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
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
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
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
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.
patrols the Berlin-Frankfurt train prior to
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