Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Spying on the Red Army

Imagine if you will, a story of a specially modified car with all sorts of gadgets, cruising around East Germany, spying on Russian equipment, dodging Russian agents, and trying to outwit sentries. All the information gathered is then reported back to British Intelligence. You could be forgiven for thinking I had been reading a James Bond book for the source material for this week’s article, but it’s all true. Let me introduce you to the world of BRIXMIS. 

A BRIXMIS car being put through its paces

When Germany was divided the three allies, France, America, the UK and the Soviet Union all set up liaison groups with each other. The UK’s was called BRIXMIS, which stands for BRItish X [used to indicate command HQ’s] MISsion. These groups were to enable the victorious allies to co-ordinate tasks like repatriation of German POW’s, tackle the black market or catching war criminals. To facilitate these roles the various missions were each given a pass allowing them to enter each other’s zone, in a marked vehicle. Indeed, they legally even counted as part of the occupying forces, each nation issued a map that contained strictly prohibited zones which the liaison personnel could not enter.

As the cold war progressed it soon became clear that having the ability to drive, freely, around East Germany was an intelligence god send. Thus BRIXMIS’ tasking switched from the operations mentioned earlier to spying. This was done by a series of relatively standard cars driving around the countryside and investigating what they could. They would often lie up in a hide and photograph routes or places such as railway lines where they might be able to spot something interesting. They would also wait for any Soviet exercises to end, and then investigate the rubbish tips left behind gathering intelligence from the remains of things dumped by the Soviet forces. Other times they visited bunkers that were out in the middle of no-where and unmanned to see what information could be gained. RAF personnel would hide up and take photographs of aircraft coming into land, allowing intelligence on the weapons and stores that such craft were capable of carrying. On one occasion a BRIXMIS team found the newly introduced BMP-2 in a training area, with no Soviets about. An enterprising BRIXMIS member climbed on the IFV and pressed an apple into the gun barrel. This left an imprint on the apple, which could later be examined, and measured.

Measuring the BMP-2's gun barrel with an apple

  The apple highlights another interesting facet of the situation. BRIXMIS members had to be careful not to write anything down that could be incriminating. Legally as they were part of the Soviet occupation force the civil authorities were unable to do anything to a BRIXMIS tour, and so were ignored. However, the Stasi did have powers and counter surveillance teams would often attempt to disrupt the BRIXMIS activities. Soviet special forces would also lay ambushes with IED’s and the like. Both the French and the US lost personnel on their versions of BRIXMIS. The French casualty died when his car was rammed, and the American was shot by a sentry as he approached a position.

The incident where the French soldier was killed by the Soviets. The Truck has obviously swerved across the road to ram the French car.

Often when stopped by authorities the British would brew up, offer everyone a cup of tea, and wait for the Local Soviet Commandant to arrive and release them. However, on one occasion a map the BRIXMIS patrol was using to navigate was seen and looked at. On it there were a load of strange markings that looked like nuclear bomb blasts! The Soviets were convinced they had caught the team spying, either marking out intended target points for Western nuclear weapons or marking where they thought the Soviets had their nuclear facilities. In reality the BRIXMIS members were recording locations where they could obtain a decent ice cream in the summer. 

BRIXMIS modified Opel Senator
In about 1980 the British introduced an absolute beast of a car for BRIXMIS. It started out life as an Opel Senator, with a 3.0l engine, and painted in matt olive green. It was then modified.  
The rear windows were heavily tinted and shuttered with blinds so the third man of the patrol could operate in relative privacy. The vehicle was upgraded to 4x4 and the suspension strengthened. An armoured floor plate was fitted to protect against any explosive presents left behind by the Soviets. Additional fuel tanks were added, as well as infra-red night driving lights. The rear number plate lights were even altered so they could be switched off. To finish the stealth aspect of the car all interior fittings were blacked out. Against the Soviet counter surveillance teams, called ‘Narks’ [British Slang for ‘police informer.’] driving off the shelf Lada’s the Senators out classed them massively.

Narks at work.

But wait, there’s more! As stated earlier, BRIXMIS had RAF personnel in it. Thus, they owned a pair of Chipmunk light aircraft, which they could fly about. The excuse given to the Soviets was that they were to allow the RAF personnel to maintain their flying hours and thus certification. In reality, they would take extreme telephoto lenses up and snap pictures of interesting items which they encountered. This was called Operation Schooner/Nylon. The Red Army hated the Chipmunks, on one occasion they returned to base and found a pair of bullet holes in the aircraft. Developing the films, they could see a Soviet infantryman standing next to his BMP with his rifle aiming at the plane. Equally, another Red Army commander became so incensed with the Chipmunk, he was only stopped from ordering his ZSU’s from shooting it out of the sky with great difficulty. A full account of the activities of the BRIXMIS Chipmunks can be found here, including a story of the time an observer dropped a long telephoto lens, which landed in the middle of a Red Army drill formation. (If you want to read more about BRIXMIS in general, or look at other pictures, try this site)

The moment a Red Army soldier opens fire on the Chipmunk.

Back in May 2018 [slightly shocked how long ago that was now] I posted an article about the T-64, and the British intelligence gathering activities. This include some very interesting shots of the T-64 and mention of sound recordings of the tank. In that article I suggested that a lot of the intel had to have come from spies within the Soviet tank design process. I suspect this may not now be the case, as BRIXMIS could have been the source of a lot of the information. 


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