40. Telegram From the Mission at Berlin to the Department of State0

346. Refs: (1) USBER tel 286 to Bonn, 333 to Dept.1 (2) USCOB tel unn Nov 15 to DA (pass State), info Bonn.2 (3) USAREUR tel SX 7679 [Page 73] Nov 15 to DA (pass State), info Bonn.3 (4) USBER tel 292 to Bonn, 339 to Dept.4 (5) USAREUR top secret tel SX 7691 Nov 15 to USCINCEUR, info Bonn. (6) USCINCEUR top secret tel EC 9–6071 Nov 16 to Defense, info Bonn.5

My analysis of incident Nov 14 and our actions for future follow:

We have reported in reference (4) that incident of Nov 14 constituted most serious probe in recent times of our intentions and test of our willingness to stand firm. That Sovs chose Nov 14th for this test could conceivably have been done to determine our likely future reaction in event Sovs do try to implement threats contained Khrushchev’s speech Nov 10. However I do not see incident Nov 14 as either beginning of a blockade or actual implementation by Sovs of Khrushchev’s Nov 10 threats, especially in light his Nov 14 speech and local manifestations “dampening down” (USBER tel 285 to Bonn, 332 to Dept).6

Type of action more likely to signal beginning of implementation Khrushchev’s threats could be abolition Sov Kommandatura Berlin or turn-over one or more access controls to GDR.

Inspection issue has been with us in increasingly acute form since early this summer but our access not significantly impaired as result Sov inspection demand and our non-compliance. Most U.S. supplies transported by trains and most supplies traveling on autobahn sent in open or partially covered vehicles which experience little trouble in transiting SovZone. Since interior these vehicles at least partially visible, Sovs have apparently satisfied themselves re their inspection criteria.

Incident which occurred Nov 14 was unexpected, since we did not think Sovs would go so far as to hold three American soldiers and three trucks at Nowawes (Babelsberg) checkpoint. Finding ourselves in situation we did, Gen Hamlett was prepared use armed force to extricate his [Page 74] men and vehicles. In this proposed action Trimble, who was in Berlin, and I concurred.

Since Sovs finally released vehicles night of Nov 14 without inspection despite previous assertions that evening, it almost certain Sovs will demand to exercise right of inspection with next U.S. covered vehicle we dispatch. (Acting Sov Pol Ad Shilov was very specific to me night of 14 Nov on point that in future Sovs will “continue to exercise right of inspection.”) I would expect Sovs to hold next covered vehicle(s) and U.S. soldier driver(s) at Nowawes as they did on 14 Nov. This time Sovs might feel they could not afford back down in response to even strongest protest and in end we might have to go in and get men and vehicles out with U.S. armed forces. Should this be necessary and even if we got away with it without firing a shot, such action would certainly contribute to a serious heightening of tensions here and might provoke reprisals such as possible action against Steinstuecken.

There are other courses Sovs might follow with next covered vehicles dispatched from Berlin, such as letting them through checkpoint Nowawes and detaining them at Helmstedt—or even midway along autobahn.

Yesterday afternoon AFN Berlin broadcast that U.S. military authorities planning send convoy down autobahn “to test Russian intentions.” Today, AFN Berlin carried newscast stating: “President Eisenhower and American Ambassador to West Germany are to meet Monday discuss Berlin situation. Meeting follows army decision send another convoy down Berlin autobahn.” (We informed material for both newscasts came from Frankfurt.)

If such action is taken with convoy which contains one or more covered vehicles (as proposed references 5 and 6 for Tuesday or soonest thereafter) and should it result in armed incident or even publicity resulting from probable detention U.S. soldiers, it would be difficult to explain to our public and that of our Allies why we make such an issue over a “peep under the canvas.” (There are of course sound reasons for absolutely refusing to let Sovs inspect our vehicles. Dept is aware of reasons and I concur wholeheartedly with them.)

I do not feel that now is the time in Berlin for us to probe Sov intentions in this manner unless there are overriding considerations for doing so not apparent here. Our correct posture in Berlin at this time, it seems to me, is to remain steadfast, react firmly to any Communist effort to push us around, but not knowingly go out and seek trouble. After events of the night of Nov 14 our local position vis-à-vis Sovs in Berlin is strong enough not to require that for present we take offensive unnecessarily.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 762.00/11–1658. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Also sent to Bonn.
  2. Telegram 286, November 15, reported that the convoy had been released to return to Berlin. (ibid., 762.0221/11–1558)
  3. This telegram reviewed the course of the incident and stated that it was obvious that it had been planned to check the reaction of the United States. (Washington National Records Center, RG 319, Headquarters Department of the Army, Communications Center Files)
  4. Telegram SX 7679, November 15, transmitted text of a letter from Hodes to Zakharov, following the release of the convoy, protesting its detention, stating that he had not and would not agree to Soviet inspection of convoys, and demanding that Zakharov inform his checkpoints to clear properly documented U.S. Army vehicles without inspection or detention. (Ibid.)
  5. Document 39.
  6. EC 9–6071 transmitted the text of SX 7691, which discussed further steps that might be taken in light of the detention of the convoy on November 14. In particular it stated: “In view of the strong protest today ref B [SX 7679] and the necessity for allowing reaction time, we have deferred sending this operational convoy back today. However, unless we are willing to accept a voluntary blockade, accede to inspection or undergo a period of detention with unacceptable political and military consequences, the Soviet intentions must be tested. When tested, if detention occurs, we should be prepared to recover our men and equipment by force.” (Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/11–1658)
  7. Telegram 332, November 14, summarized press and official East German statements that indicated efforts to “dampen down” reaction following Khrushchev’s speech. (ibid., 762.0221/11–1458)