No. 684

711.5622/6–1651: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Briggs) to the Secretary of State 1


815. As indicated Embtel 812 June 15,2 meeting yesterday with FonMin Siroky on jet flight left something be desired. Circumstances having cast me in role petitioner for release pilots and planes, Min took full advantage his opportunity. He revived almost every Czech aviation complaint beginning alleged treatment erring CSA planes March 1950;3 he commented on “jet flight violating our sovereignty” last Feb; he declared air border violations still almost daily occurrence; he referred alleged failure US Govt satisfactorily answer previous aviation complaints. All this constituted build-up whereby Siroky sought justify reasonableness his govt’s continued investigation circumstances this “latest violation Czech sovereignty” as well as continued detention pilots.

Meeting lasted two hours and FonMin apparently enjoyed every minute of it.

Fol submitted in order Dept and Air Force may have clearer picture what our govt up against in case this character involving Communist Czech:

FonMin promptly answered my first question by stating planes here and pilots safe. I expressed regret unintentional trespass Czech territory and requested release pilots. Siroky replied that release [Page 1371] impossible pending investigation. He declared pilots not prisoners, but made negative reply when I suggested they be surrendered to me to be guests my residence pending end Czech inquiry. I thereupon requested authorization Col Whitman immediately visit pilots. Siroky said not in his jurisdiction but finally agreed inquire and inform me today; FonOff phoned this morning to say appropriate officials not available, reply Emb request will be communicated next week.

Throughout conversation FonMin repeatedly referred his govt’s intention “act according international law” several times coupling this with reference to fact planes in question “offensive not defensive weapons” and furthermore fully armed. He ridiculed effectiveness US Air Force standing orders respect Czech territory and keep away from air space adjacent frontier declaring violation so constant as to give Czecho no choice but to investigate whether this latest flight might not be deliberate provocation. Same excuse given for Czecho’s having withheld for one week confirmation landing, that is case under investigation.

FonMin declined estimate how long investigation would last.

Situation therefore as follows:

During eight days Govt withheld info notwithstanding written and oral representations both FonOff and Min Natl Def.
Govt now refuses release pilots and planes on grounds investigation still incomplete. Meanwhile, seeks maintain fiction pilots not prisoners but refuses access to them.
Previous alleged violations cited as justification Govt’s course with intimation Czecho proposes act accordance internatl law.

My interpretation all foregoing is that after having made sufficient public demonstration “Czecho not to be trifled with” and after having exhausted propaganda and US discomfiture possibilities, pilots will probably be released. However, possibility trumped up espionage charges cannot be wholly excluded. Furthermore, Czecho probably capable seizing any intervening incident or development (publicity not to Czecho liking for example) as pretext for delaying or refusing release.

  1. Repeated to Frankfurt for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
  2. Two U.S. jet aircraft disappeared on June 8 while on a training flight over the U.S. zone of occupation of Germany. The aircraft had actually been forced to land in Czechoslovakia, but Czechoslovak authorities withheld information about the incident for 7 days despite repeated inquiries by the Embassy in Praha. In the telegram under reference here, Ambassador Briggs reported briefly on his conversation with Foreign Minister Široký that afternoon. Široký informed Briggs that the two missing American aircraft and pilots were safe in Czechoslovakia but that they would be held in custody pending completion of an official investigation of the incident. (711.5622/6–1551) The two pilots were eventually released on July 4, and the two aircraft were turned over to American authorities the following day. For text of a Department of State press statement of June 15 regarding the missing aircraft and the Czechoslovak failure to provide assistance in locating them, and an Embassy note of June 24 to the Foreign Ministry demanding immediate release of the pilots, see Department of State Bulletin, June 25, 1951, p. 1019 and ibid., July 16, 1951, p. 93, respectively.
  3. The reference here is presumably to the landing of three Czechoslovak Airlines aircraft at Erding near Munich in late March 1950. The aircraft carried 85 passengers some of whom sought political asylum. The incident gave rise to an exchange of notes with the Czechoslovak Government; see Department of State Bulletin, April 17, 1950, pp. 595–597.