ or ‘Retread’ referred to someone who had ‘re-upped’. We were all called ‘Spooks’ by the MPs because we didn’t nominally exist at all. We were told to identify ourselves as ‘Brigade Clerks’ if asked. Most personnel wore Signal Corps insignia. ‘Gators’ (unit shoulder patch for the 6th Infantry Regiment included an alligator) called us ‘goddamn civilians’ in disgust, and even officers called us ‘linguists and technicians’ rather than soldiers. ‘MOS’ referred to our training and type of work assignment. All linguists and technicians were ‘RA’, with three-year enlistments (that changed in c.1960 when a four-year enlistment became mandatory for study at Monterey). The expression ‘when the balloon goes up’ mysteriously referenced the beginning of World War III or a major crisis that would terminate our operations in Berlin. ‘Chicago’ was a game of chance played in bars using a cup of dice that was turned over on the bar - the lowest score paid for the next round of drinks. ‘Buzz-bang’ was a group drinking game that involved quick sequence counting - skipping any multiples of the numbers ‘3’ and ‘5’. ‘Asshole’ was a favorite pejorative, as was the term ‘Regular Army’ (even though we were all RA) - we were ‘Spooks’ and nonconformists/malcontents to extreme. ‘GI Strip’ referred to bars frequented by regular army and where ASA personnel often got into fights. Everyone knew ‘Dirty Marge’ who cruised La Scala or moved about - her favorite expression was ‘The 280th Sucks’.

Work units were called ‘tricks’ and were divided into groups A, B, C, and D. Once assigned to a trick, few moved from one trick to another, and personnel tended to socialize and travel in ‘packs’ with fellow trick members. A ‘Trick Chief’ was the NCO person in charge. The day was divided into three shifts - ‘days’ (0800 til 1600), ‘swing or eves’ (1600-2400), ‘mids or graveyard’ (2400-0800). By far, ‘mids’ were the most difficult and boring, mainly because things were so quiet - but mids were also a time for horseplay and nonsense - the belching game and endless discussions. Since there were four tricks, three were always working while one was on break or ‘off’. Tricks generally worked six days on and two or three days off – always (although several respondents recall more complicated schedules). The only way to avoid this schedule was during ‘Rest & Relaxation (R&R) Leave’ (Berlin was still considered as occupied territory), otherwise understood as a vacation away from the post and the only time one could leave Berlin. One respondent mentioned that personnel on tricks were allowed one day of break per 40 days in exchange for worked holidays. There was also an additional trick known as ‘long days’ or ‘late days’. This trick was primarily composed of linguists although repair technicians also were included. This trick worked most often from 1000 until the work was finished (whenever that might be) and a six-day schedule with Sundays off. Trick schedules during Christmas and New Years holidays were adjusted to twelve hours in length, so that all tricks had one of these days free and longer break time.

            The history of the company falls apparently into two periods or phases. The first lasted from its origins in October 1957 until the notorious S-Bahn incident in October 1960 and its disruptive consequences. The social life of the unit during that period was fairly consistent - inheriting and following practices set in place before October 1957. Whereas the numbers of the 260th - counting only single personnel living in the barracks - had numbered perhaps no more than 60 persons, the size of the company under the 280th grew rapidly to more than 100 single persons living in barracks (perhaps an additional 30 persons were married and living off base). Its authorized strength was to consist of seven officers, two warrant officers, and 136 enlisted men. That figure, however, increased significantly during the latter part of 1959. One respondent remembered that by mid 1960, there were 351 members in the company, nearly all of whom held the rank of Spec4 or above.

            Everyone on shift work received BAS (basic assistance for subsistence - about $40 per month, but one respondent recalled with specificity that meals were calculated at 57 cents for breakfast, $1.00 for lunch and $1.00 for dinner), although there is some ambiguity about whether it was full or 2/3 meals allowance and whether persons working regular day shifts also received it. A plausible explanation for confusion concerning BAS perhaps stems from the fact that one or more units enveloped by the 260th formerly had been attached to Signal Service Corps. Another explanation for confusion perhaps relates to incomplete consolidation of housing in 1957 which may have left some personnel living outside the Andrews Barracks compound. Some recall occasionally eating SOS breakfast in the Signal Corps mess hall - located at the other end of the barracks building. One respondent mentioned with certainty that full meals for those living at Andrews were cut back to 2/3 meals for all personnel in late 1958, at which time personnel were expected to take one meal at the Signal Corps mess. Many, especially those working day-shift at Tempelhof 2 (R&D), mentioned that they regularly ate their lunch at the snack bar frequented by Air Force personnel at Tempelhof or at the Air Force mess. Those working at Tempelhof 3 (at the end of the building) and who were expected to man equipment ‘nonstop’ bought food ‘on the economy’ or at the PX and prepared their own meals in a small kitchen located on-site in 1958. The latter were required to clean the kitchen daily - especially those working nights - for outside help was not allowed on the site. Several who worked at Tempelhof 2, Rudow, and Grunewald (Jagen/Block 87) remember cooking facilities. Three respondents mentioned macaroni/cheese and tuna (5 or 10 cents per box plus a tin of tuna) as being a favorite and inexpensive part of the menu. All personnel who were single and living in Andrews remember the inexpensive meals available at Andrews EM Club near the main gate.

            There is some disagreement about BAQ (basic assistance for quarters). Generally, however, single personnel were expected to live at Andrews Barracks and were not eligible for BAQ. Government married quarters were rationed, with mainly officers and NCOs receiving that privilege. Spec5s and above, who were married and had their ‘authorized’ families with them, qualified for residence in government operated apartments. Other married personnel, when authorized by the Company commander, could receive BAQ or ‘separate rations’. Personnel below that rank, and whose spouses arrived ‘unauthorized’, did not receive BAQ and were required to live ‘on the economy’ - i.e., fend as best they could on their salaries plus BAS. Many respondents who were single during their service in Berlin remember that many single persons, while nominally living in the barracks, also maintained apartments off base - often living with their girlfriends, acquaintances, or other personnel who joined resources to rent flats or houses. Five respondents - all German linguists and single - mentioned that Command encouraged them to live with German families and that they received BAQ. One suggested that there was insufficient room available at Andrews Barracks when consolidation occurred in 1957 and that this policy may have been used in an attempt to conceal the exact numbers attached to the 280th. The latter also may have been a remnant of earlier fragmented housing arrangements before unit consolidation or an anomaly that pertained only for German linguists whose language skills would doubtless improve significantly through such immersion. One described this as a special ‘benefit’ ($75 per month, plus the $40 per month allowed in BAS) - as something unusual and not available to all newly-assigned personnel.

            Life within the barracks was similar to that that went before the 280th. Personnel lived in four-man rooms. Two ‘putzfrauen’ kept the latrines, halls, and company areas clean. Sleeping rooms were swept - in rotation among roommates - into the enormous hall, and trash was collected there by ‘putzfrauen’ (one was named Gertie, another - Big Red). Two respondents mentioned that the ‘putzfrau’ cleaned the showers when personnel were showering - common enough since someone was always either going to bed or just getting up. It was expected that rooms be kept tidy, but inspections were rare, partly because some personnel were always sleeping due to staggered work shifts. Most paid the ‘putzfrau’ to clean their rooms - a circumstance that apparently was encouraged by Command and a policy that reduced the number of inspections within the barracks. Many personnel kept beer and other alcoholic beverages in their rooms - some using the window sills as coolers (one respondent suggested that ‘the commander felt it was better to have his troops get drunk inside the barracks than outside’). Many respondents mentioned a quiet man named Oscar (a Holocaust survivor), the tailor, as important in keeping uniforms and patches in order and taking care of laundry. One wrote that weapons were kept in the Supply Room under lock and that Oscar could be hired to clean them. Three respondents mentioned the I.G. inspections that occurred yearly - a difficult task since work shifts meant that some personnel were always working, others were always sleeping, some were always recovering from a ‘night out on the town’, and some were always on break or leave. The company’s ‘day room’ was located below the first floor landing and was supposedly under the control of the sergeants. There was at least one pool table, a ping pong table, radio and phonograph there. On payday (there was a pay line - paid in military script instead of dollars until late in 1958) there was generally a card game that often drew significant participation and some anguish to losers. Payday was also a day when debts were settled and limited inspections of comportment/appearances were conducted. In general, however, the barracks was a sleeping quarter. Few personnel spent time there; Berlin was so exciting and so close-by that most left the barracks as soon as opportunity arose. The notion that there might be an alert, or an unannounced inspection, was almost laughable - despite the fact that the rest of Berlin command underwent these formalities regularly.

            Dress expectations also were the same as that inherited from earlier units. Those working at the various sites were expected to wear fatigues. Boots were required with fatigues, except that those working night shift were permitted to wear shoes or loafers (with the 5 pfennig pieces). Few wore Class A uniforms (the olive drab ones - Ike jacket, brown shoes, at least until the Army went Green early in 1959 and personnel were required to dye shoes black). In general, however, personnel tended to dress casually, at least within limits. One respondent wrote that he was stopped by an officer at Andrews and reprimanded for being out of uniform (wrong shoes), but the company’s commander just told him to be more careful next time. When in civilian clothes, one was expected to wear jacket and tie (one respondent mentioned that the tie requirement was not enforced, and another commented on the dismal collection of ties that circulated among personnel). Almost no personnel wore uniforms when off-duty.

            Transportation to work sites was conducted in various fashions, depending on the location and numbers of personnel working that shift. Some respondents recalled the use of a bus, while others mentioned riding in the back of a 3/4 ton truck or a 2.5 ton (deuce’n half) truck. Still others - especially those not living at Andrews, whether permanently or temporarily - drove their own vehicles (cars or motorcycles) or took public transportation. Many personnel owned cars during this period. Permission to have an automobile was required, as was liability insurance. Two remember that an international driver’s license also was required. Over time, however, parking within Andrews became a problem, but there was a restricted parking area close to the barracks on the side opposite from the parade ground. Some parked their vehicles near the main gate and the cobblestone parking area near the service club. Several purchased cars from regular German dealers (a new Volkswagen cost about $1,200), but some cars and motorcycles were bought from personnel leaving Berlin for Stateside or being transferred. Those holding the rank of Spec5 were permitted to ship automobiles to the States at no or limited cost (one respondent noted that he paid $6 for paperwork) until late 1961.

            Restrictions regarding places personnel could go were few. The S-Bahn was strictly off-limits and was subject to court-martial, and use of the U-Bahn was discouraged. Certain taxis - those known to cross into East Berlin and bearing a broken stripe around the middle - were also off-limits. Since there was no Berlin Wall during this period, personnel were strictly forbidden to cross over into East Berlin. Several respondents mentioned, however, that they had crossed into East Berlin in error, and had turned back only when they spotted a Volkspolizist. Others mentioned that they attended the East Berlin Opera on several occasions. Others wrote about excellent and inexpensive Czech and Russian bookstores in East Berlin. One respondent mentioned that personnel were permitted to ride the strassenbahn without charge (tickets were available at the orderly room). Travel beyond Berlin was restricted in the sense that one could neither fly out nor drive the autobahn connecting Berlin and Helmstedt - everyone was required to ride the duty train, while cars were driven by courier across to West Germany. Several also mentioned that there were drinking venues that were off-limits, such as the White Horse and the El Dorado, bars frequented by transvestites. Personnel were restricted to barracks only on May Day (one mentioned 17 June). Of course, few can forget the chaos of that day late in 1958 when all military script was called in and exchanged for ‘real’ dollars. Personnel were given little advanced warning and were confined to barracks, and many Germans who were illegally holding military script were caught with no way to change that currency (which became worthless). One respondent mentioned the required and well-lubricated ‘Christmas Tree trimming party’ in the company’s day room. Another mentioned - with specificity - that all personnel were restricted when Khrushchev in May 1959 announced that the allies must leave Berlin. (NB: such announcements were made frequently during this period and generally involved use of the canal and roadways, access by allied personnel to East Berlin, and threats to end Russian occupation status in East Berlin).

            Favorite entertainment for single personnel fell into two categories - drinking and not drinking. Common venues in West Berlin continued to be ‘skinny dipping’ at Wannsee Beach and the theaters at Andrews Barracks and at Berlin Command. Within Andrews Barracks, the snack bar, well-stocked supplies provided by the Red Cross, swimming pool, and bowling alley were identified. Several mentioned attending German cinemas with girlfriends. Three wrote about the USO Bob Hope Christmas Show in the winter of 1958/59. Two respondents mentioned attending opera, professional theater, and musical venues at the Deutschland Halle, Titania Palast, Jagdschloss, and others. Museums in West Berlin, especially those in Dahlem, were noted. Nearly everyone wrote about the Berlin Zoo (at that time still recovering from the effects of the war) and the Tiergarten area near the burned-out Reichstag building. Another favorite pastime was cruising the Ku’damm (Kurfürstendamm) or visiting the Russian War Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate and swapping medals with the Russian soldiers standing guard there. An expensive meal ($5) of chateaubriand and champagne at the Maison de France (Ku’damm)  was a universal requirement and delight. Two respondents mentioned the French EM Club on Seestrasse (Maison du Forier) where they served great escargots. Excellent food could also be obtained at Club 48 near Berlin Command. Other remembered fondly the atmosphere of Kempenski’s, Haus Wien, Konditorei Kranzler, and Zigeunerkeller downstairs at the Haus Wien. Travel external of West Berlin was possible during ‘leave’, and excellent travel/tour arrangements were available near Berlin Command. One mentioned a tour in Italy that several personnel joined. Others mentioned that the World’s Fair at Brussels in 1958 was a magnet for personnel. Still others wrote about travel around Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. At our pay scale, could we really afford ‘The Lido’ or the ‘Moulin Rouge’? Stories always circulated about harmless but provocative pranks played on the Russkies by personnel working at the Rudow site - in eye and ear shot of Russians across the border.

            Another activity, although one not well attended by many in the company, involved visits to an orphanage (Haus am Fichtenberg at Schmidt-Ott-Str.). Sponsoring orphanages, apparently, was a common practice by ASA units in Germany. Several respondents remembered that a special table was set up at the end of the pay line to collect voluntary donations ($5 suggested) for this orphanage which personnel generously supported. Contributions were used in hosting picnics, for the purchase of playground equipment, and for necessary PX items available only to those with ‘class 6 cards’. Pictures of one of these picnics and personnel/children involved can be found on the internet site <http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/cahuffer/album?.dir=/908d&.src=ph&.tok=phonmOFBSH1AaVLs>. One respondent mentioned that personnel occasionally drove army trucks to the orphanage. Another reported the intriguing incident in which personnel discovered two not-seen-before black/mixed children among the group - orphanage personnel apparently had been hiding them in fear that knowledge of their existence might reduce the company’s level of support. Contributions for this orphanage continued throughout the period of the company’s existence.

            Many in the company took advantage of educational opportunities available within Berlin. Several of the German linguists enrolled at Free University of Berlin (a.k.a Free Berlin), taking classes in numerous departments. One respondent remembered that classes in American and English Literature were taught in English, but that the surprise came when examinations were given in German. Two respondents wrote about the array of courses available the University of Maryland extension. Many personnel took these classes which were easily transferred to universities in the United States after leaving the Army. Nearly all respondents mentioned that language skills learned in the ASA were wholly transferable to satisfy language requirements at American universities. Overall, however, there was a belief that company personnel generally were better educated than were officers and those in command - one respondent remembered being told that there were only four persons (linguists/technicians) in the unit with less than a year of college completed. Another respondent claimed that personnel averaged three-plus years of college and that persons in command averaged less than that.

            Drinking venues were varied and endless - the following were mentioned specifically, and this list does not included all frequented by personnel. In general, however, bars that remained open throughout the night (or day) were sought out because some personnel were always off-shift and ready to ‘relax’. It was not uncommon during the peak Summer months for personnel to enter a bar when the sun was setting (2230) and leave it when the sun was rising (0230) or for personnel to enjoy an early swim at Wannsee at 0400. Winters were dark, dreary, wet and icy, and it was unsettling for those working days and in closed buildings to never see the sun during the Winter months for days on end. Holidays mentioned most frequently included Oktoberfest and Fasching. Close to Andrews Barracks (outside the front gate) were several beer gardens whose names have been forgotten.

            Down the main road from Andrews gate but nearby, however, was a small dark place called the Wiener-Stüb’l (Helga’s ?) that several respondents remember well. One respondent described the Wiener-Stüb’l as a ground floor bar, three steps down to the entrance. In the front room were drinking tables and a dance floor, and the back room contained the bar. The Rex Casino on Unter den Eichen was a favorite. So many personnel frequented this nightclub that special tables were always reserved for the company and some personnel kept regular bar tabs. The Resi Restaurant and Ballroom was famous for its water show - dancing fountains on the main stage. The Resi also was a telephone bar and pickup place where telephones and pneumatic tubes were located at each table so that personnel could connect with ‘those beautiful ladies on the other side of the room’. The Golden Horse Shoe was a place to go if one enjoyed riding a horse in the center of the bar and ‘felt especially wicked’. The Boyar was located close to the Ku’damm and was frequented mainly by Russian linguists. This bar/nightclub had its walls covered in red velvet - certainly a fire trap. But it also sported an excellent band of Balalaika players who would play songs on demand. One respondent mentioned that this bar was also frequented by Russians from East Berlin (soldiers or intelligence personnel?). On one occasion, a Russian asked for a song and the band leader asked where he learned to speak Russian so well - he replied ‘the Army Language School in Monterey’. So much for concealment. One respondent mentioned the Zum Dicken which likely was located near Andrews gate. Nearly everyone mentioned the Weisser Elefant (White Elephant), but few admitted that they actually went there - one noted it as a place to go when feeling ‘particularly naughty’. This bar became more popular in 1960/61. Domingos was a jazz club frequented by nurses from the hospital and where there was a (male?) black singer who could sing like Ella Fitzgerald. Another favorite was the Old Eden Saloon just off the Ku’damm where young Germans gathered. The La Scala, named after the opera house bombed during the war, was known for its collection of beautiful ladies. Also mentioned but not described were KBS (Kleine Ballhaus Schoeneberg) on Hauptstrasse (later placed off-limits for ‘pro-Soviet activities’), 20th Century on Hauptstrasse, Riverboat, and Ziegeuner Keller near the Ku’damm. To that list could be added innumerable places near the Ku’damm that were frequented by ‘girls of the night’.

            Entertainment for married personnel was quite different. Firstly, however, it was policy that any person who married a German national would immediately be reassigned out of the ASA. The logic of this policy related to the possibility that a German spouse might have relatives in East Germany who could be used as hostages for information from spouses or personnel attached to them. In consequence, it was rare for 280th personnel to marry Germans - at least during their tours in Berlin. Some married personnel lived in Andrews Barracks at least until approval was obtained to bring their spouse to Berlin - and those reported a much less hectic life style than did those who were single. Once spouses arrived, however, couples tended to visit each other, especially if they had young children. One respondent lamented perceived shoddy treatment for spouses by wives of personnel/officers connected to Berlin Command. Several respondents mentioned sightseeing within Berlin, walks in parks, and attendance at movie theaters or musical venues. Few wrote about drinking venues.

            For whatever reasons, the company began to change late in 1959. By that date, BAS had been cut back to 2/3 allowance, with personnel being expected to eat one meal at the Signal Corps mess. One respondent remembered that that policy was not all-bad - personnel ‘pigged out’ for that one meal and saved the rest of BAS for ‘refreshments’. Another explanation for change focused on the apparent significant return of personnel to civilian life (those whose enlistments were ending) and a rapid replacement and growth of numbers of enlisted men and new officers attached to the company. One respondent noted that sleeping rooms had become crowded during this transition period and that it had become increasingly difficult to maintain good housekeeping within the barracks. Another noted that - perhaps in consequence of the housing crush or inherited practice - it became easier for single persons to petition for BAQ and to move off base. One respondent reasoned that administration actually encouraged this fragmentation as a way to conceal the company’s actual numbers which he believed to be considerable. Another and equally plausible explanation was a return to previous patterns of permitting off-base residence for certain personnel. Indeed, many apparently did take advantage of this opportunity. Still another respondent indicated that a segment of the company actually moved across the parade grounds during the months of January or February 1960 and into a barracks where the Military Police had a mess hall which the 280th then shared, at least for that part of meals not covered by BAS. The offices, supply room, and day room of the company remained in the former location, and personnel in the new quarters seldom went there except to pick up mail or receive their pay on payday.

            While these fragmented housing arrangements were perhaps understandable and necessary, they did have an effect upon the effectiveness of the company and its personnel. From its beginnings, the company had always worked and socialized as individual units - segregated by tricks, work sites, ranks, and staggered work hours - and the new housing arrangements likely exaggerated that divide by adding yet other layers of separation and detachment. As noted earlier, respondents had believed that ASA - in Berlin - had not placed a significant emphasis upon a chain-of-command, and that company officers (and civilian NSA personnel as well) did not demand strict adherence to ‘army discipline’ as long as the work was accomplished and so long as that ‘ease’ did not create a significant problem. Indeed, many personnel did not know the names of officers or had ever seen/met them, and command apparently encouraged such an attitude. One respondent recalled an incident in 1958/59 in which the company commander arrived unannounced at a work site during the night shift, and no one then working could verify his identity. The trick chief placed him under guard and called the site officer who rushed to the site. The punishment for this unfortunate offense was a stern lecture and nothing more.

            Early in 1960, however, things began to come apart. One respondent wrote that room inspections nearly ended, with the consequence that some rooms were a ‘mess’. Others wrote about a perceived ‘paradise’ in which - as long as you showed up for work, performed your work satisfactorily, and stayed out of trouble - few regulations/restrictions applied. The motto was - ‘if you play hard, you have to work hard’. One respondent from this period mentioned that when he moved into Andrews Barracks he did not meet one of his roommates for nearly one month - he had an apartment off base. Another wrote that the prevailing policy regarding BAS was soon to change when one soldier (who had ‘blown his money’ early in the month and had conspicuously/unwisely subsisted on free catsup and crackers at the EM Club) complained to his ‘mom’ who complained to her senator, with the consequence that the company obtained its own mess hall by October 1960. Full BAS apparently ended for those living in the barracks several months later (although several respondents remember BAS as continuing in one or other form through the 280th’s existence). It is unclear that BAS or BAQ or ‘separate rations’ were effected by these changes for single and married personnel living off base.

            The most significant catalyst for major transformation, however, occurred late in October 1960 when a trick chief and Russian linguist working at Tempelhof fell asleep on the S-Bahn and slept through to the Potsdam stop in East Germany where he was taken by the German police and handed over to Russian authorities. Dan Senn had an apartment in Wannsee where he lived with his girlfriend - a policy then tolerated by the company. One explanation is that he was returning from work and another that he was drunk. One respondent who ‘knew Senn fairly well’ reported that he heard that Senn had been drinking at the Weisser Elefant. In any case, he was interrogated for three days and thoroughly debriefed, and he apparently ‘told ALL he knew’ - and he knew much. While American authorities were able to secure his return, it became quickly clear from the near collapse of ‘chatter’ and his own debriefing by CID (Criminal Investigation Division) that the mission of one or more of the work sites had been seriously compromised, along with the identities of many personnel within the company. One respondent reported a rumor circulated to the effect that when taken by the Germans in Potsdam, Senn had requested ‘in Russian’ to be taken to Pankow which was the location of the Russian military intelligence unit. Within a few days, East German radio began identifying personnel working for the ASA and stating that personnel ‘would be tried as spies’. Another respondent recalled it a bit differently. He heard that Senn had been found near an S-Bahn station in West Berlin, confused and delirious - he had been drugged by the Soviets and completely debriefed. Another reported that Senn had been court-martialed and discharge, and that he did not serve ‘hard time’. Another rumor reported that he had been found with a large amount of cash, had been court-martialed, and was sent to Leavenworth Military Prison. In any case, he did not reappear within the Company and his ultimate fate remains unclear.

            ASA officials outside Berlin took urgent and drastic remedial measures to cleanse the company as quickly as possible - respondents called it variously the ‘purge’, ‘witch hunt’, or ‘pogrom’ - and to safeguard personnel then in Berlin and the ASA mission. Within a few days of the S-Bahn incident (one respondent described it as ‘almost immediately after Senn’s indiscretion’), the commanding officer (Major Karl Spannere) of the 280th was relieved of his command and a newly-arrived officer at Base Herzo, Major Francis A. MacDonald and who had served before in the MPs, was designated to fill his position. The second, and perhaps more draconian decision, was to extract all officers and personnel whose identities were believed to have been compromised to the Russians. This included most of the ASA officers in the company who had served in Berlin for any length of time, enlisted single personnel who were then living off base, and all of those who had worked along with Senn or were known to him. By MacDonald’s own account, he was surprised by his abrupt reassignment so early after his arrival at Base Herzo, and he was told directly that many personnel would be removed from Berlin soon after he assumed command of the unit. His instructions furthermore were to bring order to a company that many believed to have become fragmented and disorganized, either at the fault of personnel or Command. One respondent - one of those who was roused in the middle of the night and taken from his room off base to the train station for extraction - wrote that personnel were given little warning and almost no time to sell vehicles or say goodbyes. Whatever occurred during those few days after Senn’s debriefing by CID, it is clear that Major Spannere and a number of personnel left Berlin by train for Helmstedt on 6 November 1960, and MacDonald and a skeletal crew of new personnel arrived to take their places the next day. Within the next few weeks, a large group - perhaps numbering one hundred - followed Major Spannere out of Berlin.

            MacDonald apparently was surprised by what he found in Berlin. He described the day room and facilities at the barracks as ‘dirty, disorganized and obviously had not been cleaned and straightened up in weeks’ - clearly not to his liking. Within days, MacDonald ordered that sleeping rooms be thoroughly cleaned and that some personnel be moved from one room to another within the barracks (since tricks lived together, this likely meant that personnel were also assigned to different tricks). One significant problem was identifying those who maintained quarters off base and finding those who were on regular breaks in the shift work cycle. MacDonald was particularly frustrated to learn that some off-base addresses simply were unknown and that many of those persons only surfaced at work sites - they seldom came to the barracks. All off-base apartments for unmarried personnel were to be ‘given up’, and BAS for single personnel was to be formally terminated as soon as feasible. One respondent reported that all those known to be living off base were interrogated and asked directly to name others who maintained unauthorized off-base residences. Several other respondents recalled that personnel were systematically quizzed about use of the S-Bahn by themselves, and they were ordered to report use by others. One respondent remembered that he was asked permission to be given a polygraph - he consented but it was not administered. Understandably, there was significant grumbling among personnel who had enjoyed the ‘easy’ discipline and benefits of the preceding period. No one was sure how sweeping would be the changes, but all knew that dramatic action was happening. One respondent mentioned that a rumor circulated to the effect that the company was about to be dissolved. Even several civilian NSA personnel whom MacDonald blamed for some of the indiscipline within the work sites were extracted. In effect, MacDonald was likely doing exactly as ordered – clean house, consolidate, and start anew.

            Respondents who lived through this period of transition universally identified a dramatic shift of attitude within the company and a growing chasm between enlisted personnel and Command - assuming that there had been a harmonious relationship between them in the first place. Some who were considering military careers became disillusioned and returned to civilian status when their enlistments ended. Nearly all noted that MacDonald ran a ‘tight ship’ and administered justice swiftly (some believed it to be often arbitrarily). Minor infractions of the earlier era became major ones during this new period - drinking to excess, improper haircut, incorrect shoes, riding the U-Bahn, untidy room. Snap room and equipment inspections and visits by officers to work sites increased. Restrictions upon class A passes were put in place (one enterprising group typed out 30 day leave papers to circumvent that policy - another respondent commented simply that personnel subsequently became more secretive in their adventures). MacDonald also attempted to curtail activities between personnel and the Haus am Fichtenberg, the orphanage supported in part by contributions from personnel - that attempt, however, was successfully opposed by personnel, although the use of military vehicles for carrying children to picnics and outings was made more complicated. The policy of permitting a ‘putzfrau’ to clean sleeping rooms became limited when it became known that collected trash had been sold to enquiring eyes. Even use of the snack bar at Templehof became qualified when it was reported that a German employee there had given information about personnel to Soviet agents. One respondent remembered that an official memorandum circulated to the effect that entrance into any apartment or private dwelling was prohibited to personnel assigned to the barracks. The numbers of court-martials increased significantly, further rupturing whatever accord that remained between personnel and Command. Other respondents noted that work site productivity also decreased, but that may have been a consequence of the S-Bahn incident and subsequent changes in communications within Soviet Bloc forces. Another explanation for the latter was increased and more sophisticated non-military radar and aircraft activity at Tempelhof Airport which interfered with the company’s mission. The formal ending of BAS and subsequent adjustments in patterns of feeding personnel at various work sites continued through the remainder of the 280th’s existence.

            Perhaps in a move to end one phase of ASA presence in Berlin or to confuse temporarily those on the other side who had become alerted to operations, the designation of the unit was changed from the 280th USASA Company to the 78th USASA Special Operations Unit (Berlin Command 9436), effective 15 June 1961. Perhaps there were additional reasons known only by those in higher authority. One respondent, who arrived in the company in July 1961, remembered that during his orientation a sergeant had told him that the company was about to double in size, certainly an indication that major mission metamorphosis was occurring and perhaps suggesting that the 280th Company had outlived its usefulness. Moreover, it likely was not simply a coincidence that significant operational surveys were being made in Gatow/ Grunewald (Jagen 110-112, in the British Zone), which would eventually become known as Teufelsberg, ‘T-Berg’, ‘The Hill’, and ‘Devil’s Mountain’ <http://www.ccc.de/teufelsberg>. Within the next four years, operations at the Tempelhof site would be shifted to more secure and more permanent buildings at Teufelsberg, and the number of personnel assigned to the company would increase significantly. Occupying the same barracks and operating from the same and expanding work sites, the successor unit faced its first major challenges with Khrushchev’s June 1961 threat to ‘normalize’ Berlin by closing routes between Berlin and West Germany and with the beginning of construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, creating new dynamics which further transformed the culture of ASA personnel within Berlin.

            Overall, however, those who were a part of the 280th USASA Company between 1957 and 1961 were transformed by that experience. Most obtained a ‘world view’ and a hands-on awareness of post-World War II history exceptional for that time. Several respondents mentioned that that experience also heightened their cynicism of government and public announcements in general. Others remember a significant hearing loss that years later left them disabled - with accompanying military disability benefits. Except for those who remember with some acrimony those changes that occurred in consequence of the S-Bahn incident, nearly all respondents looked back upon those years as among the most exciting and interesting of their lives. Hard work and energetic play/enjoyment were prominent memories. Several recalled the preposterous and hilarious scenarios current of what might happen and how personnel were told to respond ‘if the balloon went up’. Several commented about the high educational level of personnel - and that the company was also top-heavy in rank. Everyone believed that they had performed highly important and technical work, and that they did it professionally and stressfully - albeit in a ‘relaxed’ fashion.


Postscript:      ASA units remained active in Berlin for the remainder of the Cold War and continued to use the Andrews Barracks complex for housing and administrative offices. The 78th Special Operations Unit which succeeded the 280th USASA Company in November 1961 remained active until 1966 when it was replaced by the 54th USASA Special Operations Command, which lasted only one year. In 1967, that unit was replaced by US Army Security Agency Field Station Berlin which continued for more than a decade, when it was transformed to US Army Field Station Berlin in 1977. Known lovingly by much younger personnel as FSB, that unit operated in Berlin until 1992.

            All who served in the 280th Company between 1957 and 1961 and who joined the ranks of active and inactive reserve units after their discharge remember with clarity the uncertainty of status that continued for several years after their returns to civilian life. Many enrolled in universities, married and created families, and others were involved in establishing themselves in professions and businesses. All had left the ASA with MOSs, however, that had been obtained at great cost to the military and that were increasing in demand as the Cold War continued and occasionally intensified. All recall receiving official notices from ASA that reminded them of their various ‘reserve statuses’ and of the possibility that some or all might be returned to active duty. While most escaped that fate, some were recalled for varying periods, and a few of those remained to make the military a career (with five or more years already dedicated, that choice became less intimidating with each passing month).


            (NB: MacDonald, subsequent to distribution of the October 2006 version of this report, wrote to deny that he had made any attempt in 1960 to curtail company participation with the orphanage).

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