A disturbing incident on the way back to Gatow from Teufelsberg - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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A disturbing incident on the way back to Gatow from Teufelsberg

One day my wing commander Boss, who was an engineer, was suddenly taken ill while at work in his office at Teufelsberg and had to be admitted to the Berlin Military Hospital (BMH) just off the Heerstrasse and close to the Olympic Stadium. Before he was driven off to hospital, he handed over his safe keys to me, briefed me on some ongoing operations (military ones not medical ones) and reminded me to ensure that the change of command was officially promulgated. At the end of work that day I experienced one of the pleasures of being the acting Boss because, for the very first time, I was able to drive his large and very powerful Opel staff car. 26SU had inherited that unique car from BRIXMIS and it had an armour-plated under-surface. Because of who had used it in the recent past, as well as who currently used it, that particular Opel was well-known to all the international security and intelligence services in the city on both sides of The Berlin Wall.
Left: Berliner Funkturm , the Berlin Radio Tower dates back to the mid-1920s but is no longer used as a radio transmitter.

The Opel was an automatic but because of its weight and length it was cumbersome to drive and so, having seen my Boss safely off in the ambulance to BMH, I drove it from Teufelsberg to Gatow quite slowly, getting used to the handling. I had no passengers. The 30 minute trip was uneventful - or so I thought. I parked the Opel in the slot at the front of the Officers' Mess designated for OC 26 Signals Unit and went inside. I was met in the foyer by the squadron leader RAF policeman who was in charge of the RAF Provost and Security Services in Berlin.

"Hello Tony," the P & SS man said, in what I thought was a rather cool manner. "May we go to your suite, please? By the way, did you leave the keys for the Opel in the car?"

I answered yes to both questions. Service cars were routinely collected each evening from outside Messes and Married Quarters and taken off to the MT section by duty drivers. We sat down in my private lounge along the corridor from the foyer. It was not unusual for me to be visited by RAF policemen because, apart from routine police business, they also dealt with all security matters - and there always seemed to be lots of those in Berlin. I assumed he wanted to tell me about something, or someone, connected with my work - and I was right! Through the window I could see several RAF policemen inspecting the Opel closely, front, rear and underneath. Now that was unusual. The security man took his notebook out and I knew then that this was not a social visit: it was official - and it was personal.

"Did anything unusual happen on the drive from Teufelsberg to Gatow?" he asked. It was the sort of vague, introductory question frequently used by policemen in the hope that their victim might inadvertently confess to something.

"No," I answered, going immediately on the defensive. "I can assure you I didn't exceed the speed limit. It was the very first time I've driven the Opel and I was getting used to it."

As I mentioned earlier, for a British serviceman to exceed the strict 50 kph speed limits in the city was a serious matter.

"When you were driving along the Teufelssee Chaussee did you notice anything unusual? Did you, for instance, see anything in your rear view mirror?"

"Not that I can recall," I replied truthfully. The Teufelssee Chaussee was the secluded road through the Grunewald between Teufelsberg and the Heerstrasse.

"At 1727," continued the P & SS man consulting his notes, "a jogger reported that you passed him on the first bend. The jogger was resting on a bench set well back from the road so you probably would not have noticed him. A woman and a man rushed out from the trees just after you had passed them. The woman quickly laid herself down on the road and the man then took a photograph of the woman lying, apparently dead or injured, in the road. The jogger was certain that the picture would include the rear of the 26SU Opel - a well-known car in Berlin as you know. The man and woman then disappeared back into the trees and the jogger, wisely, quietly went off in the other direction and reported what he had seen."

"What are you implying?" I asked.

"That you were being set up for failing to stop after a serious accident. Fortunately, the jogger was not seen, either by the man or the woman; they were too engrossed in what they were doing. Luckily for you, Tony, that jogger works for us - so I know it was a set up. That's how I was able to get here so quickly and ask you these questions. You should consider yourself very fortunate."

"What are you going to do now?" I asked, beginning to realise that being the Second in Command of 26 SU might have some drawbacks.

"Nothing! We wait to see if the Soviets, or the East Germans, try to make use of their photograph either to blackmail you or to embarrass the Allies. In the meantime, please always keep in mind that this city is a hotbed of spies. You need eyes in the back of your head - and whenever you're driving in Berlin, in any vehicle, you should certainly scan your rear view mirror to see what's going on behind you."

I was suitably chastened as well as worried. Had I been the target? Had my Boss been the target? Had the car been the target? I never did find out, but it was not by any means the last odd thing to happen to me in Berlin.

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