A young Claudia Bierschenk lived in a village surrounded by hills, valleys and thick forests at the edge of a world called the GDR. It could be beautiful, but the Iron Curtain runs through it, like a tectonic plate separating East and West and Claudia from her West German relatives.
She tells of her life in this isolated area, of village life, far away from the socialist showpiece of East Berlin, where there are only two types of yoghurt in the village store.
In a series of snapshots, we...
In 1961, members of the Alabama Air National Guard secretly took part in the failed invasion of Cuba by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles known as the Bay of Pigs. This was a covert attempt by the United States to overthrow the Soviet-allied Cuban government of Fidel Castro.
Pete Ray was one of eight Alabama guardsmen who flew combat missions on April 19th 1961, which resulted in the deaths of Pete and three members of the Alabama unit. U.S. President John F. Kennedy later acknowledged America's...
Paul continues his story with his recruitment into the Army Air Corps. It’s initially delayed with a tour providing airfield repair in West Germany and then the Falklands, but finally, he’s at training at Middle Wallop, the home of the Army Air Corps.
He describes the training including underwater escapes, flying and navigation. As a Gazelle crewman, his role was navigator, observer and co-pilot. We hear of exercises including the lesser-known Railex/Probex, a US, French and British...
Paul joined the Royal Engineers in 1977, aged 16 as an apprentice. We hear of his experience of joining the army at such a young age and being away from home for the first time.
After initial training his first posting was to Osnabruck in 1979. Shortly after his arrival Paul is appointed to the challenging role of driver to the Squadron Sergeant Major
With participation in exercises such as Crusader 80 and Active Edge Paul describes in detail the role of Royal Engineers in Cold War...
In the early 1980s East Germany had just 5000 members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, many of which had been members since before World War 2.
In 1982 East German leader Erich Honecker historically allowed the church to build a temple in Freiberg and in 1988 Mormon missionaries were allowed into East Germany. Ken Brady describes his experiences as a Mormon missionary in East Germany as the country gradually disappeared and was absorbed into West Germany.
Ken also gives us a valuable...
KC flew the US Navy’s airborne Electronic Reconnaissance during the 1980s in the Lockheed EP-3 which is an electronic signals reconnaissance version of the P-3 Orion.
He flew as a Navigator, Senior Electronic Warfare Evaluator and Mission Commander.
We hear about several missions he was involved in including his first detachment to Athens the then main USN operating base for missions in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic.
We also hear about flying in the Baltic from bases in the UK...
What is it like to be under secret police surveillance? On 10 March 1983, 12-year-old Carmen Bugan returned from school to find Romanian secret police in her living room. Her father’s protest against the regime had changed her life forever.
In recent years Carmen gained access to the files of the Romanian secret police. She herself is surprised by the intimacy of the surveillance. Forgotten conversations, love letters, and arguments are all laid bare via the detailed notes taken by the...
Keith Bailey Joined British Army at 16 in 1973. He was recruited into the Blues and Royals, (Household Cavalry) and served in West Germany as a gunner in Chieftain tanks.
However, he was keen to serve in the Royal Military Police and particularly 19 (Support) Platoon known as "The White Mice". Their role was to track the SOXMIS (Soviet Military Mission) in West Germany.
SOXMIS operated under a 1946 agreement where the Soviets, British, US and French agreed to exchange mission groups to...
Graham Bate was 30-year-old Civil Servant when he built his own nuclear bunker in the garden of his rural home 20 miles outside Hull in the UK.
It was here that the Bate family expected to survive for at least 3 weeks after a nuclear attack.
We speak with Graham Bate and his son Conrad who was 5 years old when the bunker was built and has vivid memories of the period.
Cold War history is disappearing; however, a simple monthly donation will help preserve these accounts and keep this podcast...
You might remember listening to short wave radio during the Cold War and coming across weird transmissions of metallic voices reciting random groups of numbers through the ether. These are number stations, shortwave radio stations characterised by broadcasts of formatted numbers, which were being sent to spies operating in foreign countries.
Number stations were used widely during the Cold War and we speak with Jo Reggelt of ShortwaveNumbers.com. Jo has been working with Simon Mason who was...
The Cold War years were a period of unprecedented peace in Europe, yet they also saw a number of localised but nonetheless very intense wars throughout the wider world in which air power played a vital role.
I speak with former Cold War Tornado pilot and acclaimed aviation historian Michael Napier who has written Flashpoints: Air Warfare in the Cold War published by Osprey which describes eight of these Cold War conflicts.
We discuss the wide range of aircraft types used and the development...
Marti Peterson was the first female CIA operative to be assigned to Moscow, probably the most challenging posting during the Cold War.
Don't miss the previous episode here https://coldwarconversations.com/episode236/
This second episode turns to TRIGON, the code name for Alexandr Ogorodnik. He was an official in the Soviet Embassy in Bogota, Columbia recruited by the CIA in 1973. Marti and TRIGON never met in person, but they shared information through dead drops and intelligence. We hear...
Marti Peterson was the first female CIA operative to be assigned to Moscow, probably the most challenging posting during the Cold War. Her story begins in Laos during the Vietnam War where she accompanied her husband John, a CIA officer. She describes their life in a small city in Laos, and the devastating news she received on October 19, 1972.
Marti returned to the United States and one night at dinner a good friend suggested she look into working for the CIA.
After making it clear to CIA...
The 13th World Festival of Youth and Students was held from 1–8 July 1989 in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. It was the largest international event staged in North Korea up until then.
The event took four years of preparation by the North Korean government, which effectively spent a quarter of the country's yearly budget (US$4.5 billion) on it. Ultimately declared as the largest ever World Festival of Youth and Student with about 22,000 people from 177 countries attending.
Ian Foulkes was exposed to the deadly nerve agent Sarin in 1983 at the Porton Down Chemical & Biological Defence Establishment., one of the UK's most secretive and controversial military research facilities.
Ian describes in detail the process and the ill effects this caused him and shares details of a little-known fatality where 20-year-old Ronald Maddison died 45 minutes after what scientists thought was 200mg of liquid Sarin dripped onto his arm.
We also talk about the development of...
In 1964, pilot Captain Hansen found himself unemployed. He began to send out feelers to several companies including one that had placed an ad in the Washington Post called Air America. When he was called in for an interview which primarily consisted of two questions - can you fly good and do you drink a lot.
Air America was the airline owned by the CIA. Its operations were unknown. Its schedules were irregular. Its pilots were shadow people. Its world was the world of spooks, covert air ops,...
During the 1970s and 1980s, Arthur Grace travelled extensively behind the Iron Curtain, working primarily for news magazines. One of only a small corps of Western photographers with ongoing access, he was able to delve into the most ordinary corners of people's daily lives, while also covering significant events. His remarkable book Communism(s) A Cold War Album is effectively psychological portraits that leave the viewer with a sense of the gamut of emotions in that era.
Zsolt Akos Pall was 17 when he decided to flee Cold War Romania for a better life in the West.
It’s a heart-warming story of the generosity of strangers. Young Zsolt finds compassionate border guards, gets lost in Vienna and has incredible luck wherever he turns as he negotiates the iron curtain as well as many other international borders to reach his brother in Sweden
However, his escape is bittersweet as we hear of his emotional farewell to his parents, not knowing if he’d ever see them...
Zsolt Akos Pall was born in a small town in the Hungarian speaking part of Romania.
For ordinary people, life in Romania in the 1980s was very hard and it could be even worse if you were a part of the Hungarian Szekler minority since the Communist government persecuted the Hungarian minority. They even made them change their Hungarian names into Romanian. Zsolt's brother was renamed Istvan to Stefan. However, Zsolt was baptised Zsolt, since there was no Romanian equivalent to it.
The year 1983 was one of the most dangerous in human history. While the Cuban crisis was exceptionally dangerous and both the United States and the Soviet Union had significant nuclear arsenals in 1962, a war in 1983 would have likely ended the human race.
Brian Morra was Chief of Intelligence Analysis for US Forces Japan at Yakota airbase when on 1st September 1983 an unarmed Korean airliner was shot down by a Soviet fighter causing the deaths of 269 people. He describes the less well known...
In June 1934, Kim Philby met his Soviet handler, the spy Arnold Deutsch. Kim Philby was a British intelligence officer and a double agent for the Soviet Union. In 1963 he was revealed to be a member of the Cambridge Five, a spy ring that had divulged British secrets to the Soviets during World War II and in the early stages of the Cold War.
The woman who introduced Philby to Deutsch was Edith Tudor-Hart and her story has never been told.
Edith Tudor Hart changed the course of 20th-century...
Maura McCormick was posted to Berlin as a Signals Intelligence voice interceptor (Russian). Her workplace was the Teufelsberg U.S. listening station, aka Field Station Berlin.
Maura shares her early impressions of Berlin and working at the Tberg. She talks about her impressions of the infamous James Hall, a United States Army warrant officer and signals intelligence analyst who sold eavesdropping and code secrets to East Germany and the Soviet Union from 1983 to 1988.
Maura also recounts a...
Liz Kohn has been researching Alice Glasnerová, who was imprisoned as part of the early Cold War Czechoslovak show trials known as the Slansky trials.
These were among the most notorious show trials of the 20th century, with the prosecution and sentencing to death of Rudolf Slánský, general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist party, and 10 other defendants, who had been arrested in a brutal purge ordered by Stalin.
Alice Glasnerová was Liz’s father’s first wife. When Liz started...
In 1978, Ieva Lesinska was a university student in Soviet Latvia with dreams of becoming a writer. She had just spent a heady month in New York visiting her father, Imants Lesinskis, a Soviet translator working at the United Nations. However, he was an employee of the KGB and a member of the Communist Party.
During her trip to the US, Ieva’s father informed her that he and his wife Rasma were about to defect. He offered her a blunt choice: take a taxi to the Soviet Embassy and denounce him...