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Brian Patchett
Brian Patchett
Brian Patchett
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On July 6, the East German News Agency ‘A.N.D’ announced the defection of Brian Patchett stating that ‘he had been working on the monitoring of East German and Soviet radio communications’. We know that this was untrue for two reasons; Patchett’s lack of German (although good enough to chat up the NAAFI girls) and the fact that, at that time, no German communications were being monitored at Gatow. There was no doubt though; he had defected. A corporal serving in the Intelligence Corps, his defection caused great consternation since he had been employed in what was at that time one of the most secret intelligence gathering units in the British Army and became a subject for discussion and concern right to the top of British politics and Intelligence.

 In 1953 No.1 Wireless Regt., then based in Munster, had set up a detachment manned by Intelligence Corps Voice Ops in Berlin known as ‘Royal Signals Detachment, RAF Gatow’. As was nearly always the case, no public mention of the Intelligence Corps contingent was made. It was based at Gatow Airport, which had been originally opened by Goering in 1936 as the “Deutsche Verjehrsflugschule (DVS = German Civil Aviation Pilots’ Training School) a covert organisation for training pilots for the Luftwaffe, operating outside of the Treaty of Versailles which had limited Germany’s military capability.

Geoffrey Elliott, another Intelligence Corps linguist who also served there, describes the camp and life in his book ‘Secret Classrooms[1]’.”The detachment was housed in an anonymous building on the road that ran through the pine trees along the northern perimeter of the airfield. The buildings had survived the flattening of Berlin surprisingly well, the only signs of damage being the heads and swastikas ruthlessly hammered off the eagles which still remained, set in stone on the Kaserne walls. Built for Goering’s Luftwaffe aces and their crews, the high-ceilinged accommodation, with central heating, double-glazed windows with broad sills, top-class bathroom fittings and even parquet flooring was in stark contrast to any British military installation”, particularly Maresfield Barracks, at that time the home of the Intelligence Corps, once described by Alan Bennett, the playwright and also a Russian Intelligence Corps linguist as the “worst barracks in England”.

[1] Geoffrey Elliott & Harold Shukman, Secret Classrooms, St Ermin’s Press 2002 

RAF Gatow adjoined the East German border and was thus literally on the ‘Front Line’, at some points the two zones separated merely by a wire fence. Operational security was tight but security - in a wider sense - was quite lax. What about the setroom where the actual so-called spying on the Russians took place?  What was this Holy of Holies really like? Ted Vert has produced a sketch which despite the passing of 50 years he reckons is still pretty accurate and a description of the setroom as it was when he served there. There was a guardroom at the main entrance to RAF Gatow through which both RAF and Army personnel had to pass. Unless they had a rarely granted weekend pass they had to return by no later than 02:00 hours next morning (Corporals); 01:00 hours (L/Corporals); and 23:59 hours (Privates). The RAF police were extremely strict about this and would immediately report if anyone had gone adrift. The detachment commander would have been advised of Patchett having gone AWOL fairly promptly.

New arrivals were lectured on the dangers of  becoming too friendly with the ‘Ladies of the Night’ whom Geoffrey Elliott lyrically described as “gathering like sad, chirping sparrows outside the NAAFI Club on the Reichskanzlerplatz” and also, in those days before the erection of the Berlin Wall, of the risks of wandering around alone in East Berlin. Again, according to Elliott, most of the men stationed at Gatow stayed within a fairly humdrum circuit bounded by the NAAFI, the Sergeants’ and Officers’ Mess and the bars around the Wannsee Lake. The TV producer Leslie Woodhead who served at Gatow with the RAF, again as a Linguist, described[2] the NAAFI as a ‘dreary cube with the charm of a soviet cement factory but for frozen and footsore servicemen a long way from home that it felt like Nirvana. The plywood and Formica tables were pure Halifax, the twenty-five-watt bulbs brought back memories of post-war austerity, the tepid cups of grey tea were just like Mother used to make’. Judging by Patchett’s contacts with various young ladies he must have spent a great deal of his spare time there. It is hard to recreate the pervasive sexual innocence and naiveté of that time and place and to understand Patchett’s reaction to the end of his relationship.

 [2] Leslie Woodhead, My Life as a Spy,  Macmilln, 2005

The Detachment was strictly forbidden from entering into East Berlin although the more adventurous often did. After all, one could change W.Marks into E.Marks at the rate of 4:1 in West Berlin, thus effectively multiplying your buying power by four to one, once one entered the East. As Ted Vert put it; “not that there was anything worth having over there, although Russian books and gramophone records were popular purchases”.

The work, according to Gerry Smith, was ‘monotonous and could be mind-numbingly boring’. They operated on a shift system, working from 08.00-13.00, then the next day, 13.00-17.00, followed by 00.00-08.00 and then a rest day and a day off. The 00.00-08.00 shift was particularly hated, especially if one had been ‘out on the town’ the evening before.

On 9 July 1963 Britain awoke to several UK newspapers ( Daily Express  Daily Sketch ) writing about Patchett crossing into the East. The Daily Mail was away to a flying start. In a very short time they had traced (or he had contacted them) the ex-Personnel manager of the company who had employed Patchett before he joined the Army. Mr Jones, an ex-Grenadier Guards major, was quoted as saying, “I was the only boss he had in civilian life and I had to sack him for unreliability, he could not be trusted”. Mr Jones went on to say that “it was laughable, the lack of inquiries that seem to have been made about this boy. No one bothered to ask us about Patchett”. (This was confirmed as being true when the official report was finally published) “After he was fired he went into the army. I would certainly not have recommended him for secret work”. On 28 May 1958 this same Mr Jones had completed a ‘Private reference’ in response to a request from the Ministry of Labour and National Service giving as the reason for Patchett’s departure as ‘breaking of indenture’; no mention of his being untrustworthy. At the time Patchett was seeking employment in a temporary casual clerical role at the Coventry Employment Exchange. He was employed from 21 May until 5 June and then from 6 June 1958 until 21 June at Leamington Employment exchange and then back to Coventry until 15 August when he left to join the Army. His application form shows him as having ‘School Certificate’ in English, geography and general science. School Certificate had been abolished back in 1951, replaced by GCE ‘O’ levels so this was somewhat strange. It was also surprising that these qualifications were seen as being sufficient to secure an apprenticeship as a metallurgist. Even more surprising is that they were later considered sufficient to secure him entry directly to the Intelligence Corps. How he was accepted for a Russian linguist course without seemingly any qualification in any language is even more mystifying. His doctor and local priest as well as Mr. Jones also gave him references.

Another newspaper refers to the Labour MP John Godber, the War Minister, ‘facing a new security quiz’ in the Commons from the opposition Shadow Minister Reginald Maudling. He wanted to know ‘ how did Patchett pass a positive vetting when he seemed to have made little secret of his enthusiasm for communism and … what was NAAFI policy on employing foreign staff since his friendship with a NAAFI girl whose parents lived in the East had been revealed?’ The Daily Sketch quoted Canon Eric Buchan - the priest who had given the reference referred to above - as describing Patchett as being ‘an intelligent boy and a deep thinker’. Helpfully, he added, ‘I am sure when he went over to the Russians he did it after a great deal of heart-searching’. The Daily Herald got it right claiming that his Employers had not been asked for a reference by the Army during his positive vetting although, as we know, they had been asked when he sought temporary work. The Daily Mirror claimed that ‘British Security experts planned to vet the 40,000 Germans employed by Britain’s Rhine Army. To the noise of stable doors being slammed shut, they claimed that there was no vetting procedure in place for Foreign Nationals.

A summary of information acquired following the panic that must have followed his defection up to 10 July was published by the Ministry of Defence as follows.

  1. PATCHETT’S girlfriend is Rosemarie ZEISS age 21. Her parents are Alfred and Karla ZEISS both resident at 73A Karl Marx Str., Saalfeld, East Germany where they run a state controlled restaurant
  2. Rosemarie ZEISS left East Germany illegally on 7 January, 1961 on “grounds of conscience” and with the intention of studying law. She passed through UELZEN and GIESSEN camps where she obtained recognition as a refugee.
  3. ZEISS lived at Kaltenstrasse, Hanau/Main until March 1962 whilst studying for a West German examination.. From March until October 1962 she was employed as an “au pair” girl with a Mrs King of Westbury House, West St., SELSEY BILL Sussex. She took this employment with the object of studying English and trying to save a little money.
  4. ZEISS returned to WEST BERLIN on 17 October 1962, in order to study law at the Free University. During her vacation in Feb/March 1963, she worked for twenty four days only with NAAFI at RAF GATOW.
  5. PATCHETT met ZEISS during her period of employment with NAAFI. When she resumed her studies at the University she continued to see Patchett occasionally but she terminated their friendship on 12 June because “he was becoming too serious”.
  6. ZEISS had an indication of PATCHETT’S possible intention to defect in a letter from him dated 21 June 1963. The letter shows that her rejection of him was at least a contributory factor in his decision to defect. The same letter also contains the following passage. “The only snag is that the Army refuse to move me out. Before I met you I had about four applications for posting being considered. Just after I met you I withdrew them. Now the Army refuses to consider them again. For this reason I am moving out on my own. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to get out of Europe so that I’ve only got one way to run”. Patchett’s unit has no knowledge of the alleged applications for posting but further enquiries are proceeding.
  7. PATCHETT sent a farewell letter to ZEISS dated 2 July 1963, in which he informed her that he was defecting the following day. Due to postal delays ZEISS did not receive the letter until 4 July, 1963. ZEISS was contacted and interviewed the same afternoon when she handed over all the correspondence she had received from PATCHETT. Study of this correspondence tends to confirm instability mentioned in Berlin signal INT 1 of 8 July 1963 (there is no copy of this signal in the file).
  8. Investigations to date show no evidence of PATCHETT’S defection having been a steered operation and there is no suggestion of complicity by ZEISS who has made a good impression under interview.
  9. It is reported that ZEISS attempted suicide in March 1963. This occurred in the NAAFI accommodation at Gatow after a unit dance, but extensive enquiries have shown that this was a result of personal motives apparently unconnected with security or this case. PATCHETT was not connected with this incident.
  10. According to members of his unit PATCHETT was a lone wolf with no real friends. No evidence has come to light of any communist sympathies but PATCHETT was known to be in the habit of perversely adopting the opposing line in any political or other argument. On one such occasion at least he adopted communist arguments.
  11.  In his final letter to ZEISS he wrote. “Was it Marx who stated “know your own level in Society and stay within it” … feverish hunt for battered copy of Das Kapital, haven’t read it for years” No copy of Das Kapital or any other communist literature was found in PATCHETT’S kit. (According to the list of his possessions he either had no books or he took all he had with him)
  12. PATCHETT’S friendship with ZEIZSS was known to the members of his unit but association with German girls was not uncommon in the unit.
  13. At this stage no culpable omissions of reporting on PATCHETT by unit members has been established.
  14. Due to hounding by the Press ZEISS has been advised to move her local address but she is maintaining contact with the investigators.

The word ‘SECRET’ appears 4 times on each page .There was no mistaking the concerns that this defection had raised.


Attached to this report is annexure B classified merely as “CONFIDENTIAL” outlining the positive vetting procedure then in place. Frankly it was laughable and its detail is not worth reproducing. At that time a physical interview did not take place ‘except in special cases only’. What these cases were was not specified. It seems that it had taken the Army two years to obtain authority to raise a team of 44 Investigating Officers to carry out positive vetting of which ten members were then under training with the final 8 members expected to be ‘in the field’ by 15 October.

Anyway, the team was not large enough, nor were there plans for interviews to be carried out in cases already cleared by ‘positive vetting’. Patchett’s PV status had been reviewed in 1963 and as no adverse trace came to light he retained his PV status.

A further annexure listed the aspects to be covered by the Board of Enquiry.


1.      Is there any evidence that PATCHETT is or was at any time interested in Communism?

2.      Is there any evidence that PATCHETT’S association with (a) NAAFI Manageress and/or (b) Fraulein Rosemary Zeiss – temporary NAAFI employee was known to his Commanding Officer or other military authorities prior to his defection, and is there any evidence that this association with either or both of these women did in fact influence PATCHETT to defect.

3.      This paragraph is blanked out and a rubber stamp states “Closed for .. years      under FO1 section 40” (All very intriguing! And, why haven’t we heard about the NAAFI Manageress’ involvement before?).


Another ‘Interim Report’ was issued as follows. Only 24 copies were circulated.





  1. No fault has been found in the conduct of these procedures. (Of course not! No mention about the failure to contact his previous employer).

Nothing adverse was indicated in PATCHETT’S military records and his confidential reports were favourable to the extent that he was promoted substantive sergeant with effect from 20 June 1963. This promotion was published in part III Orders by OC 13 Signal Regiment dated 1st July 1963 but efforts are being made to prevent this information becoming public. (Ah! Now we know why the report continues to refer to him as ‘Cpl’).


  1. There is no indication that PATCHETT’S defection was inspired or planned by a hostile agency. Further investigation of PATCHETT’S association with Fraulein Rosemarie ZEISS adds little to the summary of investigation up to 10 July 1963. There are indications to show that Fraulein ZEISS’ rejection of him was at least a contributory factor in his decision to defect. But, there is no evidence to show that his defection was a steered operation and there is no suggestion of complicity by ZEISS who made a good impression under interview.


  1. DGAMS submits an interim report as follows:-

In a report dated 15 July the O.C  4 Communications Company (this is the first mention of Patchett having been anywhere near GCHQ) states that in September 1960 (then there is a little bit blanked out) Cpl PATCHETT was seen by his Commanding Officer and sent to see Dr. Clark (civilian Medical Practioner employed by the Army) at the MRS Robinswood Barracks, Gloucester. Dr Clark decided that the NCO should see a psychiatrist and he was examined at the Military Hospital, Wheatley on 13 October, 1960.

 Dr. O’Gorman, the civilian psychiatrist recommended that:-

a)  His category should be adjusted to M2  S 7 and a further psychiatric examination made after three months, and that

b)  He should have a thorough physical check up in hospital to exclude the organic cause of his enurosis. (don’t rush for the Medical Dictionary, all will become clear).

Cpl PATCHETT was admitted to the Military Hospital, Tidworth where a full investigation did not reveal any cause for the bed-wetting (I told you to be patient. All is revealed).

Dr. Clark did not arrange for a medical board to down grade Cpl PATCHETT to MS S 7 in accordance with the recommendation of the psychiatrist, nor was a further psychiatric examination arranged.

It has not been possible to discover from any available written records why the down-grading was not carried out nor a further psychiatric examination made. The present Commanding Officer of 4 Communications Company reports that Dr Clark, from memory, is not clear as to whether he had informed the CO of the provisions of the psychiatrist’s report. (This last remark is underlined by hand. The first hint that there was a chance to find a potential scapegoat and it isn’t going to be the Army!)

There is no doubt that the responsibility for seeing that Cpl PATCHETT was placed in his correct medical grading was Dr. Clark’s and due to a lapse on Dr. Clark’s part the down-grading was not carried out.

If Cpl PATCHETT has been graded to S7 he would not have been available for service in Germany. I have no evidence that he reported sick after arriving in Germany. I have called for a report from the ADMS Berlin. Dr. Clark’s attention is being drawn to the correct procedure.


  1. PATCHETT is described as a ‘lone wolf’ with no particular friends in his unit. It will, therefore, be difficult to obtain information on his state of mind at the time of his defection. He is not, however, thought to have harboured Communist sympathies; although he made a reference to MARX in one of his letters to Fraulein ZEISS, no communist literature was found in his belongings.
  1. It seems to have been known among his colleagues that PATCHETT disliked working in Berlin and wanted to be posted elsewhere but there is no record in his unit of his having applied for such a posting.


  1. The investigation so far has produced no firm evidence to indicate the reason for PATCHETT’S defection. However, the interpretation of the psychiatric report of 1960 indicates that this individual was a quiet and shy type of personality. A poor mixer who prefers his own company. Such types of personality are regarded as emotionally unstable and under severe stress could in fact drift into severe mental illness – for instance schizophrenic.

Had PATCHETT been down-graded under these conditions in 1960, in accordance with the recommendations of the psychiatrist, he would not have been permitted to serve outside the United Kingdom and his positive vetting clearance would have been withdrawn until he had fully recovered.

 As an indication of how serious this whole affair was considered to be, under cover of a memorandum headed ‘SECRET’, the Director of Military Intelligence personally sent a copy of the report to the Secretary of State for War. He also undertook to forward a copy of the final report to him before it went to the Minister of Defence. (This, of course, would allow the Minister to claim in Parliament that “he had nothing further to report”. All very devious.)

 On 24 July a Board of Enquiry was convened to investigate ‘circumstances surrounding defection of Cpl Patchett. Interest in this case was reaching higher and higher. A signal was sent from C-in-C BAOR to the Vice CIGS (VICE CHIEF OF THE IMPERIAL GENERAL STAFF) no less, advising him that the Board had been convened and promising ‘an interim report by 30 July’. There is a cryptic hand-written note on it reading “S of S (Secretary of State) would like to know this”.

There is then a letter on the file from Patchett’s parents’ MP., a Philip Hocking to Joseph Godber, the Secretary of State and in it he mentions that ’it was subsequently announced by the East German Authorities on the 6 July that Patchett had sought political asylum. (It is odd that this was not worthy of mention before and could possibly be due to the problem of then recognizing East Germany). His parents also asked, through Hocking, about his personal belongings; something which was to become a thorny issue later.

It seems that Godber sat on the file for some time since there is a terse note on the file asking for its return from the ‘Assistant Under Secretary of State’..

Finally the Board reported on 26 July. There was nothing new in it apart from the Commanding Officer confessing of not being aware of the recommended medical down-grading .Some blame for his defection was attached to the emotional strain from the breakdown of the ZEISS relationship.

With regard to the state of security in the unit the Board found that ‘the standard of physical security was good’.

This report was circulated to the ‘Secretary of State’, the Director of Military Intelligence (Major General M. St J Oswald CBE, DSO, MC), M.I 11 and the VCIGS. It is now down-graded to ‘Confidential’

There is a letter from Oswald (DMI) regarding Patchett’s parents request for his belongings. He asks Hocking, the parents’ MP, to make it clear that the matter was far from closed and he  advised that ‘Disposal of property belonging to a deserter is governed by regulations made under the Regimental Debts Act 1893 (Part II 1951). (Property of a deserter may be sold to meet preferential charges and that any balance can be disposed of three years from the date of desertion). He went on to say that legal advice ‘had to be sought from the Treasury Solicitor’. He also asked that the parents ‘render a service by letting him see any correspondence that they might receive from Sgt. Patchett’. His promotion would have come as a surprise to his parents.

 Dated 10 July, there is an intriguing memorandum headed ‘Top Secret’ from the Foreign Office to Oswald (DMI) enclosing a brief that they proposed giving to Lord Hailsham, then a member of the Government, about the Patchett case. It also mentions having to pass the terms of this brief on to GCHQ for ‘the information of their opposite numbers’ presumably NSA (National Security Agency). Suddenly the whole ‘Patchett’ affair has gone back up a gear again!

In this briefing it says ‘Patchett had previously been employed on similar duties elsewhere in Germany (presumably meaning the Regt. and Langeleben) and it is unfortunately clear that he had a good general knowledge of UK and US Sigint Operations. He also had knowledge of a US Sigint unit operating in Germany. GCHQ have informed their opposite numbers who asked to be informed of the line which the British Government was taking so that they could brief Mr Harriman before his trip to Moscow’. Averell Harriman, at the time, was the U.S Under Secretary for Political Affairs and Asst. Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs and deeply involved in nuclear non-proliferation discussions with the Soviets. It is not clear why Lord Hailsham was to be involved since at the time he was Leader of the House of Lords. He may have been going to Moscow to take part in the non –proliferation conference too. It was felt that Moscow might use the defection for propaganda reasons if the conference was to break up without success hence the need for Hailsham to be briefed..

 There is then a four and a half foolscap page draft Interim Report,(yes, another one) and the’cover up’ and the passing of bucks really starts. ‘Nothing was reported at this stage (his enlistment) to indicate that he might be emotionally unstable’. Mr. Jones the Personnel Manager is taken to task for having claimed that, if asked, ‘he would have said that Patchett was unreliable’. Patchett’s unfortunate habit of wetting the bed (enurosis) is suddenly ‘often found to be of neurotic origin’. The responsibility for these errors (failure to have Patchett re-graded medically) is found to be Dr. Clark’s, the civilian Doctor, but it has not been possible to discover from written records why these errors occurred; presumably through simple oversight’. Moving to the conclusion; ‘there was no evidence that Patchett’s defection was a steered operation’. In other words – there were no ‘Reds under any beds’ to worry about. ‘Although investigations were not complete, this seems to be a case of a young man who, unknown to his unit was basically unstable who disliked working in Berlin’. It claimed ‘there did not seem to be any ground for suspecting Patchett of communist leanings at any time in his Army career or previously’.

A BAOR ‘confidential’ Board report absolves the Military of Defence of all blame but then a report signed personally by the Director of Military Intelligence reports that ‘the Board has been asked to re-assemble to investigate further the possible negligence by one officer of the Regiment who admitted knowledge that Patchett ‘suffered from …’ the word is blanked out but presumably “enurosis” is the missing word..

 At last the Final Report is submitted but it adds very little. Patchett’s Commanding Officer and the Detachment Commander are found blameless. However there was evidence that Major Robertson the detachment Commander was aware of the bed-wetting. There is suddenly the mention of ‘Busch’ who presumably was the NAAFI manageress. Poor old Robertson was found not to be on good terms with the RAF contingent who shared the building and it was recommended he be returned to the Regt at Birgelen. His career would come to a sudden halt!

In November Oswald wrote ‘it is obviously desirable from the Army point of view to let the Patchett case die a natural death if possible’. He also confirmed that finally Patchett’s kit, those few sad little things; of no great value (see Appendix), were being returned to Maresfield but not for return to his parents. His desire to see the whole matter dropped was not, of course, influenced by the Director of Psychiatry making the following comment.

“The possibility that he was mentally ill when he defected seems remote as one would have expected to find some change in behaviour, attitude, etc. noted and reported by his unit”.

In this one sentence the entire conclusion reached after all these months is blown out of the water.

There is an amazing amount of correspondence from various Civil Servants (all in handwritten notes) on whom, if anyone, had the rights to Patchett’s kit that, in the meantime, languished at the Customs at Southend Airport. One Assistant Secretary dared suggest that ‘we ought not to disclose psychiatric information, quite apart from any discredit to the War Dept that might result’. Perish the thought that any blame might end up being attributed to the Civil Service. Finally, Patchett’s belongings ended up at the Combined Record Office Bournemouth whilst the Secretary of State, the DMI and numerous Civil Servants worry themselves over whether, in law, they can be returned to his parents. They may still languish there.

And Patchett in the meantime? Presumably, suitcase in hand, he had walked through Checkpoint Charlie into the unknown. He must have had quite a few clothes as he had left behind 17 coat hangers and a duffle coat, definitely not required in July. In those days little was known of the likely fate that awaited defectors. Sometimes seen on TV immediately after their defection they would then disappear for ever thereafter.

What have I been able to find out about defectors and Brian Patchett in particular?

In November 1963 US authorities released information on what had been the fate of American soldiers who had defected to the East. It was revealed that 81 US Army traitors (as they were described) were living – others had died – after defecting. The investigation revealed that each of the 81 had ended up with a ‘life of misery and degradation’. At least two were known to have committed suicide; several others could possibly have met the same fate. Many were known to have been hopeless alcoholics. Some served prison sentences in East Germany and, without exception they were detested by the E. Germans once their propaganda value had been squeezed out. As for finding a ‘better life’, the claimed aspiration of many of them, the best jobs known to have been attained of the 81 was as a labourer in a locomotive factory near Bautzen and another who eventually became a journalist. Thirty of the 81 managed to get back across the Iron Curtain only to be promptly court-martialled, dishonourably discharged and sentenced to prison for terms ranging from one to thirty three years in a Federal Penitentiary. Many were still under Security Services surveillance. Only one of the 81 proved to be an authentic political defector, becoming a journalist after many years serving as a labourer, returning to E. Germany after an abortive visit to the USA. Two were officers; the defection of one of them being one of the most bizarre of defections. The highest ranking, Alfred Svenson crossed in May 1963 turning up again in September when he tried to get Western reporters in East Berlin to help him escape. Later he told the E. Germans that he ‘had changed his mind and wanted to stay in the East’. It appears that before crossing he had been deeply in debt, drinking heavily and involved with several women. According to an eye-witness Svenson 'put on his steel helmet, bent over the steering wheel and rammed his jeep through the barbed wire and into East Germany with the East Germans firing at him’. Thus, on 4 May 1963 – just before Patchett’s departure - this 31 year old Captain would become the first US Military officer to defect to the Soviet Bloc during all of the Cold War. (I can trace no reference to the other officer). Following his involuntary return to West Germany, finally being sent back by the East Germans, he was court-martialled and convicted of desertion and theft of a military vehicle.

 Once the E. Germans got their hands on a defector or deserter, after initial interrogation in Potsdam, he would be rushed to 4 Wallstrasse in Bautzen, a little town, south of Berlin near the border of E. Germany with Poland and Czechoslovakia. It had the advantage that it was impossible to receive either radio of TV signals from the West there. Here, the defector would live for three months whilst he was questioned intensively for any scrap of possibly valuable military information that he might have. Since most came from the lower ranks they normally had little of value to pass on. They were closely guarded; if felt necessary, they were brain-washed. On Monday, Tuesday and Saturday they would attend indoctrination classes. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday they were made to work in one of the several Bautzen factories. Sunday was a rest day but No.4 Wallstrasse offered little for recreation, only table-tennis and a piano. For their work, each was paid 100E.marks a month comparable at the time to about £10. They were each given a ration book allowing them 2lbs butter, 2lbs of meat, 1lb of sugar, 1lb of lard and 10 pounds of potatoes a month. It was difficult to augment this diet as the shelves in Bautzen shops were usually bare by the middle of the month.

On the occasional free nights a defector might go to Bautzen’s sleazy Café Lehman or the Fuchs’ Bar; both scenes of frequent and savage fights. Two Americans who had deserted together got into a fight after one stole his friend’s money. The authorities just let them fight it out. The café was wrecked and both men covered in blood. One was held for two years without a trial. Another stole curtains from No.4 and sold them. He was caught and thrown into a bleak cell with a slab of cement for a bed, no mattress or blanket and the most primitive of toilet facilities. Here he languished for three weeks, freezing, subsisting on three cups of soup a day. In most cases, the trouble which sent the men to the east continued to plague them; alcohol, women and money; often a combination of the three.

And Patchett, what happened to him? I have been researching this for some time and have questioned several of the Int. Corps Field Security people who were around at the time. In true Intelligence Corps style, none of them would admit to knowing ‘nothing’. He was said to have been employed in a shoe factory (there was one in Bautzen) at one time and, according to a friend in Brixmis, he was also seen working in a potato field. Another claimed that he had returned and given himself up to the authorities at the border who, after questioning, let him go.

I have been trying to trace him here in the UK with no success. My ringing all the ‘B. Patchetts’ in the telephone directories, often following clues from members of the Langeleben Group, has resulted in absolutely no success with everyone I speak to claiming not to have heard of him. I might unknowingly even have spoken to him since in my view; he is unlikely to own up to having been a deserter. More likely, if he is still alive and back in England, he will be working under an assumed name. Brian Patchett was not the first or the last British soldier to try and find a new life in the East. Indeed, he may still be there.

When he was condemned to solitary confinement in Bautzen - by then, East Germany’s most notorious prison - in 1956, the historian, Karl Wilhelm Fricke feared he would forget how to speak. More than five decades later, he is now re-telling his story and recounting the secrets of the Stasi prison in a new book, Bautzen II,[3] named after the detention facility near Dresden. The prison saw a total of 2,350 prisoners pass through its gates between 1956 and 1989 and, as Fricke’s book reveals it was the only prison in Communist East Germany where the feared secret police had free reign.

[3] Karl Wilhelm Fricke; Bautzen II-Sonderhaftanstalt unter MfS-Kontrolle. 1956 bis 1989- Bericht &Dokumentation  Lepzig 2002 (isbn 3378010568)

 Any tourist reading about Bautzen nowadays would not be aware of the dreadful secrets that the buildings have held. It is a small very attractive town with a population of just over 40,000 in Eastern Saxony standing on the river Spree some 50kms from Dresden. It has a long and, at times, an honourable history.

On its darker side though, there has been a prison there since 1924 and, later, dissenters from the Nazi regime and opponents of the SA were imprisoned there. During World War II there was a sub-camp of the infamous Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp there. Gross-Rosen was set up in the summer of 1940 as a satellite camp to Saschenhausen and became an independent camp on May 1, 1941. Initially, it was intended that the inmates would work in the camp's huge stone quarry, owned by the SS-Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH. As the complex grew however, many of the inmates were put to work in the construction of the sub-camps' facilities. In October 1941 the SS transferred about 3,000 Soviet POWs to Gross-Rosen for execution by shooting. Gross-Rosen was known for its brutal treatment of ‘nacht und nebel’ prisoners, especially in the stone quarry. ‘N & N’ was a system of punishment meted out to opponents of the Nazi regime in the occupied countries. The brutal treatment of the political and Jewish prisoners was carried out not only by the SS and criminal prisoners, but to a lesser extent by the German civilians working in the stone quarry. By 1942 the mean survival time for political prisoners was less than two months. In August 1942 there was a change of policy and it was decided that the prisoners should survive longer because they were needed as slave workers in German industries at its peak in 1944, the Gross-Rosen complex had up to sixty sub-camps located in eastern Germany and occupied Poland. In its final stage, the population of the Gross-Rosen camps accounted for 11% of the total inmates in Nazi concentration camps at that time. A total of 125,000 prisoners of various nationalities passed through the complex during its existence, of who an estimated 40,000 died on site or in evacuation transports

 Ernst Thalmann, leader of the German Communist Party and one time candidate for the German presidency was imprisoned at Bautzen before being deported to Buchenwald where he was shot in August 1944.

After the war ended and half of Germany was under Soviet domination, Soviet secret police used the emptied prison for interrogations. The individual cells were overcrowded, sanitary conditions miserable. Barely enough food and water was available for the numerous inmates. Confessions to the charges were more than often gained by blackmailing or NKVD torture. A Soviet military tribunal met in the neighbouring courthouse with most of the sentences being handed out for political reasons. The Soviet occupation led to the creation of a communist dictatorship in the Eastern zone and Bautzen became infamous throughout the German Democratic Republic for its prisons. Bautzen I was used as an official prison, soon to be nicknamed Gelbes Elend ("Yellow Misery"), whilst the secret Bautzen II was used as a prison for prisoners of conscience and political dissenters. From 1950 to 1989 Bautzen I was under the administration of the Department of Prisons in the East German Ministry of the Interior. After 1956, when the last of the Soviet Military Tribunal convicts were released, the inmates were primarily criminals serving long sentences for grave and repeated offenses. Yet there were still some political prisoners remaining: "saboteurs", "agitators against the state", Jehovah's Witnesses, defectors and others. It was not until the "peaceful revolution" of 1989 that "Yellow Misery's" history as the scene of political persecution was brought to a close.

 American ‘POW-MIA’ (missing in action) activists had suspected for years and it was eventually proved that the Communists had abducted American and European servicemen during the Cold War, imprisoning them in concentration camps where they were abandoned by their own governments. Up to 150 NATO soldiers were said to have been abducted by the East Germans and the Russians, of which at least 35 have been documented as being American. The others were British, Canadian and French. To this day, the fate of many of the soldiers remains unknown.

 Ernie L. Fletcher, who now resides in Covington, Ky., was an American soldier who served in the Army and was kidnapped by the East German secret police (STASI) in 1959, at the age of 19, in Berlin. He was to be left in communist hands for 22 years and four months by the U.S. government.

"Until the end I could not believe what now has been confirmed," Fletcher said. "The Army and my own government forgot about me with full intent". Fletcher said that of all the Americans he met while in captivity only one, Victor Grossman (the journalist referred to earlier, was known to be a real defector. Over time, he said that he has forgotten the names of many Americans he met while in captivity. Some names he remembers include: Dale Cray, Richard Moore, Charles C. Zeigler Jr., Marvin Beltz, Billy Kullis, Arthur Boyd and three others with the last names of Mclean, Jackson and Johnson. Fletcher said he knew three British soldiers, who were corporals, in the prison camp: recalling the names Derek Anderson, Allan Brooks and R. Zankowski. I have been unable to trace any of these three.

 All deserters were eventually sent to Bautzen those who worked well were permitted to eventually change to other jobs of their choice. The International Culture Center in Bautzen was the chief gathering place for all foreigners in the area, including these deserters. They had an opportunity to meet together for social events and for East German authorities to observe them in a social setting.

 British Private Dennis Eggleton, who deserted to the Soviets in 1948, returned to Berlin some four years later and gave himself up. He brought back a report that the Russians had established a "deserters' village" at Bautzen near the Czech-Polish border. There, said Eggleton, U.S., British and French deserters live in good apartments given them on Russian orders, get papers certifying that they are stateless, in turn are made to sign statements saying that they are leading happy lives. Unhappy deserter Eggleton went off to a UK jail.

During his second year in the US Army in Germany in 1952, Victor Grossman became fearful that the Army had discovered his Communist Party affiliation which he had denied on enlistment; a serious crime in those days. One day, prior to an appearance before an investigator, in desperation he swam across the Danube River to the Soviet-administered zone of Austria. From there via Potsdam, he was removed to Bautzen. Here, he initially worked in a lumberyard, where he unloaded wooden planks from trucks and ‘ate lunches of potatoes and cheese’. Grossman did not find this work any worse than upstate New York factory jobs, where he had experienced physical discomfort and potential danger to life and limb. He said that there was much less friction between workers and supervisors, as well as a greater concern for the workers’ safety. Moreover, unlike post-war Buffalo (where he had grown up), jobs in East Germany were plentiful and secure, and vacation time longer and portable so that workers who changed jobs did not lose accumulated vacation time. The greater contrasts between the two systems, however, were not so much at the workplace as in daily life. At this time, power shortages were frequent in the GDR, and items of daily consumption, such as handkerchiefs and clothing disappeared from the stores for months at a time. When new razorblades became scarce, Grossman would join the lines of men waiting to have their supply of dull blades sharpened.  Grossman wrote a book[4] on his experiences accepting much of the Socialist way of life and after the re-union of Germany stayed in his flat in what had been E. Berlin working as a free-lance journalist, lecturer and author. He is far from critical of the life he found at Bautzen. His reception and debriefing at Potsdam had been effective and on arriving at Bautzen there was no internment camp as he had feared. The defectors were free to move around but only in the County. They were found jobs as soon as possible and until that happened were paid pocket money. Initially they stayed in a hotel, two rooms for him and the three Welsh deserters who had arrived at the same time. (There was a Welsh Infantry Regt based at Gatow at one time). Room and board were free but they had to pay for drinks and cigarettes. Initially they had each received a full complement of clothes, including a warm jacket (so there was no need, as Patchett had anticipated, for his duffle coat); even a briefcase. But the Welshmen’s main interest was alcoholic. The irregular 20marks handouts would soon vanish as did the clothes. Grossman was to learn new words ‘flog’ now being added to ‘bint’. Truth, if any was needed, that he had met up with genuine Squaddies. Grossman mentions several defectors from the UK but only by Christian name. Alcohol seems to have governed their lives and in many instances had been the reason for their defection.

[4] Victor Grossman (Stephen Wechler) Crossing the River. University of Mass Press. 2003

Another US defector, Charles Lucas, a black soldier, had preferred to put his trust in a future in Bautzen, where he lived at Platz der Roten Armee 4. But he was far from being a committed communist. The records show he was a card-carrying member of only the East German trade union association, the FDGB, and the BSG Post boxing club. He worked as a cook and baker in the canteen of the Konsum department store where his status as an “American defector” This meant the Stasi kept a close eye on him. Lucas’ Stasi file, about 220 pages, is kept in the federal archive of the commissioner for Stasi records along with those of other deserters. The Stasi agents appeared to be satisfied with Lucas’ behaviour. Staff Sergeant Hübner of the Bautzen Stasi office reported’ “that in his political views, he is impressed by the successes of the GDR and actively supports its development’” In the clubhouse for foreigners and in public, he would express “positive goals,” the report said. Cadre instructor Schmieger and cadre leader Kasper from the state-owned Bautzen Waggonbau railcar building company, where Lucas worked from April 1955 attested that he had “a positive attitude to our workers’ and farmers’ state as well as the Soviet Union.”. He finally committed suicide in Bautzen, suffering according to his German Wife from acute homesickness.

 Even though the Stasi records are now available I doubt if we will learn much more about these defectors or ‘deserters’ as the Military Authorities preferred to refer to them as. Many must now be dead or quietly absorbed into the new united Germany. Having started on this quest I will continue to keep a beady eye on them. One never knows. If anyone hears anything of Patchett or has any further clues or information please let me know since I would love to bring this project to a successful closure.


Ted Vert remembers
How big was the setroom?
Well, see my enclosed rather messy, not-true-to-scale, dimensioned sketch of what I nevertheless still quite clearly remember.

Gatow Setroom

Key to sketch:

 1.                  The “Beast” – an enormous tape recording machine some 5’ tall and 2’ wide which served as a back-up recorder. Its two spools must have each been more than a foot in diameter and it stood upright against the wall (and God help you if it ever broke down at night which thankfully it only did once on my watch).

2.                  A large detailed wall-mounted map of East Germany showing locations of Soviet troops.

3.                  NCO I/C watch desk. From here he supervised V.Ops[1] 1 and 2, kept the daily log of events, and on the mid-8 shift compiled a summary of the day’s activities for transmission by enciphered teleprinter to GCHQ, NSA and Regiment (and ultimately Moscow, too?) Otherwise he sat at the 3rd operating position which was a British Army type VHF receiver.

4.                  At this table the 2 V.Ops sat, each with a spanking new Eddystone 770 receiver for logging Mercury Grass[2]. The 2 V.Op positions each had an own tape recorder and access to a jointly used “D90” for reading scrambled voice and teleprinter traffic.

5.                  Admin desk (what a skive that was!) In my time S/Sgt “Jumbo” Naylor (officially a V.Op X1 6-star tradesman as we all were, but very few deservedly so) sat there.

 With regard to our detachment strength, we had:-

12 active voice ops (8 privates and 4 NCOs) + the I Corps. O.C, who was also a Russian linguist*

1 I. Corps. S/Sgt for admin.

2 Royal Signals radio mechanics

4 Royal Signals op. specs specialised in scrambled teleprinter traffic. They came into play when Mercury Grass voice traffic switched to scrambled teleprinter traffic (see “D90” above).

1 Royal Signals driver

2 Royal Signals teleprinter cypher ops from I Wireless who, although officially members of our detachment, had nothing to do with us. They had been contracted out to the RAF.

* Our OC at that time was Capt. John Adams, an elderly ranker, ex-Royal Pioneer Corps, but, nevertheless, a competent Russian linguist. Much to his chagrin he was later joined by a young regular officer from the Royal Artillery, Capt. Peter Fraser, and then – as if that was not enough – by a further elderly ranker, Capt. Cecil Waugh. The latter two were simply supernumeraries with no apparent function and not even an own office to hide away in. Could it be that their presence at Regt. had become something of an embarrassment?

Our setroom was housed on the upper floor of the 2-storey “Hanbury Block” - one of the original Nazi camp buildings.The interior of this building had been converted to meet the professional needs of its British tenants. (incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, the airfield and all its buildings remained unscathed throughout the war). Adjacent to the setroom was our OC’s office. Across the corridor from us our RAF counterparts had their similarly dimension setroom. They monitored, amongst other things, Soviet radar control traffic. Their ranks included 1 Czech V.Op. Further along the corridor was a kitchen and various small offices used by vague-looking RAF officers. Oddly enough, I can’t remember where the bog was! The downstairs floor was occupied by the RAF Police who controlled entry to the building. Also downstairs we had a wee cubby-hole of a cubicle where our teleprinter Op sat.

Ted Vert

[1] Voice Ops also known as ‘Linguists’.

[2] See the Langeleben ‘History’ for more information on this.


Ted Vert supplied several important details on Gatow originally and, having read the report, has made several fascinating observations all of which add to our knowledge of what might have happened.

I have just finished reading the Brian Patchett “page” and I am now wondering what happened to all those clothes that – with the exception of the duffle coat – had disappeared from his locker. Seventeen empty coat hangers would point to an above-average wardrobe for a squaddie. Is it known how he dressed when off duty? … Did he wear suits, jacket and flannels, etc., etc., how many items of civvy clothing did he posses, shoes included? (and, incidentally, were his uniforms still in the locker after he left?) It is even possible that he did a bunk dressed in uniform!

Both the photos that we have of him when not in uniform show him wearing what now appear to be rather tasteless sweaters. Since the uniform was government property it was not included on the list of personal effects and so we do not know how he was dressed when he left for the East. In retrospect I would have thought that this was a point well worthwhile investigating further. Counting uniforms and comparing them to the number issued is not that difficult and could have revealed valuable information.

Assuming he did take all his clothes and shoes with him, how did he get them out of camp? In a suitcase – or even suitcases? If so, how did he manage it? The RAF Police at the main gate would have wanted to know what he was taking out of camp (cigarette smuggling?) and would have certainly made him open the suitcase(s) for inspection. Too big a risk for him I would have thought. A much surer way of avoiding RAF Police scrutiny would have been to transport his gear in the detachment car. I forgot to mention that we sent a carbon copy of our operators’ MG logs to our American counterparts in Berlin-Tempelhof by courier every day except at weekends – the weekend logs being sent on Monday. Any of the I. Corps members with nothing better to do could serve as courier and would be chauffeured to the Yanks by our Royal Signals driver. The only snag here is that the latter would have been made an unwitting accomplice and even then, the suitcase would have to be deposited somewhere en route for collection later. If BP had really wanted to spirit his glad rags away for later use in the East perhaps his best bet would have been to bribe (with a commensurate quantity of cigarettes) one of the more senior and notoriously crooked German civilians employed on the camp (not NAAFI staff) who could be relied upon to keep their mouths shut in their own interest.

Once away from camp and presumably complete with suitcase(s), BP was unlikely to have headed for Checkpoint Charlie since he would have been required to show a passport there. For various reasons this could have meant an embarrassment for him;   possibly with serious consequences. I recall suggesting that this was the only obvious route open to him at that time. In doing so I forgot all about the Berlin U-Bahn (comparable with the London Underground) and S-Bahn (suburban railway). The U-Bahn was operated by West Berlin but also served U-Bahn stations in East Berlin. Even during the Berlin Wall days the U-Bahn trains crossed into the East. The only difference during that period was that the (intermediate) U-Bahn stations in the East had all been closed down with the exception of the (terminus) station at Alexander Platz. On arrival here the trains would be scoured by, armed-to-the-teeth, East German police for any unfortunate who had missed the last chance to alight in West Berlin and was hoping in vain to remain on board for the return journey. Those deliberately travelling to Alexander Platz had then to pass through passport control. If their travel documents were found to be in order they would be issued with a one-day visa. By contrast the S-Bahn was GDR property. Its trains started from termini behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Zone west of Berlin (also known to some as the German Democratic Republic, GDR) and passed through the allied and Soviet sectors of Berlin, stopping at intermediate stations on the way, then pierced the Iron Curtain again to enter the Soviet Zone/GDR east of Berlin. In my day detachment members were forbidden from using the S-Bahn – which was cheaper than the U-Bahn but much scruffier. My guess is that BP took the U-Bahn to Alexander Platz where the East German police would automatically pass him on to Stasi – although, as a serving member of the occupational forces in Berlin, he would have been entitled to demand that he be taken to the officer commanding Soviet troops in the Soviet Sector of Berlin. Indeed, this is why I suggested at the very beginning that he may even have ‘done a bunk’ dressed in uniform.

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Last updated 23 June 2012