Second Volume of the Berlin Tunnel Trilogy
To Be Published: September 8, 2020
From Amazon bestsellers list author Roger L. Liles comes the second volume
of his Cold War trilogy—THE COLD WAR BEGINS. The setting is
war-ravaged Berlin in late 1946. Spies from both sides begin to move with
relative ease throughout a Germany occupied by British, French, American and
Russian military forces. Kurt Altschuler, our hero, soon becomes one of
While working behind enemy lines as an OSS agent in France during World War
II, Kurt learns that intelligence collection involves both exhilarating and
dangerous encounters with the enemy. He relished every moment he spent as
part of the vanguard confronting the Nazis.
That war has been over for 18 months when he is offered a job as a CIA
deep-cover agent in the devastated and divided city of Berlin. He jumps at
the opportunity, but is concerned that his guise as an Associated Press News
Agency reporter will offer little action. He need not worry. Soon, he is
working undercover, deep inside of Russian-controlled southeastern Germany.
Eventually, KGB agents waylay him and tear his car and luggage apart. His
chauffeur is beaten. He is threatened with prison, torture and death.
Enter Erica Hoffmann, a very attractive, aspiring East German archeology
student. Any relationship between an undercover CIA agent and an East German
woman is strictly forbidden; she might be a KGB or Stasi agent or operative.
But he cannot help himself—he has fallen hard for her. Kurt strives
assiduously to maintain their tempestuous, star-crossed relationship.
Eventually, Kurt works to counter the efforts of Russian and East German
spies, especially a mole who is devastating Western Intelligence assets
throughout Europe. He also must work to identify and expose enemy spies who
have penetrated the very fabric of the West German government and society.
He frequently observes to others that: “the spy business is like knife
fighting in a dark closet; you know you’re going to be cut up, you
just don’t know how bad.”
“A tough struggle is going on in back alleys all over the world
in which no quarter is asked and none given.”
Dean Rusk, U.S. Secretary of State, 1961-1969, speaking on the important role espionage and counter-espionage played in the Cold War.
Sunday, November 19, 1961
I have been in Berlin on the front lines of the Cold War almost continuously for the last 15 years. Earlier today, I had an armed confrontation with the East German Secret Police (Stasi) in an abandoned warehouse in East Berlin and was severely wounded. Now, I’m the only person involved in the shootout who is still alive. I’m slowly dying, but if somehow I survive, my superiors in the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) will demand that I tell them how the shoot-out occurred and why Thomas Lane, my fellow CIA agent, was killed. By the way, my name is Kurt Altschuler.
Is the story I’m going to tell them entirely true? No! But I hope it is close enough to the facts revealed by the physical evidence around me to hide what happened. If my version is not believed, my close friends and I might be tried in a court of law and sent to prison.
As I tell my version of what happened to my superiors, I will be interrupted with an almost constant barrage of questions. That will mean that my story must be consistent and believable.
My story would start something like this; “We were preparing to reseal the tunnel after the extraction of the husband and wife double agents and their family. You all have the required security clearance to know the why of the tunnel—it was built into East Berlin so that American intelligence agencies could tap into the communications between communist East Germany, Warsaw Pact, and Russian military and political leaders. During the tunnel’s construction, the top of an East Berlin storm drain was severed and resealed. By reopening that portal, we had unfettered access to that area of abandoned factories and warehouses in southeastern Berlin. We had brought our double agents to the West via that route earlier in the day.
“Thomas Lane, my boss returned to the building where the tunnel entrance was located and requested that I take him through the entire extraction process. I objected, explaining that it would be best to just reseal the tunnel—a process that would take several hours. He insisted and I eventually relented and took him down through the tunnel which runs under the River Spree. We used a hole in the tunnel floor to enter the storm drain. After a quarter of a mile walk, I pushed up a manhole cover. We entered the courtyard of a derelict factory.
“We walked several blocks to a ramshackle vehicle-tire warehouse that had been abandoned since the end of World War II. This is where I had met the double agents earlier that day. During this needless excursion, I figured out what Thomas Lane was doing—he wanted these details to claim that he had personally conducted the harrowing extraction of the eight people in the double agent’s group. This might help him get the promotion I knew he craved.
This assertion would certainly get the attention of my superiors. Perhaps this would divert them from asking questions I did not want to answer.
“As I was showing him the exact spot where I met that group, three Stasi Agents, guns drawn, entered the driveway that led to the loading dock we were standing on. They must have seen us as we walked into this building. Perhaps they had been following our double agents earlier, had lost them, but had not given up their search.
“We ignored their orders to stop, entered the loading dock door to the warehouse, and drew our weapons. I took a position behind a steel pillar. Agent Lane crawled over and eventually took cover behind a low wall on the loading dock itself. He took the firing stance we had been taught in CIA weapons training; he knelt on his right knee and took his weapon in both hands. We both tensed, feeling the adrenalin rush that always occurs before an impending encounter with the enemy.
“Both of us were armed with the standard CIA-issued weapon—the Browning Special semi-automatic pistol. It’s an exceptional weapon because the energy of each fired cartridge automatically advances the next available cartridge into position for firing.
Here I was currying my superior’s favor by bragging about CIA agents’ training and weapons.
“The Stasi spread out and took turns scrambling from the protection of one piece of discarded junk to the next. Soon they were halfway across the loading dock’s broad driveway. Following standard CIA tactics, we waited until we could pin all three of them down before we fired our first shot. The sun was just setting. Their vehicle was undoubtedly equipped with a two-way radio and they could have retreated and called for help. Their leader had decided that he’d best conclude the confrontation quickly. Darkness might give us a chance to escape.
“Eventually, Thomas pointed and gestured for me to cover the two Stasi on the left. He took aim where he expected the man on our right to expose himself on his next move forward. I heard Thomas fire his weapon twice. A deafening BANG-BANG occurred and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the barrel of his weapon jerk up slightly each time. Someone cried out the word ‘Scheisse’ (‘shit!’), followed by an almost imperceptible thud as he hit the ground. The smell of cordite filled the air and my ears rang.
“I remember thinking at the time, one down, two to go. I was both surprised and amazed that Lane who has no field experience was performing well.
“Both of us now turned our weapons toward the surviving two Stasi Agents. Through hand signals the two of us agreed that I would cover the Stasi agent on our left; he the one on the right.
“Unfortunately, the Stasi agents used the muzzle flashes from Thomas’ weapon to determine where he was. Using hand signals, they both fired several rounds at us. One hit my metal post with a reverberating thud; another hit the metal door frame next to me, glanced off and continued to ricochet off surfaces in the warehouse itself. Thomas stayed behind the low wall. I used a slot in my post to observe and report their movements to him. When one exposed himself, I fired three rounds at him. He quickly scrambled back to his original position.
“At this point, I whispered loud enough for Thomas to hear—‘We’ve got them pinned down.’ He gave me a thumbs up. We both realized that if they tried to advance or retreat, they would have to expose themselves; thus, we just needed to wait for them to take action because we had the tactical advantage of looking down on them from an elevated platform.”
“For a few minutes, neither side did anything. Then suddenly, one Stasi agent fired a whole clip of bullets from what was probably the Stasi standard arm—the Walther PPK Pistole-38nl. The other Stasi waited for us to expose ourselves, hoping he could take one of us out. Then the other fired his clip, still trying to get a reaction. They repeated this tactic. We held our fire—primarily because we each only had a single spare clip and were safe behind our barriers.
“In the silence that followed this failed tactic, Thomas deliberately took aim and fired two more shots at the man he had taken down earlier, I was surprised; the man had been lying motionless on the ground for some time. Then I remembered our training—’Make sure a dead man is dead—if you don’t, you’ll be the dead man.’
“The Walther PPK has a magazine which holds only 10 rounds. Our Stasi friends had obviously brought several extra clips with them but were now apparently conserving their ammunition. At this point, I was certain we were winning; we just had to be patient. We needed to get back to the tunnel so it could be sealed, but had to be exceedingly careful not to expose its existence to the Stasi. The intercept site that was associated with the tunnel had been described by Secretary of Defense McNamara as ‘A national treasure of inestimable value.’
“It was a good thing that the two in front of us were pinned down; otherwise, they would have radioed for help. Then I realized that if they did not check in soon, help would probably be dispatched to determine what had happened to them. Also, there was a possibility—although the immediate area seemed to be deserted—someone might hear the gunfire and telephone the East German Peoples Police (VoPos).
“Fortunately, at this point, the two Stasi Agents decided to extract themselves from their tenuous position. They fired numerous rounds at us and began to retreat, seeking shelter in the process. Eventually, we were able to hit them both. Thomas advanced, intending to ensure that they were both dead. One of the men was still alive, managed to raise his weapon quickly, and shot Thomas at close range. I was so intent on taking the surviving Stasi agent out, I foolishly exposed myself. Just as I fired, so did he. I was shot in the abdomen. The throbbing, searing pain surprised me.
“Nauseated, I fell back onto a nearby bench. Focusing through the pain, I realized I had to stop the blood flow. The bullet had made a small hole in my abdomen, which was hardly bleeding. But my back was soaked around the exit wound. I removed my overcoat and tied my suit coat tightly around my mid-section, almost fainting from the pain and exertion. That seemed to have stopped the bleeding; now I needed to start the ten-minute walk back to my friends and the safety of the storm drain and tunnel. Lane was beyond help. I could see from where I was that the bullet had taken off part of his head.
“Sensing moisture again, I put my hand in the small of my back and thought to myself, I’m still losing a lot of blood. Calm yourself…calm down…you’ve got to reduce blood loss…but how? Maybe if I get on my back, my overcoat and body weight can stanch the flow.
“After several futile attempts to stand-up, I managed a painful and uncoordinated lurch to my knees and then the floor. I struggled but finally succeeded in getting my bunched-up overcoat beneath me. The bleeding seemed to lessen. I tried to relax—conserve my energy and think of a way out of this mess.
“Even though it was a cold night, I started sweating; my throat went dry, and I became thirsty…so thirsty. Recognizing the signs, I knew what was happening. In the war, I’d seen several people die from stomach wounds.
“Looking at my watch, I said aloud to myself, ‘You’ve just three minutes to get to the tunnel.’ Earlier I had told my Air Force friends, ‘You must seal the tunnel by 17:00. Don’t risk compromising its existence. If I’m not there, I’ll find another way to get to West Berlin.’
“It’s strange how time passes very slowly when you’re dying. I began worrying that the Stasi would show up and capture me. If I don’t talk, they will turn me over to the KGB for their ‘advanced methods.’ Eventually everyone talks.
“I decided that death was preferable to torture. Damn, the pain was excruciating as I searched for my Browning Special. Eventually, I found it under my back. Fumbling and then finally picking it up, I put the barrel in my mouth, and with a great effort pulled the trigger. All I heard was a loud CLICK! It was empty. I asked myself how I could have fired thirteen times and tried to count them.
“At this juncture, I remembered I had put an extra clip in my overcoat pocket, but that was wadded up underneath me. I knew that I’d never get to it. I should have brought the cyanide capsule from my desk drawer—that would have been easier and fast.
Barely able to move my arm into view, I checked my watch—17:16. As the pain diminished, I became strangely calm. The blood flow had slowed. That was good; it meant the end was near. I could die knowing the Stasi wouldn’t get me, plus my daughter and her mother had escaped.
As I peacefully drifted off, I recalled what someone had once told me, “Your life flashes before your eyes just before you die.” Smiling, I remembered another person had added, “So make sure it’s worth watching.” In my mind’s eye, I could see Ben, the AP photographer greeting me at the bottom of the metal stairs when I arrived in Berlin in November of 1946—almost exactly fifteen years ago.
About the Author
Roger L. Liles decided he had to earn a living after a BA and graduate
studies in Modern European History. He went back to school and eventually
earned an MS in Engineering from the University of Southern California in
In the 1960s, he served as an Air Force Signals Intelligence Officer in
Turkey and Germany and eventually lived in Europe for a total of eight
years. He worked in the military electronics field for forty years—his
main function was to translate engineering jargon into understandable
English and communicate it to senior decision-makers in the
Now retired after working for forty years as a senior engineering manager
and consultant with a number of aerospace companies, he spends his days
writing. His first novel, which was published in late 2018 was titled The
Berlin Tunnel—A Cold War Thriller. His second novel The Cold War
Begins was published in late 2020 and is the second volume in his planned
The Cold War Trilogy. This trilogy is based on extensive research into
Berlin during the spy-versus-spy era which followed World War II and his
personal experience while living and working in Europe. He is in the process
of writing its third volume of the trilogy which will be titled The Berlin
Tunnel—Another Crisis and takes the story into 1962 and the era of the
Cuban Missile Crisis.
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