The Cold War hasn’t ended

Officers Mess and Goering Room: Gutersloh 1959
Officers Mess and Goering Room: Gutersloh 1959

During World War II the US and USSR were uncomfortable and cautious allies. The ideological differences between Soviet communism and American capitalism were irreconcileable – an ideal shared with its Western Allies. At the end of the war the relationship between the Allies and the USSR deteriorated into a strong feeling of distrust and suspicion. Following the 1945 Yalta and Potsdam Conferences, Germany was divided into four occupation zones controlled by the USA, Great Britain, France and the USSR. Berlin, situated inside the Russian Zone, became a Four Power city and access from the west was primarily by air. The Soviet occupation and imposition of Communist governments in the Eastern European countries confirmed their intent to dominate all of Europe. They wrongly believed the US was not committed to defending democracy and the “Cold War” became inevitable because of the opposing ideologies. It became colder in the 1950s and 1960s when the Soviets backed the North Korean People’s Army in its invasion of South Korea, and supported the Communist Ho Chi Minh in the Vietnam War.

In the Cold War it was easy to identify the other side. They wore a different uniform and there was a barrier between the West and East in Europe where most of the action took place. The barrier was a fence that ran about 250 miles from the borders with Czechoslovakia, Austria and Switzerland in the south through the middle of Germany to the Baltic Sea near Lubeck in the north.

It wasn’t a high fence but the trees were cleared on either side to give the East German guards a clear view from their watch towers. The barbed wire fence and anti-personnel mines, along part of the border, were designed to keep people in.

As part of the Allies’ containment strategy the border was regularly patrolled during daylight hours by photo reconnaissance and fighter aircraft to respond to any Russian violation of West German airspace. This game of “cat and mouse” was known as “patrolling the wire”.

The British Air Force (RAF) was responsible for a large section of the wire running from east of Kassel in the south of Germany to the Baltic Sea in the north, along the Baltic coast of Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark, and south along a small part of the North Sea coast of Germany which included the Isle of Sylt – known for its sandy beaches, cold water, unique language and nude sunbathing. Sylt was a popular destination for the photo reconnaissance aircrew.

The headquarters of No. 2 Group RAF Gutersloh was the nearest western airbase to the border with East Germany, 240 miles west of Berlin and as one pilot said: “about five minutes flying time from the Russians”. In 1959, Gutersloh was home to four squadrons of interceptor fighter and photo reconnaissance aircraft – primarily the British-made Hawker Hunter and Supermarine Swift. Many of the pilots were World War II veterans and the others were young and care-free with no combat experience. For them the Cold War was an adventure and a real-life training experience.

The Gutersloh air base had a short history. It was constructed about 1935 as a forward night fighter base for the Luftwaffe’s versatile Junkers JU88C, captured by US forces in 1945 and handed over to the British. In 1959, RAF Gutersloh was better known for its role in patrolling the wire between West and East Germany, its Officers Mess, Cellar Bar and Goering’s Room in the tower.

Hermann Goering, a pilot in the German Luftwaffe during World War I, was the Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe in World War II and a close ally of Adolf Hitler. During World War II Goering was a frequent visitor to Germany’s forward air bases, including Gutersloh, and there were several stories about the Goering Room. One story was when Goering interrogated the Luftwaffe pilots after they returned from a mission he said if they didn’t tell the truth the ceiling would fall on them. Junior officers had placed a hinge at one end of a beam in the ceiling with a pulley system and steel cable to the Cellar Bar. With a signal they would let the beam fall within inches of the terrified pilot’s head.

The other story had Goering boasting about the might of the Luftwaffe and swearing that if Germany lost the war the ceiling above him would fall on his head. On a signal an officer released the beam and literally brought the roof down on Goering. The British pilots enjoyed telling the stories and playing the game.

The RAF low level covert border flights and their overflights into East Germany became a contest between the pilots to see who could penetrate further into East Germany’s airspace before the Russians chased them back across the border. They recorded the Russian Air Force response time and photographed anything of interest which was studied closely at the debriefing. The photographs of nude bathers at Sylt and passionate farm hands enjoying themselves in the fields near the border were viewed separately by the aircrew.

The RAF Commanding Officer at Gutersloh in 1959 was one of the most highly decorated British pilots from World War II. He flew over 100 operational missions in several different aircraft as a Bomber Command pilot, Commanding Officer of a Pathfinder Squadron and as a Master Bomber directing air raids over Germany. After the war he worked with the Technical Intelligence arm of the RAF, responsible for gathering information on the capabilities of the Soviet Air Force. When a MiG 15 airplane crashed in one of the Eastern Bloc countries he was sent in dressed as a farmer to examine the wreckage and the MiG’s electronic equipment. At Gutersloh, he was held in awe by the younger pilots who talked openly about their CO’s experience, courage and understanding of Russian airplanes and technology. He encouraged the overflights and lead his pilots deeper into East Germany in his favorite Hawker Hunter airplane. The RAF pilots patrolling the wire during The Cold War were at the front of the action and better understood the Russians than the politicians sitting comfortably thousands of miles away.

In 1989-1991 the USSR and its Eastern European satellites imploded. Politicians in the US and its Allied countries declared the Cold War was over and claimed “we” had won. This followed the overthrow of Communist Governments in Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, independence of the Baltic States, Ukraine, Byelorussia and Russia, the break up of the former Yugoslovakia, fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany. Thirty years on from the self declared victory some historians are questioning whether the game is actually over or if the Russians just took a time out to regroup and strengthen the team. In the first Cold War the Soviets opposed the western countries with the support of Communist Governments in Eastern Europe where the ideology had been imposed on them. Now those countries have moved closer to western idiology and Russia has signed up a like-minded China to their team. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is alive and well in Russia and China while liberal capitalism or anti communism is still alive in most western countries. The game isn’t over just because one side declares victory when there is still time on the clock. The military uniforms and Mao suits may have been replaced by western style Saville Row and Brooks Brothers suits but underneath the Marxist-Leninist ideology remains the same. Putin is still a Stalin follower and Xi a Mao follower. Both control the media in their country and try to influence the media in western countries. Mao’s thoughts were documented during the Cultural Revolution in the “Little Red Book” which was compulsory reading for the Chinese people. Xi’s philosophy and state-controlled media articles are documented in the “Little Red App” (Study Xi Strong Country) which was launched for Chinese smartphones as “voluntary” reading in early 2019.

Mao’s Long March lasted a year, covered 4,000 miles across China and installed Mao as the leader of China’s Communists. Xi was confirmed as President of China for life by the Communist Party Congress in 2018. His long march will be up the technology road.

Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung Posters: China 1972
Vladimir Putin (Kremlin) and Xi Jinping (Narendra Modi)

The Cold War hasn’t ended; it just looks and feels different, and needs a new name – The Cyber War. The Cyber War highlights the threat of electronic incursions and violation of democratic values by foreign players and corrupted social media. Unless these incursions are blocked, foreign players could use offensive cyber capabilities to access, control or destroy western communications systems and infrastructure such as the electricity grid, water and fuel supplies, communications, transport, banking, education and medical systems. Patrolling the wire takes on a completely new dimension. Now we need highly trained cyber warriors to block foreign incursions via wireless and undersea cable networks; block encrypted messages if they can’t be decoded; block offensive videos, messages and live streaming of mass murders on social media like the recent terrorist attack in New Zealand, disrupt terrorist communications and further develop anti-drone technology. It is a huge technological challenge and it will require a deep understanding of the ideology and motives behind the cyber incursion. The risk of just relying on intelligence gathered through monitoring the cyber space is we will ignore the ideological differences between Communism and Capitalism. It is not smart to lock all of your doors and leave the windows open (pun intended) – a mistake we made when we declared The Cold War was over and we had won.

In the Cold War incursions came from the other side of the wire. In the Cyber War incursions are coming from both sides of the wire which makes blocking or destroying them legally and politically more complicated. If we do nothing or just focus on the other side of the wire the war will be over, the ceiling will fall on our heads and our ideological opposites will have won.

RAF Gutersloh was closed in 1993 and the site was handed over to the British Army for use as an Army helicopter and logistics base, before returning it to the German authorities in 2016. Today the quiet city of Gutersloh is known as the headquarters of the Bertelsmann media conglomerate, owners of the Penguin Random House publishing company, the home of the Miele appliance manufacturing company and a software-based technology company, Reply Deutschland. The technology company specializes in the design and development of software solutions for new communications channels and the digital media. Given RAF Gutersloh’s role in the Cold War, it is somewhat ironic that a software-based technology company has now established itself just down the road from the air base that was responsible for patrolling the wire.

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Image Credits: Officers mess and goering room – Gutersloh 1959 by the author, © Ken Peacock; Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung posters – 1972 (public domain); Vladimir Putin, President of Russia (press photo/fair use); Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China via Narendra Modi (© Government of India via Wikipedia.org).

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock

Ken Peacock, a former senior Australian executive of a mining company, first visited China in 1972 at the end of the Cultural Revolution and before diplomatic recognition by the Australian and US Governments. This was the first of many visits to China during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1978, he traveled throughout China with a trade delegation and revisited Shanghai where he stayed at the Shanghai Mansions Hotel and discovered the “Last Bottle of Gin in China”.