Tunnels under Berlin and Vienna

Below is an after dinner speech I gave to the Alpine Ski Club at the Annual Dinner.  Peter Lunn an honorary member of the ASC, was an amazing chap, Olympic Skier in 1936 Olympics, Soldier / Spy.  He passed away in Nov 2011 at the age of 97.  So I gave a talk about his tunneling activities under Vienna and Berlin after the WWII.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen…

A couple of points about the club, and then an anecdote about Berlin and Peter Lunn.

Website – now working. Originally I thought this would just be a “shop window” on the club. But so much more than that, has made organising events and communicating much easier. I would also encourage members to have a look at the gallery, and upload their own photos from trips. This is relatively straight forward and I would suggest anyone who would like to know how to do this speak to me or Roger this evening.

Trips – We’ve had some fantastic trips in 2014. We sponsored Michelle Blaydon’s trip to Baffin Island, and Susanna Walker’s trip to the Pamir’s in Tajikistan. Plus the joint ASC trip to the Dolra Valley in Georgia. Future trips…Jonty Mills trip to Homathko Icefield in British Columbia.

I thought I would tell an anecdote about Berlin. Because it is 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell, but also Peter Lunn who was an honorary member of this club, and who we celebrated the centenary with in Murren. And I thought it is interesting what club members get up to during their day jobs. All of what I’m about to tell you is publicly available, you just have to know where to look, and also to have a bit of time on your hands.

So, in the 1950s Peter Lunn was involved in a tunnelling operation in Berlin. He was the main instigator of a plan to tap the land lines that the Soviets used, by tapping the landlines the West hoped to pick up sensitive voice traffic that the Soviets were not troubling to encrypt, because unlike messages sent by radio transmitter, underground landlines were thought to be inaccessible and therefore secure. Besides, the KGB were tapping the lines which went through their zone in Berlin and East Germany to listen into British conversations. So the West thought we might as well spy on the Russians if they were spying on us.

This is where Peter Lunn comes in. And the story starts in Vienna, which as readers of the Third Man will know, was also divided into four sectors. In late 1948 he happened to notice that the main telephone cables running under the British sector in Vienna went out towards a major headquarters in the Soviet Zone. A twenty foot tunnel code named “Conflict” was soon dug from a British Police post to the underground cable, and an engineer was brought in from the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill to attach a tapping device. “Conflict” was so successful that two other tunnels were dug by Lunn, code named, believe it or not “Lord” and “Sugar.” One tunnel reached out from the basement of a British run jewellery store, the other from a villa in the suburbs of Vienna occupied by a British Army officer and his wife.

The volume of intercepted material was so large that the translators were overwhelmed. SIS had to set up an entirely new section, called section Y at 2 Carlton Gardens, just off Pall Mall staffed by former Eastern European exiles. But they needed more Russian linguists – and so they tried to recruit trainees in Russian, but the British struggled with the language because not only was it very colloquial, but filled with obscenities. The lexicon eventually produced to assist the new comers was classified “TOP SECRET OBSCENE”.

Then in 1953 Peter Lunn was chosen to head the vast SIS station in Berlin, housed in the splendid Olympic Stadium. This is the same Olympic Stadium that almost 20 years before, he had refused to turn up to the opening ceremony when he led the Olympic team, and thus snubbing Hitler. Anyway, now that he moved to Berlin, he dug another tunnel, this time from a building in the American sector, close to the Soviet telephone cables. Berlin was a great place to collect intelligence, because it’s phone lines carried communications not only to Moscow, but also Warsaw and Budapest.

They started digging in February 1954 – and the hardest part of the operation was installing the taps themselves, which were heavy metal clips. This involved freezing the lines to prevent the interference being detected by the KGB, or who ever was calling on the secure lines. It took a year for Peter Lunn to do this. Again, they got so much information, that they had trouble monitoring all of it. Voice traffic was recorded on fifty thousand reels of magnetic tape (an early tape recorded effectively) but this amounted to 25 tonnes of material. Altogether Three Hundred and sixty eight thousand conversations were recorded. Western intelligence found it extremely valuable, including as an early warning of an attack or for instance, information on the Russian nuclear weapons program and they had excellent prior knowledge that Khruschev was going to denounce Stalin in 1956.

The story ends with the tunnel being publicly uncovered in April 1956 due to the treachery of George Blake. Blake had been turned after he spent time as a prisoner of war in North Korea, and when he returned to London he continued to be a double agent, and handed over the plans for the tunnel on the top deck of a double decker bus. So the KGB knew about the Berlin tunnel, but because they didn’t want to blow George Blake’s cover as a double agent, they let it go on. For instance, they didn’t warn Eastern Block officials who were communicating on what they thought were secure lines. Instead they let the tapping go on for at least a year.

But finally the tunnel was “discovered” – When it hit the headlines and the Soviet press denounced it, and Western press in return hailed it as a brilliant success the CIA got all the credit. This rather annoyed Peter Lunn, as you might imagine. He assembled the whole staff of Berlin SIS station and recounted the story from beginning to end.

So that’s a brief anecdote about one of the club’s members, who many of us met in Murren when we were celebrating the club’s centenary.

Now I must just finish by giving my. THANKS to the committee, particularly Ingram who is stepping down from being club secretary since 2004. I would point you all towards the newsletter, where John Moore has written an appreciation of all the work she has done.

Ingram has sustained a continuity in the Club management which helped us to develop from what was predominately a dining club to an institution with the variety of mountain activities which makes the ASC a real ski mountaineers’ club. She has be excellent at finding guest speakers for the dinners and lecture evenings, organising the buffet, arranging the club committee meetings, and managing some extremely quirky presidents and idiosyncratic committee members!

So on behalf of the committee and everyone else I would like to thank her.

Source: Richard Aldrich GCHQ