World Turned Upside Down: U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Early Cold War Struggle for Germany

  • Published

World Turned Upside Down: U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Early Cold War Struggle for Germany by Marvin B. Durning. Potomac Books, 2007, 208 pp.


Marvin Durning, a young Navy lieutenant, arrived at his new posting in Munich, Germany, wondering what a naval intelligence officer would do so far away from the water. Only slowly, as he gained the trust of his commander, did Lieutenant Durning learn his organization’s intelligence gathering mission and begin to take part in that mission. Durning brings the reader along and slowly opens up windows into the post–World War II intelligence arena in Germany and Eastern Europe. He does this by recounting his personal experiences in an interesting story that is easily read and provides valuable insight into Cold War Europe.

For the reader expecting to find freshly declassified stories of cloak and dagger, spy versus spy, late-night car chases, or tales of life-and-death espionage, this book will be a disappointment. More than 50 years after the fact, Durning remains mindful of “the need to know” and the need to keep some things classified. For the reader without an intelligence background, he explains how simple information can be used to indicate an enemy’s actions:  “Tracking railway movements is a classic intelligence activity used to determine enemy intentions. Any increase in movements of Soviet bloc military force, equipment, or supplies toward the West or to the Soviet Army bases in East Germany could signal coming trouble” (p. 147). Even this example highlights how little the United States knew about the Soviet Union’s military capabilities and highlighted the need to bring West Germany back as a Cold War ally.

The true value in reading World Turned Upside Down is found in Durning’s front row seat into the rebirth of Germany as an American ally in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The author describes how the World War II allies had to change their wartime mindset of vilifying Germany and work to return it to the international community as an independent nation. For most readers, Germany’s transition from enemy to ally is a seldom covered issue. The author’s discussions on this metamorphosis are valuable, insightful, and interesting.

World Turned Upside Down also brings to light the “super secret” Gehlen Organization, a German intelligence organization supported by the US military. Creatively, because it could not be funded through normal means, the organization was funded by the US military’s allowing it to monopolize the black market for cigarettes in the American zone. Initially created to gather intelligence against the Soviet bloc, after 1956 the Gehlen Organization ultimately became the foreign intelligence service for the independent West Germany.

Durning describes in a very readable fashion the thoughts of some of the key players he worked with behind the scenes in Munich to help reconstitute the German navy. He takes the time to discuss the background of these men as well as his German staff in Munich. This approach provides a personalization of our former adversaries and gives a look into the non-Nazi citizen’s life in Nazi Germany. Durning also does an excellent job of describing postwar Germany and the revitalization of the nation.

In summary, World Turned Upside Down is an enjoyable quick read. Marvin Durning does a solid job painting a picture of the shadowy world of Cold War espionage and the rebirth of Germany. More importantly, the book gives a ground-level understanding of the early postwar relationship between the United States and Germany and how the two sides recognized the need early on to transition quickly from adversaries—from occupied and occupier—to allies against the Soviet bloc. By understanding this framework, the reader will better understand how the United States and Germany work as allies today.

Lt Col Dan Simonsen, USAF

AFROTC Det 305, Louisiana Tech University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."