Thirty-first edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: Sat, 02 Dec 2000 00:22:16 +0100)

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Memory lane

Two historic stations described by Simon Mason in his book 'Secret Signals'; the 4-note and 8-note stations [G08 and G18]

Four note rising scale [G08/G08A/G08B]

I began with a station I had first heard in 1971. It was a German station using a female voice machine. It is easy to tell if a machine is being used as all the numbers are spoken with an identical delivery. This female German numbers station had a rigid schedule and format. It also used a musical marker or interval signal - a four note tune rising up the scale: "so-la-te-do" played on some sort of electronic organ. This tune was aired for a five minute period before the hour. On the hour the woman would send the headings of each message to follow, for example:

34324/05 67545/07 55433/11 34534/15 11244/18 53466/21 32124/26 12334/29 15566/33 12456/38 98676/41 75555/47

The stroke symbol (/) was spoken as the word trennung. These headings were sent for exactly five minutes. As you can see, the two figure number after the first trennung symbol is "05", which indicates when message number 34323 is due to start.

At five minutes past the hour there was a pause and the woman said "Achtung" and then the first heading was sent again but this time the "05" was replaced by the number of five figure groups in the message. For example, 34324/22 meant that 22 five figure groups were in message 34324.

Example:

"Achtung 34324/22. Achtung 34324/22 11223 24566 55454 46578 25555 33367 57567 45585 34665 66477 58577 54888 01123 63645 58999 10122 46547 09991"

After this, "Achtung" was sent again, followed by the heading for the second message 67545/39, for example. As can be seen, the final message has a suffix "/47, which means that this message starts at 47 minutes past the hour. Presumably the recipient would listen to all of the headings in the first five minutes and then not need to listen again until the time his message was due to begin if, indeed, a message was intended for that recipient on that night. After the last message the word "ende" was sent and the station fell silent until five minutes before the next hour when the sinister-sounding electronic tones were sent again, heralding a new set of headings and messages.

The frequencies and times were
3217 kHz at 1800, 1900, 2000, 2100
3820 kHz at 2000, 2100, 2100, 2200

During the summer months in Britain the station kept to British Summer Time, i.e. UTC plus one hour.

The same messages sent on 3217 were re-broadcast two hours later on 3280 so if the first airing was missed there was still an opportunity to hear it. This was one of the very few numbers stations that changed its schedule when daylight savings was in effect. Most kept to the same UTC time so here was a tiny clue that the messages and the station were genuine. One could imagine that the agents involved would have a set monitoring routine somewhere in West German society and the schedule would be ordered so as to produce the least inconvenience to their routine. The same station also appeared during the day using the same format but with perhaps only half as much traffic as in the evening.

This was the normal daytime schedule:

5820 - 1000, 1100, 1200
6450 - 0800, 0900, 1000
(UTC times in winter, British Summer time in summer)

There was apparently no connection between the traffic on the two frequencies. Only on three occasions did I note any additional broadcasts: once on 3820 the woman was heard with some kind of test transmission at 0500 but the signal kept switching on and off in the middle of the transmission, making it impossible to copy the full text. On another occasion the station was on 7625 at 2000 and 2100. The last unusual transmission was heard on 7430 at 2100. These were apparently "one-off' broadcasts and were not repeated.

The great changes taking place in East Germany as the 1980's neared an end also changed the output from this station. Gradually the traffic lessened to a point where perhaps only two transmissions per night were heard - sometimes none at all. In the last days of this station the schedule became even more erratic and eventually fell to only once per week. Then, towards the end of April, 1990, the station vanished. It made me wonder if perhaps the whole shadowy world of numbers broadcasts was about to end, along with the careers of all those thousands of former East German agents. It certainly seemed so when another numbers station disappeared............

8 note [G18]

This station had a very distinctive interval signal (musical marker) and it is difficult to describe the eerie feeling one got when hearing it. People who live near the sea know the sound of bells used to warn ships of foggy conditions. This interval signal sounded like a light-ship bell recorded on tape, except that the tape sped up or slowed down which made the bell sound very distorted. The tune was of eight notes, the first four descending down the scale, the last four rising as: Fa - Me - Ray - Do - Ray - Me Fa - So." With all of the dynamic "wow" on the tape the whole thing sounded very strange. The female voice machine used was also unique. The woman had a very clipped, abrupt delivery - almost like a sergeant major barking out orders on a parade ground.

The actual messages had a simple format. After the musical marker the woman would shout out the headings for the five figure groups to follow, which was usually for three or four separate addresses. As:

34344/33 45455/22 35577/26

Again, the "/" symbol was said as "trennung".

After repeating these group headings for about two minutes, "Achtung" was sent and the message for the first recipient (34344) followed - in this case 33 five figure groups. After the transmission the gongs would usually start again, after which new texts were sent.

This station used only 3258. It had an early morning schedule of 0400-0600 UTC and a main evening schedule of 1700-2100. It also popped up once on 5415 at 2100 but to my knowledge this was not repeated. I might add that this station may have had extra transmissions during the middle of the day but reception on these frequencies at my location was usually not possible, making it very difficult to check.

As with the previous station, towards the end of 1989 the schedule became increasingly chaotic, with the amount of traffic diminishing so that near the end the transmissions were aired only weekly. The station finally left the air around May, 1990.

 


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