No. 739


Memorandum by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs ( Bonbright) to the Secretary of State 1


Subject: US Air Force Plane and Crew Forced Down and Interned in Hungary2

The following brief account of this incident is submitted for your background information in connection with your appointment with [Page 1469] Mr. Christian M. Ravndal, the new US Minister to Hungary, who is leaving tomorrow for Budapest.3

It was announced in a Tass communiqué and in a Hungarian note to the American Legation in Budapest on December 34 that the US Air Force plane, which had been missing since November 19, had been forced down on that date near Papa, Hungary, by Soviet fighter planes and turned over by the Soviet command to the Hungarian authorities. Although Legation Budapest had previously made repeated inquiries, these were the first disclosures of the whereabouts of the US plane which disappeared enroute from Erding in the US Zone of Germany to Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The Hungarian note of December 3, as well as a subsequent note of December 11,5 alleged that the plane had deliberately violated the Hungarian border and that the aircraft, as shown by the equipment it carried, had flown over the border with the premeditated intention of parachuting “spies and diversionists” (Yugoslavs) into Hungarian territory.

Legation Budapest on instructions from the Department made firm oral representations to the Hungarian Foreign Office on December 36 and presented written notes December 4 and 67 requesting the prompt release and return of the crew and plane. However, the Hungarian Government has demanded in its abovementioned notes that the US Government severely punish “the persons responsible” for the violation of the Hungarian border and the Under Secretary of the Hungarian Foreign Office has stated orally that the Hungarian Government is prepared to discuss the US request for the release of the plane and its crew when a “satisfactory reply” is received from the US Government regarding the demanded punishment of “responsible persons”.8 We are dispatching a further note to the Hungarian Foreign Office couched in stronger language than that of our previous notes reiterating that the plane’s overflight of Hungarian territory was wholly accidental, reminding the Hungarian Government of our prompt and [Page 1470] forthright expression of regret in the matter, and rejecting their demand for punishment of “responsible persons”, while at the same time indicating that it is in accord with regular procedure for US authorities to investigate the circumstances of such inadvertent flights upon the return of the plane and its crew.9

In the light of the Hungarian Government’s attitude to date and the nature of its demands in the matter it appears probable that the Hungarian Government has no intention, in the absence of US submission to those demands, to permit the return of the plane and crew at an early date. Available means of bringing pressure to bear on the Hungarian Government in this matter such as publicity, economic action, and diplomatic action hold little promise of being effective in this case.

In the circumstances reviewed above, and having in mind also the course of the Oatis case,10 there is a definite possibility that we shall be able to effect the release of the US aircraft and its crew only if we are prepared to resort to more drastic measures than we have hitherto employed or considered in previous cases of this kind. It is quite likely that the American public generally and the Congress and press in particular will become increasingly aroused over this incident and that heavy pressure will be exerted by these quarters for the US Government to take strong retaliatory measures against the Hungarian Government or forceful action to compel compliance by the Hungarian Government with US demands for the return of the Air Force crew and plane.

We are urgently studying all aspects of the foregoing situation including attention to the entire range of possible steps for obtaining satisfactory action by the Hungarian Government in this matter.

  1. Drafted by McKisson and approved by Campbell, Barbour, and Higgs of EUR/EE. Secretary Acheson had just returned to Washington from Europe where he had headed the U.S. Delegation at the opening of the Sixth Session of the U.N. General Assembly in Paris, November 6 and the U.S. Delegation at the Eighth Session of the North Atlantic Council, held in Rome, November 24–28.
  2. The circumstances of this incident are described in the note quoted in telegram 235 to Budapest, infra. Accounts of the developments in this incident were reported in despatches 365, December 12, and 405, January 4, 1952, both from Budapest. (711.5622/12–1251 and 711.5622/1–452)
  3. Ravndal, whose nomination to become Minister to Hungary was approved by the Senate on October 3, arrived in Budapest on December 20 but did not present his credentials and assume charge until early January 1952.
  4. Transmitted in telegram 361 and despatch 333 from Budapest, both December 3. (711.5622/12–351)
  5. Transmitted in telegram 401, December 11, and despatch 363, December 12, both from Budapest. (711.5622/12–351)
  6. The oral representations mentioned here were reported upon in telegrams 360 and 361 from Budapest, both December 3. (711.5622/12–351)
  7. Regarding the notes under reference, see telegrams 368, December 4, 370, December 5, and 378, December 6, and despatches 339, December 5, and 337, December 7, all from Budapest, in Department of State file 711.5622.
  8. American Charge Abbott reported on his December 11 conversation with Under Secretary Berei in telegram 400 from Budapest, December 11. (711.5622/12–1151)
  9. For the text of the note summarized here, see telegram 235 to Budapest, infra.
  10. For documentation, see Documents 670 ff.