At the end of the Second World War Germany was divided into Occupation Zones by the four wartime Allies (Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union). An Allied Agreement for 'The Control Machinery in Germany' provided for the exchange of Military Liaison Missions between the respective Occupation Zones.
The British and the Soviets were the first to implement this on 16 September 1946 and BRIXMIS established its Headquarters at Potsdam in the Soviet Occupied Zone while the Soviets had their Mission at Bad Salzuflen in the British Zone, which later moved to Bünde.
The object of these Missions was to maintain liaison between the staffs of the two Commanders-in-Chief and their Military Governments in their respective Zones. The United States and France later concluded similar liaison agreements with the Soviets.
This little known intelligence organisation worked throughout the Cold War years from 1946 to 1990, gathering intelligence in the former Soviet Occupation Zone of East Germany on the threat posed to the West and NATO by the 20 Soviet and 6 East German Army Divisions and their Air Forces deployed there.
It worked in conjunction with the Missions of the USA and France to provide the only on-ground professional assessment by military observers of the intentions and capabilities of the Soviet and East German Forces. An important part of its role was to detect and give early warning of any indication of a Soviet intention to mount an attack on the West. Over the 43 years the Mission was in existence it achieved many intelligence 'scoops' by observing the Soviet Forces on manoeuvres at close quarters and photographing first sightings of new equipment from which western analysts could make assessments of the threat it presented to the West.
Colonel (Retired) Angus Southwood OBE - ex BRIXMIS
The Importance of the Mission
The 20 Soviet Divisions and their Air Army in East Germany were all what were known as 'First Line Divisions'; they were fully manned, equipped with the very latest missile systems, tanks, artillery, aircraft and command, control and communications systems.
They constantly carried out large scale manoeuvres to practise for their war role of an attack on the West. The British, American and French Missions were therefore in a unique position to observe the tactics, organisation and equipment of these Divisions and provide professional intelligence assessments on their effectiveness as well as give early warning on any hostile intent to mount an attack on the West.
The Intelligence Staffs of Headquarters British Army of the Rhine (HQ BAOR), the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and our Allies relied heavily on the intelligence from these Missions. In particular, the Mission was able to provide often unique close-up photography of the latest Soviet equipment from which Allied intelligence analysts could assess, for instance, the size of gun needed on the next British tank to defeat the Soviet tank or make a detailed assessment of the latest Soviet aircraft and therefore the threat it presented to Allied Forces.
The Role of the Mission
The Mission was established for liaison duties with the Soviets, but as the Cold War hardened in the 1950s and 60s, the priority of its role changed to Intelligence Collection. It was then simply to collect intelligence on the organisation, tactics and equipment of the 20 Soviet Army first line Divisions and 6 East German Divisions and their Air Forces; to detect and give early warning of any hostile intent by the Soviets for an attack on the West or any move against the Allied access routes to West Berlin. BRIXMIS and the US and French Missions worked closely together to avoid duplication.
The Organisation of the Mission
BRIXMIS was headed by an Army Brigadier with an RAF Group Captain as his Deputy and the remainder of the staff were drawn from both Services. Except in the early days there was no Naval representation as the Soviets placed the whole East German coastline in a Permanently Restricted Area. The original Agreement provided for 11 officers and 20 Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) to have Soviet Passes granting them freedom of travel throughout the Soviet Zone and this did not change during the years the Mission was in existence. However a much larger back-up staff was located in a secure Headquarters in the British Sector of West Berlin. This housed the Mission's Operations Rooms, photo processing laboratory, target records and computer database on the Soviet Forces.
Over 70 members of the Intelligence Corps served in the Mission during its existence, some for more than one posting.
BRIXMIS carried out its intelligence gathering activities by mounting 'Car Tours' throughout the Soviet Zone. Each Tour normally consisted of an officer, an NCO and a driver. Tours could be for five days duration but were normally for two or three and the Mission normally mounted about six tours a week. To fulfil its role of detecting any impending hostile move on the part of the Soviets against NATO and give early warning there was a BRIXMIS Tour somewhere in East Germany, monitoring the Soviet and East German Forces, 24 hours a day virtually every day of the year from 1946 until the Mission was disbanded on the reunification of Germany in 1990.
The Cars were fitted with long range fuel tanks, armoured belly plates and winches as tours frequently moved across country to avoid detection in getting to positions where they could observe military activity. Tours were equipped with cameras, video cameras and tape recorders. Night Vision goggles were used to enable them to move across country at night without lights. Tour crews always camped in the woods to avoid detection and were well equipped with arctic sleeping bags and cooking equipment.
The Tour Crews wore uniform at all times in East Germany and their cars were distinctively marked with Russian number plates. Sightings of the tour were always reported to the Soviet and East German Intelligence Services by the military, the police, Communist Party members, garage attendants, railway crossing keepers and the German populace so that attempts could be made to harass or detain the Tours in order to stop them gathering intelligence.
Over the 44 years that BRIXMIS existed, members of the Mission reported a large number of 'first sightings' of new Soviet equipment. These included aircraft, tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, missiles, radars, anti-aircraft systems, jamming equipment, command and control systems. They also recovered many documents, shells and other pieces of equipment which proved invaluable to Allied intelligence analysts in making their assessments.
As a measure of its effectiveness, in its closing years the Mission produced annually some 200 special reports on Soviet ground equipment and 50 on air equipment, each of these representing an intelligence coup. In 1984 the number of photographic prints taken by Tours was over 300,000.
Although we were still officially Allies in 1946, from the very start the Soviets made life difficult for BRIXMIS. As the fear of an attack on NATO by the Soviets grew the priority for BRIXMIS' role changed from liaison to Intelligence Collection.
The Soviets then stepped up their restrictions on the Mission as it went about its legal duties by imposing Restricted Areas into which Mission members were not allowed to travel and by subjecting them to all manner of harassment by means of covert and overt surveillance, highly aggressive detentions, ramming their Tour Cars and occasional shooting incidents.