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Cold War
BE-20/1 →
Berger BE 20
Spy radio set

BE-20 was a three-piece valve-based short-wave (SW) spy radio set, developed around 1948 by Dr. Hermann Berger in Innsbruck (Tirol, Austria). The device was supplied to several customers, including the Austrian Army, the armies of the occupying forces 1 and the state security services. It was also used for a secret Austrian Stay-Behind network that would be activated in case of an escalation with the Soviet Union, in the early years of the Cold War. Three versions are known:

Prototype of spy radio set
Spy radio set built for the French Army
Spy radio set built for the Austrian Stay-Behind

The BE-20/1 was the protype and was only released to the French Army for evaluation in 1948. Although the circuit diagrams of this version have been retrieved, it is unlikely that any units have survived. After a few modifications, the BE-20 was taken into production in 1949 as the BE-20/2 for the French, and BE-20/3 for the German-speaking customers (i.e. the Austrians). It is believed that a total of 100 units were made. The radios were in production until at least 1952 or 1953.

Quite a few BE-20/2 radios have survived and are now in the hands of collectors and museums. These were mainly leftovers of the French order and were retrieved from B-Gendarmerie 1 surplus later [1]. The BE-20/3 model was completely unknown to the general public for many years, until it was re­discovered in an estate in November 2016 by Austrian collector Günter Hütter [3].

  1. The B-Gendarmerie was the predecessor of the Austrian Federal Army (Österreichisches Bundesheer), similar to the German post-war Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS).  Wikipedia

Example of a BE-20/3 spy radio set. Click for further information.
Just before World War II, Austria became part of the Third Reich (i.e. Nazi Germany) by way of the Anschluss 1 in March 1938 [4]. Although this officially meant that Austria had joned voluntarily, it was seen by the Allied powers as occupation by Nazi Germany. As such it was agreed by the Allies in the Declaration of Moscow, that they would regard Austria as the first victim of Nazi agression, and that it should be treated as a liberated and independent country once the war was over [5].

Allied-occupied Austria

Post-war Austria
When Austria was liberated, the country was divided into four occupation zones, under control of the United States (USA), the Soviet Union (USSR), the United Kingdom (UK) and France. Like Berlin, the capital Wien (Vienna) was divided into similar zones, but the central district was administered jointly by the Allied Control Council. Although the Western Allies wanted to withdraw gradually from 1950 onwards, the country remained under occupation of the Soviet Union until 1955.

Cold War
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1946, the Cold War had begun 2 and the Western Allies were afraid that the country would be invaded by the Soviets once they had left, just like it happended with Czechoslovakia in 1948. Because of this, the UK had been quietly arming the Austrian so-called B-Gendarmerie 3 since 1945, and were even discussing an independent Austrian Army by 1947.

The Americans, who shared this fear, even created a backup government base in Salzburg. At the same time, they also started the secret training of an underground Austrian army at a rate of 200 men a week, which was complemented by training of the B-Gendarmerie from 1950 onwards.

In the fall of 1950, the American aid was coming to an end and Austria faced the communist-led October Strikes, which are regared by historians as the the most dangerous events since the end of the war. The communists stormed trade union offices and disrupted railroad traffic, but failed to gain sufficient public support for their actions, and finally had to admit their defeat. The strike intensified the militarization of Western Austria, with active input from France and the US CIA [5].

As a result of the East-West tension, the Americans and the French had started the formation of a secret well-trained Stay-Behind organisation that had bases at strategic positions throughout the country, with weapons caches and communications centers, operating under the cover name Österreichischer Wander-, Sport- und Geselligkeitsverein (OeWSGV), literally: Austrian Association of Hiking, Sports and Society. The organisation had the full cooperation of MI6 and the CIA [6].

With permission of the Western occupying forces, Dr. Hermann Berger in Innsbruck developed a suitable spy radio set, the BE-20, also known as Funkkoffer BE-20 (radio suitcase BE-20) [3]. Development of the BE-20 started in the late 1940s, with the first protype, the BE-20/1, being presented for evaluation to the French Army in 1948. After some modifications, this resulted in an order from the French for 100 BE-20/2 sets. The front panels of these radios had French text on them. The BE-20/2 was nicknamed Cunzi, after Berger's contact person with the French Army.

In addition, Berger got an order, probably from the Americans, for another 100 units 4 that were to be supplied to the secret section of the B-Gendarmerie, various Police stations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Staatsschutz) and the command stations of the Western occupation forces. This version was known as the BE-20/3. For production of the units, Berger used military and civil surplus parts, complemented by 'modern' parts, and components produced by his own company.

 More about the Austrian stay-behind organisation

  1. Anschluss is the German word for 'connection' or 'joining'. From 1996 onwards, it is written as Anschluß.
  2. In Austria, the Cold War began in the spring of 1946, a year before the outbreak of the global Cold War.  Wikipedia
  3. The B-Gendarmerie was the predecessor of the Austrian Federal Army (Österreichisches Bundesheer), similar to the German post-war Bundesgrenzschutz (BGS).  Wikipedia
  4. It is also possible that the entire order (BE-20/2 and BE-20/3) amounted to 100 units.

  1. AR ObstLt Johann Prikowitsch (OE1PQ), Auf den Spuren eines Genies...
    In the footsteps of a genious (German).
    FMTS Forum, December 1992. pp. 8-10.

  2. Heinz Binder, Berger Legende OE7HB
    Website (German). Retrieved July 2017.

  3. Günter Hütter, Berger BE-20/3 radio set - historical backgrounds
    BE-20 historical backgrounds. Source unknown. Received November 2016.

  4. Wikipedia, Anschluss
    Retrieved December 2016.

  5. Wikipedia, Allied-occupied Austria
    Retrieved December 2016.

  6. Wikipedia (German), Operation Gladio (Austria)
    Retrieved December 2016.

  7. Wikipedia (German), Abwehramt
    Retrieved December 2016.
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Crypto Museum. Created: Sunday 18 December 2016. Last changed: Thursday, 15 December 2022 - 17:05 CET.
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