November 2003 Newsletter - Section IV.1

– by Joe Covern (59-62/63-66/70-73)

When Phil Adams asked me to compile a list of the commanders of the Air Force cryptologic unit in Berlin, I thought it would be a relatively simple task. Generally, it was, although the period between 1950 and 1959 proved to be somewhat difficult.  It wasn’t the names of the individuals that presented so much of a problem, rather, the dates of their tours and the actual name of the unit.  This was due in part to the frequent name and location changes that USAFSS units in Germany experienced as units were activated, inactivated, and reactivated.

I gathered the available material and tried to put it together in a meaningful way.  In some cases where the record was either unclear or contradictory, I had to make assumptions or draw conclusions.  Some may not agree with the result. Still, I think the picture is about as accurate as could be expected, given the passing of time and fading of memories.  I welcome the input of anyone who is able to make the record more accurate or complete and apologize to those whose contribution I may have overlooked or misrepresented.

I should also mention that this report is far lengthier than it needs to be, given the assigned task.  I found that as I learned more about the very early years, the more I wanted to include; that, together with an inherently wordy writing style, resulted in a rather long and detailed account of events.

For the very early years, I relied heavily on input by BIA members.  Emails from Tony Baciewicz, Hugh Clark, Jim Harden, Bill Dilbeck, Ron Rader, and Paul Nikulla were especially helpful, as was previously posted information by Sam Herrin and Bill Baker.  Some information was available at the National Cryptologic Museum at Ft. Meade, Maryland, and official and unofficial information was found on the Internet.  I also sent emails to three of the earliest members of the unit in Berlin.  One of them, Ambrose “Jack” Jackson, was kind enough to share his recollections.

·     Jack recalls that in September 1950, he was a member of a team comprising five enlisted men and an officer that had been sent to Berlin-Tempelhof to form a detachment. He was a Staff Sgt. at the time. The officer was 2nd Lt. Kenneth F. Pearsall and there were two other Staff Sgts., Virgil C. Fordham and Robert E. Draughon. Sgt. Norman R. Opitz and Cpl. Jack W. Dukes were the other two team members. They operated from the sixth floor of the remains of the bomb-scarred Tempelhof operations building, and had two SP-600 receivers and a radarscope on loan from the base. No one, including the base commander, knew why they were there, the supposition being that they were COMSEC people. Although the detachment was there on a permanent basis, new orders were cut every 30 days for security reasons. (Information provided by BIA member Bill Baker indicates that Pearsall and Fordham arrived in Berlin in July, 1950, conducting a site survey and running a two-man operation until additional personnel arrived later in the year.)

·     Jack also remembers that they were only allowed to travel by air between Berlin and West Germany. Each person was given several sets of orders, which included duplicate ones in the Russian language, to be used in case anyone was ever forced down in East Germany. The only transport option was the daily C-47 "milk run" between Tempelhof and Rhein Main air bases, but team members were allowed to make the trip whenever they weren’t working. That was the purpose of each having several sets of orders. Whenever someone wanted to return to Darmstadt, he checked in at base operations and submitted one copy of his orders--that was his ticket. Anyone who flew to Darmstadt picked up the mail and anything else for the detachment. Apparently, security was as tight in Darmstadt as it was in Berlin, and very few people at the 2nd RSM knew that anyone from that squadron was even in Berlin—at least in the beginning.

·     A final story that Jack passed on happened one quiet Sunday in Berlin, further attesting to the considerable clout of 2nd Lt. Ken Pearsall. The one individual on duty at the detachment at the time heard the door being unlocked and, looking around, saw a strange (read unfamiliar) officer entering the operations room. The officer identified himself as the base housing officer and said that he had the authority to go wherever he wanted. Still, the officer was encouraged to leave and the door was locked behind him. Monday morning, Lt. Pearsall arrived and was told about the unauthorized entry. The 2nd Lt. then went “storming” into the base commander's office and “demanded” that the housing officer give up his keys to the rooms occupied by the detachment. The story ends with the base commander summoning the base housing officer and ordering him to surrender his keys to Lt. Pearsall.  

·    Jack was enjoying his time in Berlin but after only two months he was notified of his reassignment to another USAFSS unit just getting under way--the 10th RSM at Chicksands, England.

The 2nd RSM at Darmstadt, which was initially responsible for the Berlin detachment, was formerly an ASA unit that had been transferred to USAFSS in 1949.  With the transfer came the ASA convention of using letters of the alphabet to designate detachments.  In 1950, the 2nd RSM had at least four detachments: in Austria, Det. A, Linz; in Germany, Det. B, Schleisheim; Det. C, Bremerhaven; and Det. D, Berlin.  In 1951, Dets. A, and B were renamed Dets. 21 and 22, respectively, and transferred to the 12th RSM at Landsberg, Germany; Dets. C and D are believed to have been renamed Dets. 23 and 24, respectively.  Another detachment, Det. 25, was established early in 1951 at Landsberg but it was soon discontinued and its personnel were absorbed by the 12th RSM when it moved to Landsberg from Brooks AFB.

The responsibility for the Berlin detachment was transferred from the 2nd RSM to the 85th RSM at Sembach on 1 October 1954.  (The 85th RSM was subsequently redesignated the 6914th RSM on 8 May 1955 and then the 6910th RGM on 1 September 1956.)  This switchover is recalled by several BIA members who were in Berlin at the time and is supported by documentation from AIA Hq.

Interestingly, AIA Hq. provided no information on the Berlin detachment between 1950 and 1953, offering instead details similar to those that previously appeared in the Berlin Observer:

The original facility at Berlin was established on 1 January 1954 as Flight A of the 2nd RSM. The general order states that “this General Order supersedes previously established plans for Det. 24, 2nd RSM,” and also states “Flight A is attached to the 7350th Air Base Complement Squadron for logistical support.”

Since the detachment in Berlin existed for about three and one-half years prior to January 1954, it may be that the shroud of secrecy surrounding its existence was finally being removed at this time.  Still, no one that was in Berlin seems to remember Flight A, 2nd RSM or, for that matter, Det. 24, 2nd RSM; many, however, clearly remember Det. D, 7350th Air Base Complement Squadron or, simply, Det. D.  

Use of Det. D, 7350th for “cover” probably was discontinued sometime after the 85th RSM assumed responsibility for the detachment.  BIA members recall Det.1, 85th RSM, Det.1, 6914th RSM, Det. D, 6910th RGM, and Det. 1, 6910th RGM in use through June 1959. (On 1 July 1959, the 6912th RSM was officially transferred from Bingen, West Germany, to Tempelhof Central Airport, West Berlin, and assumed the mission, personnel, etc. of Det. 1, 6910th RGM.) 

So much for the very early days. After 1 July 1959, the record was quite clear.  For this period, I relied primarily on information from AIA Hq., with help from BIA members Tree Ogletree, Pat Starkweather, Bill Strautman, and Ken Ford.

Unit Designators

        Jul    50    Det. D, 2nd RSM (Det. D, 7350th Air Base Complement Sq.)
                51    Det. 24, 2nd RSM (Det. D, 7350th Air Base Complement Sq.)
01    Jan    54    Flight A, 2nd RSM
01    Oct    54    Det. 1, 85th RSM
08    May   55    Det. 1, 6914th RSM
01    Sep    56    Det. 1, 6910th RGM
01    Jul     59    6912th Radio Squadron Mobile
01    Jul     63    6912th Security Squadron
01    Aug    79    6912th Electronic Security Group
15    Jul     88    690th Electronic Security Wing
12    Jun    91    690th Electronic Security Group

© 2003, The Berlin Island Association

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