No. 744

711.5622/1–452: Despatch

The Chargé in Hungary ( Abbott) to the Department of State

No. 405

Subject: Further Developments in the Case of the USAF Plane: From December 13 Through the Release of the Flyers on December 28, 1951.1

. . . . . . .

On December 22, 1:50 p.m., the Legation received the Department’s telegram of December 212 containing instructions to Moscow and Budapest regarding an oral approach to the Hungarian and Soviet Governments. An appointment was obtained with considerable difficulty with Mr. Berei at 7 p.m. that evening and the statement, pointing out the “grave dangers inherent in this rapidly worsening situation”, was read to him and an Aide-Mémoire left. The approach to the Soviet Government in Moscow had been made earlier the same afternoon.3 The above démarche was reported to the Department in a telegram on December 22 and a despatch of December 24.4

In the evening of Sunday, December 23, a press correspondent telephoned to say that an MTI (Hungarian Telegraphic Agency) communiqué had been issued reporting the trial of the flyers by a military court and their sentence to a fine of 360,000 forints each or three months in jail. The plane and cargo were confiscated. Repeated telephone calls to the Foreign Office that evening produced no information other than that such a communiqué had actually been issued and that no responsible officer of the Foreign Office could be reached that evening. The next morning an appointment was finally obtained with Undersecretary Berei for 12:00. The Chargé was informed it would be impossible to obtain a copy of the court proceedings and sentence because of the holidays and the Undersecretary furnished little information that was helpful in enabling the Department to reach a decision as to whether the fine [Page 1480] should be paid and if so, what the procedure would be. Mr. Berei’s general tone was that he was surprised that he had been bothered on a holiday in the absence of authority to pay the fines, and he intimated strongly that if such authority had been available, release of the flyers could have been promptly arranged. An account of this interview is contained in the Legation’s telegram 452 of December 24.5

The Department’s telegram of December 245 authorizing payment of the fines was received in the Legation on December 25 at 1430. After continuous telephoning to the Foreign Office an appointment was finally arranged for 1900 with Dr. Sik, Chief of the Political Section and third ranking man in the Foreign Office, who had been present during the interview with Undersecretary Berei the day before. A note was delivered to Dr. Sik stating that the U.S. Government was prepared to pay the fines under assurance that satisfactory arrangements had been made for the prior or simultaneous release of the flyers and their departure from Hungary enroute to Vienna. The Chargé also had with him a signed letter to the Ministry of Finance requesting the transfer from the Surplus Property Credit of the required sum for the purpose of paying the fines, and a copy of this letter was delivered to Dr. Sik. The Chargé also had with him a signed Treasurer’s Check for the required amount in dollars to be presented in case Dr. Sik stated that payment from the Surplus Property Credit was not acceptable.

However, Dr. Sik merely stated that he had no authority to make any decision and he could only endeavor to convey the note and remarks to the “competent authorities” if any could be found during the holiday period. Dr. Sik also said he had no authority to act on the Chargés urgent request to see the flyers that evening and to take to them the Christmas dinner which the Legation had prepared and waiting. A full account of this interview is contained in the Legation’s telegram of December 25 and despatch of December 26.6

It was not possible to see any responsible official of the Foreign Office on December 26 in spite of repeated telephone calls to the duty officer. A telegram was despatched to the Department suggesting VOA publicity if the flyers were not released by 2 p.m. Washington time on Decmeber 27, the first working day following the Christmas holidays. This telegram was sent through British channels (direct radio to London) in view of the considerable delay which had been experienced in receiving and sending telegrams through normal channels. Late that evening the local UP correspondent [Page 1481] telephoned to say that a UP despatch from Washington said that the Hungarian Legation there had announced that the flyers would be released on December 27.

On December 27 the Chargé was granted an appointment with Mr. Berei at 12 noon. At this exasperating interview Mr. Berei merely stated that the Legation’s note of December 25 and the inquiries in connection therewith had been communicated to the competent authorities and that no decision had as yet been made regarding our offer to pay the fines. Mr. Berei was warned that the delay in effecting the release of the flyers was regarded very seriously by the U.S. Government and U.S. public opinion. At 9 p.m. that evening the Chief of Protocol called Mr. Abbott and stated that Mr. Berei would receive him at 10 a.m. on December 28 to furnish an answer to the Legation’s proposals.

At the appointment on December 28, Undersecretary Berei handed the Chargé a note indicating that the court sentence provided for the expulsion of the flyers from Hungary after the fine had been paid, and furnishing details regarding the method of paying the fine. The transfer of funds from the Surplus Property Credit was not acceptable. The fines must be paid in forints into a postal checking account of the Ministry of Defense. Mr. Berei refused to state when the flyers would be expelled except that it would be the same day payment was made. Immediately following this interview inquiries were made at the Bank of Hungary and payment of the fine was completed at about 2 p.m. by cashing a Treasurer’s Check in dollars for the required sum and transferring the proceeds to the required postal account. When informed of this, the Foreign Office stated that the men would be expelled at the Austro-Hungarian frontier station of Hegyeshalom (Route One to Vienna) at 4 p.m. that day. (See Legtel 458, December 287)

A note was then despatched to the Foreign Office stating that payment had been made under protest. The note also mentioned that no copy of the court proceedings and sentence had been received and requested such documents as soon as available.8

George M. Abbott
  1. In despatch 345 from Budapest, December 12, Chargé Abbott reviewed the evolution of the plane incident from November 19 through December 12. (711.5622/12–1251) Omitted portions of the despatch printed here summarized events and documents printed or described in the previous documents in this compilation.
  2. Telegram 441 to Moscow, the same as 249 to Budapest, Document 742.
  3. See telegram 1076 from Moscow, supra.
  4. Telegram 444, December 22, and despatch 387, December 24, both from Budapest. (711.5622/12–2251 and 12–2451)
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Neither printed.
  8. Not printed.
  9. The U.S. flyers were released by Hungarian authorities at the Austrian-Hungarian frontier on the afternoon of December 28. Immediately upon their release, Secretary of State Acheson issued a statement to the press which reads in part as follows:

    “The American people are rightfully indignant. Because we value the welfare of the individual above all else, we have paid the so-called ‘fines’. But we have not paid willingly, and we state clearly, in order that there may be no misunderstanding of our attitude in the future, that our patience is not inexhaustible.”

    Acheson also announced that the Hungarian Consulates in Cleveland and New York would be closed and that U.S. citizens would no longer be allowed to travel to Hungary. For text of the statement, see Department of State Bulletin, January 7, 1952, p. 7.

    In a formal note of December 28, released to the press that same day, the Hungarian Legation was informed by the Department of State that the Hungarian Consulates in Cleveland and New York were to be closed by midnight December 31. For text of the note, see ibid.