11. Letter From Secretary of Defense McElroy to President Eisenhower0

My Dear Mr. President: During your discussion with Chairman Khrushchev on Berlin, it may be that he will refer to, or that the opportunity will arise when you may wish to speak to, the right of the Western Powers to fly to Berlin at altitudes above 10,000 feet. I am writing to advise you of the present position with respect to future flights.

As you will remember, we made two C–130 flights in April 1959 to Berlin at altitudes above 20,000 feet. Further flights were suspended temporarily because of the Geneva Conference. At the close of the Conference, the resumption of flights was dicsussed with the Secretary of State. Although opposed to occasional probing flights that might appear to the Soviet Union, as well as to certain of our allies, primarily to be provocative, he was agreeable, subject to your approval, to high altitude flights on a routine basis as part of our regular Berlin supply operation, provided that the flights could be explained reasonably on economic and logistic grounds.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff re-studied this question, advised that the flights are justified on economic and logistic grounds and recommended that the flights be resumed. I am enclosing their memorandum to me of August 19, 1959,1 with which, except as to timing, I concur.

Chairman Khrushchev should be familiar with the desirability of operating jet transports at high altitudes. He flew to the United States in a Tu–114 whose normal cruising altitude is between 25,000 feet and 35,000 feet. The Soviet Union has three other jet or turbojet transports, all of which cruise well above 25,000 feet.

However, of even greater importance in my view than the economic and logistic justification of the C–130 is that the United States uphold the principle of its right to fly to Berlin at altitudes above 10,000 feet. Even though a C–130 operates most efficiently at an altitude above 20,000 feet, it is perfectly possible to fly them less efficiently below 10,000 feet. The basic point for ultimate decision is one of policy rather than economic desirability.

I am sending this to you via the Secretary of State so that he may add such comments as he may wish.

Respectfully yours,

Neil McElroy
  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DullesHerter Series. Secret.
  2. Not attached to the source text. A copy of the memorandum (JCSM–338–59) is ibid.