299. Telegram From the Embassy in Germany to the Department of State1

1944. CINCEUR personal for Gen Norstad. Paris for Emb, USRO, Stoessel, McGuire. Reference: Moscow’s 2229 and Berlin’s 1553.2 Resumption by Soviets of preemption of air space in corridors and general tenor of their govt’s reply to our protest3 indicates that we may be moving rapidly toward a climax in problem of air access to Berlin. Soviets are in my estimation now building up a fully documented public case that existing procedures in BASC are no longer able to assure flight safety. Consequently they could argue that BASC should be dismantled and entire procedure for controlling flights to and from Berlin be turned over to the “sovereign German Democratic Republic.”

I regard the Soviet actions in preempting space, denying guarantees of flight safety in south corridor and buzzing of Allied planes as most serious problem we have faced up to this time in maintaining access to Berlin. Their actions in past ten days are bringing about a massive erosion of Western position. In my view positive action must be taken now to demonstrate effectively that we will not accept interference in air corridors or the creation of any risk for our flights by unilateral Soviet action. If we do not demonstrate this effectively the Soviets can, as General Clay points out, at any time prescribe a more restricted air space and for longer periods of time. As long as current situation prevails both Soviet and Allied actions tend to become matters of prestige thus making it extremely difficult to change. The current situation also serves to sharpen residual differences between us and British on many issues such as practice of giving information concerning border crossing time which may now be in process of becoming a fixed govt position.

To meet this situation I propose that we should anticipate a good deal of our contingency planning and take further measures to show our determination to maintain free access. Sending of civil planes through preempted space without passengers and with military crews has served its purpose. We should now, in my view, send regularly scheduled civil flights with passengers, either with or without military crews, into Berlin at preempted altitudes. Removal of civilian flights with [Page 829] passengers from space preempted by Soviets to approved altitudes, which we have already done for four flights, is simply an act of self-denial which serves their purpose. Finally we should be prepared to provide fighter cover for our civilian flights to Berlin in order to insure flight safety. We should then tell Soviets again in formal govt reply that Allied Powers must reserve right to take all appropriate measures to assure safety of their aircraft unless the Soviet Union can assure us that they will abide by established procedures in air corridor.

Our determination to take these measures could be demonstrated in two ways. First, we could orbit fighter aircraft at entrance of corridors, leaving Soviets in doubt whether our planes would actually enter it, but demonstrating that we are prepared to do so. If necessary we could either escort our planes in corridors or provide fighter cover, although as I understand problem, effectiveness of such an operation would entail lifting 10,000 foot level and modifying our rules of engagement.

Secondly, we should move immediately to active countermeasures outside of Berlin area. We are unfortunately limited in effective air countermeasures by narrow confines of Berlin and corridors. In counteraction outside Berlin area we could:

Begin fighter “investigation” air escort of bloc flights transiting Western Europe, or at any rate FRG, France and UK or over North Sea. This should definitely include Czech, Polish, Bulgarian and Hungarian, as well as Aeroflot flights to Paris and London.
If USSR continues harassment of our planes in corridor by fighters, we should thereafter begin precisely correlated fighter tactics on bloc flights.

Critical question is whether such action will escalate affair to our disadvantage. As things stand, however, it is mainly our caution which seems to be feeding Soviet escalation. Essence of our reaction is to stay within bounds of accepted practice, whereas USSR is introducing major departure and may be on way to capitalizing on it. I believe foregoing proposals would lead to reversing process. As soon as possible we must demonstrate to Soviets that their excesses affecting normal travel to Berlin are reciprocally creating likelihood of their own air isolation particularly from Africa and Latin America with incalculable accompanying damage to their prestige.

In view of Brit and French positions, tripartite agreement cannot be reached in Bonn on these recommendations. In any event, I consider that divergent tripartite positions already evident require high level representations to UK and France before situation becomes more difficult through further Soviet actions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 962.72/2-1962. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Received at 3:08 p.m. Repeated to London, Paris, Moscow, Berlin, USAFE, and USCINCEUR.
  2. Telegram 1553 is printed as Document 297. Telegram 2229 transmitted the February 17 Soviet reply; see Document 294.
  3. See Document 294.