No. 663

Editorial Note

In a note delivered to the United States Embassy in Praha on January 22 and made public that same day, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry reviewed 56 instances of alleged violations of the Czechoslovak frontier by United States military aircraft and accused the United States Government of utilizing some of the alleged illegal overflights for the purpose of dropping radio transmitters by parachute intended for espionage and other subversive activity within Czechoslovakia. (Telegram 466 from Praha, January 22, 911.5249/1–2251) Acting on instructions from the Department of State, Ambassador Briggs presented a reply to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry rejecting the allegations made in the Czechoslovak note of January 22, characterizing the charges as being “fabricated solely for propaganda purposes,” assuring the Czechoslovak Government that all American flyers in Germany were under strict instructions to exercise extreme caution so as to avoid crossing the Czechoslovak frontier, and calling attention to the many reports of border violations of the United States area of control of Germany by Czechoslovak aircraft. (Telegrams 370, February 1, and 377, February 5, to Praha, and telegram 493, February 6, from Praha, 949.5262A/1–2951, 949.5262A/2-651, and 511.4941/2–651, respectively) On February 16 the Embassy in Praha received a further note from the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry rejecting the Embassy’s note of February 7 and reiterating its earlier allegations concerning the overflight of Czechoslovak territory by American aircraft (see telegram 525 from Praha, Document 667).

On February 9, the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry addressed a note to the Embassy in Praha (issued to the press that same day) [Page 1340] charging that two United States jet military aircraft had illegally entered Czechoslovak airspace on February 7 and penetrated as far as Praha itself. The note also claimed that a DC–4 and two Dakota aircraft had violated the Czechoslovak frontier on February 5. The note warned of the consequences that might arise from such alleged illegal overflights and stated that the responsibility for them must rest with the United States Government. The allegations of illegal overflights by United States aircraft on February 5 and 7 were denied in a statement issued to the press by the Embassy on the evening of February 9. (Telegram 507 from Praha, February 10, 711.5849/2–1051) The Czechoslovak note of February 9 was handed to Ambassador Briggs on February 10 by Czechoslovak Deputy Foreign Minister Hajdu. When the Ambassador informed Hajdu that he assumed the latest charges were as groundless as those refuted in the Embassy’s note of February 7 (see above), Hajdu declared “in that case next time there is an illegal American overflight we’ll show you the corpus delicti.” (Telegram 505 from Praha, February 10, 711.5849/1051) Regarding Ambassador Briggs’ conversation with Deputy Foreign Minister Hajdu and the Ambassador’s assessment of the Czechoslovak allegations, see telegram 508 from Praha, February 10, infra. The Department of State subsequently learned that two United States Air Force jet aircraft had become lost during a training mission over Germany on February 7 and accidentally penetrated Czechoslovak airspace to the vicinity of Praha. On instructions of the Department, Ambassador Briggs delivered to the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry on February 17 a note briefly explaining the circumstances of the accidental airspace penetration of February 7, expressing regret for the incident, and promising immediate appropriate corrective action. (Telegrams 398 to Praha, February 15; 6773 from Frankfurt, February 15; 399 to Praha, February 16; 524 from Praha, February 17, all in file 711.5849)

Documentation on the exchanges of notes described here is principally in files 711.5849 and 949.5262A.