THE BERLIN DUTY TRAIN
After the end of World War II, Germany was divided through the capital city of Berlin into sectors occupied by the French, British, American, and Soviet governments. Due to the need for military presence in Berlin, an efficient method of transportation was needed to move personnel in and out of the area.
In late 1945, the Transportation Corps established the Berlin Duty Train as a method of transporting soldiers, their dependents, and U.S. Army civilians in and out of the Allied sectors of Berlin and West Germany. The Train made it's first run through Soviet occupied Germany on 8 December 1945.
Route of the Duty Train
The U.S. had a total of four passenger trains that traveled from Frankfurt and Bremerhaven to Berlin, and vice versa. Each train consisted of three compartmentalized sleeping cars, an escort car, and a mail and freight car.
The Soviets allowed 16 to 19 trains a day to travel to West Berlin.
The trains traveled only at night, departing at 8:30 p.m. and arriving at their destination at 6:30 a.m. the following morning, allowing the passengers to sleep throughout the trip.
The train ride was 115 miles through the "Iron Curtain," typically taking nine hours, depending on the time to check passports and orders at the checkpoints.
Each train was assigned a train commander, a Russian-English interpreter, two Military Police, a radio operator, and a conductor. The Train Commander was almost always a Transportation Corps Lieutenant responsible for the safety and security of the train during its journey. The radio operator maintained constant contact with Brigade Headquarters while traveling through the Soviet zone. The Transportation Non-Commissioned Officer acted as the conductor.
Military Police protected the passengers, enforced regulations, and conducted inspections of the train at checkpoints. At right, an MP is checking the papers of passengers in Frankfurt prior to boarding.
The crew rode in a special escort car adapted from a German caboose.
Documents Required to Ride the Train
Each year about 80,000 people made the journey through East Germany. Movement orders or "flag orders" were carefully drawn up with name, rank, and personal information copied exactly from the identification card. Any typographical error would be grounds for refusing passage or detention by the Soviets or their "friends" the East German Border Police.
At checkpoints, no one was permitted to get off the train except for the commander, interpreter, and senior MP. The Soviet soldiers would inspect passports and orders of all the riders, which took about an hour. Below, Sample of Flag Orders
A Ride on the Train
Once aboard the train, passengers could purchase snacks before settling into their sleeping compartments. At checkpoints, they were advised to keep the window shades down and not make eye contact with the Soviets.
Helmstedt (below) was one of the checkpoints between Frankfurt and Bremerhaven. Here, the communist locomotive was exchanged with the West German locomotive to continue to trip into Bremerhaven. In Soviet occupied territory, the locomotive had to be East German. A ride from west Berlin to Frankfort, for example, entailed an engine change in Potsdam (W. German to E. German) and Helmstedt (E. German to W. German).