on the Black Sea
View of Sochi, Russia from the Black Sea
When Marty and I hear about Sochi these days—rooms with two toilets next together, (both disconnected), or rooms with no furniture, and guests issued a key and a mattress--- we smile and understand. Some things just don’t change. The Soviet Union in 1983 was a fascinating but infuriating place. Wonderful people, but in many ways, still stuck in the early 20th century. It looks as if modern Sochi and the Winter Olympics are a real success!
Black Sea Cruise with the KGB*. It was February (1983) in Moscow, which is quite a bit colder and more miserable than February in Boston. My wife and I were assigned to travel down to the Black Sea with our General and his wife, Jane, for a week’s cruise. As always, this was an intelligence collection trip, this time to photograph and observe warships in the Black Sea ports of Odessa, Batumi, and Sochi, and to observe whatever else.
My boss was Air Force Brigadier General Charlie Hamm, a former Thunderbird pilot.
When the KGB heard we were taking this cruise, I envisioned the scene down at headquarters to be one of lining up all the agents who were due for a week in the warm climate, and picking out the likely candidates.
The flight from Vnukovo Airport in Moscow to Odessa was typical Soviet. As soon as you stepped into the cabin, you could smell the delightful aroma of unwashed armpits, hydraulic oil, stale bread, garlic, and vents from toilet tanks whose filters hadn’t been changed. My wife, Marty, sat in a seat and it was wet. She complained to the stewardess, a muscular big bleach blond. The stewardess simply reached down and grabbed a little man in the seat ahead of Marty, pulled him up by his coat and, at the same time asking Marty to move aside, plunked him down in the wet seat. Then she ordered Marty into the dry seat.
On Aeroflot, if you’re flying on Election Day, Soviet citizens vote in-flight.
And the food—the food on Aeroflot was unique. Sausages in heavy cellophane casings, served with lumpy mashed potatoes and green peas as hard as marbles. But the butter (each pat stamped with a hammer & sickle) was good.
The stewardess delivered a speech before we arrived at each city, about its “hero” status, how they fought valiantly in the Great Patriotic War, and how many factories, theatres and schools it has. On the flight to Odessa we flew over Kiev, and they even gave us the speech on that Hero City.
When we boarded our Soviet cruise ship, we counted 24 agents of all sizes, shapes and both sexes, on the cruise ship. They even had a male and female agent team posing as a newly-wed couple on their honeymoon. Our first clue as to their real status was when the groom kept pretending that he was shooting photographs of his beloved bride, but shooting us, instead.
Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Josef Stalin at Yalta
We landed at Yevpatoriya, Ukraine, on the Crimean Peninsula. Breakfast on the Soviet cruise ship was macaroni and meat sauce, cheese cakes with sour cream, grape jam, cheese, and bread. An Intourist Guide turned us over to a driver with a fur hat and a wild look in his eyes. He said his name was “Jesus”. We soon saw why. Away we went on a lightning fast, but picturesque drive along the peninsula to Livadia, where the Czars had gone to get away from the frozen city of St. Petersburg.
“Jesus” took us on a tour of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 monuments, lurching from one to the next at breakneck speed, so that it gave us all a stomach ache. The KGB were following us for the first two monuments, but then they lost interest. We figured this guy got his name because the way he drove made you want to invoke the name of our Savior.
We toured Livadia Palace, where the Yalta conference was held with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin in February 1945, just two months before FDR died. We saw drab little old men with medals, and large women with fluffy sweaters touring the palace.
One thing we discovered was that, the farther from Moscow you got, the more the KGB resembled Keystone Kops.
On our cruise, we visited several Black Sea ports, and we’d go ashore and see the sights. The agents would follow us, or be stationed to watch us before we went ashore. The obvious head of our surveillance, whom we called “The Main Man,” was always standing somewhere, watching us. In Yevpatoriya we passed under this large old boat up on blocks. As we looked up at the boat above us, there was a little agent up there, busily photographing us.
Some agents would follow us, dodging from palm tree to palm tree behind us. Then, just as they must have been taught in spy school, they’d go swap disguises. You’d actually see these men switching caps or wigs, or changing coats, when they thought we couldn’t see.
After Yevpatoriya and Yalta we continued east along the Black Sea Coast and stopped at Tuapse. Tuapse is in the Russian resort district with Sochi, just down the coast. Although it is called a “resort” town, it was mostly an oil terminal--- grubby and plain. During the Crimean War the Ottomans seized the town and held it for two years (1857-1859). It was badly damaged by the Germans in World War II. Only the Soviets could think of this town as a “resort”!
Next we sailed further down the Black Sea Coast to Sochi. This has been Russia’s primary resort town for a long time. Stalin built a dacha here, and many neoclassical buildings and two opulent sanatoria sprang up during his reign. Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin, certainly admires this city, having spent over $50 billion building a site for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
It was in Sochi on February 13, 1983 that I celebrated my birthday, still aboard the Soviet cruise ship. I was 49 years old, and General Hamm toasted me and said, “You S.O.B. —I can’t believe you talked me into this ‘cruise’!” After we had drinks we strolled into the ship’s dining room and had dinner.
Soviet Army Colonel lectures USAF Brigadier General Charlie Hamm and wife Jane.
After dinner the entertainment was a puppet theatre from Novorossisk. The other passengers, actually KGB, all sat like bumps and never laughed. When the show ended, the orchestra played, and dancing started. Perhaps because it was my birthday, a pretty young girl from Barnaul, in Siberia came over and asked me to dance. The “Main Man”, watching from the sidelines, gave me a conspiratorial thumbs-up signal, as if he expected I was about to fall into the familiar “honey trap” that has caught so many attachés. (A “honey trap” is when an attractive Soviet female manages to lure a foreign agent or attaché into a compromising position. Then flash bulbs go off, and blackmail or other coercion starts.)
On the ship other nights we’d have dinner together and then go to the lounge and have a Soviet brandy and listen to the orchestra play, and maybe dance. One night, Jane suggested to Marty that we skip the lounge scene and just get to bed early.
We knew that there were microphones, with agents listening in on us all the time.
As it turned out, after dinner, Jane and Marty changed their minds and suggested we go to the lounge for a nightcap.
This was a surprise for the KGB. Usually there was an orchestra playing away for us, and for all the agents who were masquerading as happy passengers.
There was no one but us in the lounge. Soon a waiter appeared to take our order.
Then, a few moments later, looking as if they had been roused out of a sound sleep, came the orchestra, and started playing. Then, a few minutes later, came the “passengers.”
I hear that Black Sea cruises aboard Russian ships are now greatly improved.
* For those who didn't grow up hearing about the evil "KGB", it stood for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, or Committee for State Security of the Soviet Union. Although I may describe some of their less memorable activities, no one should forget that the KGB, and its predecessors, the Cheka, OGPU, NKVD and MGB, murdered many thousands, and caused many millions to be imprisoned in Siberia and elsewhere. For us, serving in the USSR, we always took the KGB extremely seriously. --- SWC.
Now, here are some books and papers for you…..
This famous 19th Century War took place right where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met in 1945.
Crimean War: Memoirs of the Brave: A Brief Account of the Battles of the Alma, Balaklava, and Inkerman with Biographies of the Killed and a List of the Wounded, by James Gibson, Late of Sidney Sussex College 1855 London, England: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange. This little book about Crimean War is dedicated to Rt. Hon. Sidney Herbert, M.P., Secretary at War. This edition includes letter from "our Most Gracious Queen" noting accounts of Miss Nightingale and Mrs. Bracebridge, and expressing her sympathy to families of those lost and wounded. Letter is dated Christmas, 1854, from Windsor. Brief accounts of battles of Alma, first Allied victory; Balaklava, second victory with great disaster to British troops; and Inkerman, called "the soldier's battle". Memoirs of officers killed include Major-General Henry William Adams; Lieutenant-General the Hon. Sir George Cathcart; Lieutenant-Colonel Edward William Pakenham (nephew of Sir Edward Pakenham who fell before New Orleans); Memoirs of some 200 officers killed provide excellent biographical data and relate units men belonged to, family connection, peerage, and more. Also list of officers wounded; chronology of incidents of the war. 148 pp. 8.2 x 12.3 cm. 16mo. Attractive purple moiré silk on board with crest and crossed flags of France and Great Britain, and title. Covers warped, cloth missing from spine, edges frayed, dampstain on end papers. Gilt-edged pages. Fair. (7293) $150.00. History/Biography
Dutch Royal Wedding, 1937
Dutch Royal Wedding: Oranje Album. Het Huwelijk van Prinses Juliana met Prins Bernhard, 1937 [Souvenir book of pictures of wedding, in Dutch] 1937 Amsterdam, NL: Uitgave van de N.V. Handelsdrukkerij Holdert & Co. Herinnerings-Album waarin zijn vastgelegd de voornaamste gebeurtenissen gedurende den Verlovingstijd, den Ondertrouw en bij het Huwelijkvan Prinses Juliana en Prins Bernhard 8 September 1936 - 7 Januari 1937. Two color portraits of Princess Juliana (b. 1909, d. 2004) and one of Prince Bernhard (b. 1911, d. 2004), and 60+ pages of photos of events surrounding the Royal Wedding on 7 January 1937. 64 pp. 32 x 25 cm. Paper booklet with Orange cover, text block loose from cover. Slight moisture damage to lower right corners of pages, does not affect pictures or text. Good. (6846) $45.00. History
Aroostook War: Disturbance in Maine (to accompany bill H.R. 1176) February 28, 1839; Report (no. 314) on the Disturbances relating to claims of Great Britain upon the northern part of the State of Maineby Mr. Howard, U.S. Congressman 1839 Washington, DC: United States Congress. Report from Congressman Howard of the Committee on Foreign Affairs relating to disputed territory on the border between New Brunswick,territory of Great Britain, and Maine, of the United States. Canadian and American Lumberjacks ventured into the disputed territory, and in February 1839 some 10,000 men of the Maine Militia marched to the area and the disturbance grew into "The Aroostook War", also called "The Pork and Beans War". This report describes a bill giving to the President of theUnited States additional powers for the defense of the United States. On March 2, 1839, just two days after this report, Congress debated this issue, and the dispute was finally settled by the signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842. 7 pp. 16 x 24 cm. Paper booklet, worn, fair. (7797) $25.00. History/American History
Bassett: An Oration Delivered on Monday, the Fifth of July, 1824, in Commemoration of American Independence Before the Supreme Executive of the Commonwealth, and the City Council and Inhabitants of the City of Boston by Bassett, Francis 1824 Boston, MA: Wells and Lilly, Court Street. Francis Bassett (1786-1875) delivered this address in Boston on the 48th anniversary of the American Independence. Bassett, an 1810 graduate of Harvard, was from Yarmouth, near Dennis, on Cape Cod. He practiced law in Boston as a contemporary of Webster, served in the Massachusetts legislature for many years, and was a designated orator in the City of Boston. In this oration on page 23 he refers to "an American Congress, the Greeks have found an advocate whose eloquence 'may give them courage and spirit, teach them that they are not wholly forgotten by the civilized world...'". And Bassett notes in handwritten mark below "Webster". It was Webster's eloquent support for Greek independence at this time to which the orator refers. American support for Greece became diffused later in 1824 by adoption of the Monroe Doctrine, but the support of Webster and Henry Clay, our "Great Philhellenes" is admired in Greece today. This copy is inscribed by Mr. Bassett: "Hon. Timothy Fuller from his Obed't Servant, F. Bassett". Fuller was another Boston orator at the time, noted for his anti-Masonic rhetoric. 24 pp. 13.8 x 21.6 cm. Disbound paper pamphlet, inscription by author on title page. Fair. (7934) $65.00. History/American
Cambridge of 1776, The; Theatrum Majorum; an Account of the Town, with which is incorporated the Diary of Dorothy Dudley, now first published; together with historical sketch, poems, etc. Adorned with Cuts and a Map Dorothy Dudley. Diary by Greely, Mary Williams. 1876 Cambridge, MA: Ladies Centennial Committee by A.G. 123 pp. + adv. 14 x 21 cm. Miss Greely has concocted "Dorothy Dudley" to tell the story of Cambridge a century ago (1775-76) and W.D. Howells includes a poem to the "Fair maiden, whom a hundred summers keep forever seventeen.." "History of Cambridge from 1631 to 1776" by David Greene Haskins, Jr. "Influence of Cambridge in the Formation of the Nation" by Andrew P. Peabody. D.D. "The Guests at Head-Quarters" by H.E. Scudder. Light brown cloth on board finely decorated with gilt picture of the Washington Elm, blindstamped image on back cover. Tape label on spine, two or three pencil notations in margin of text, else very neat and a very good condition. (2739) $37.00. History
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org