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Battleground Berlin: The Second Berlin Crisis

By Andrew Ertl
Summer 2016 Jim & Anna Hyonjoo Lint Scholarship Winner
Third prize, 2016 Cold War Essay Contest, John Adams ’71 Center for Military History & Strategic Analysis at the Virginia Military Institute

Many will argue that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the most dangerous event of the Cold War.  However, the 1962 events in Cuba would not have happened if not for those in Berlin in 1961 and thus, were only the second act of a two-part play, the origin of which was Berlin.  This was a performance in which the experienced Soviet Premier tested the young, newly elected American President, a pas de deux in which each expressed the willingness to go to the nuclear brink.  Both found themselves grappling for dominance in an increasingly bipolar world and were pushed in different directions by aids and allies alike.  More famously, the Second Berlin Crisis resulted in the erection and physical representation of the ‘Iron Curtain’: the Berlin Wall.

Following the conclusion of World War II in Europe, the Allies agreed to occupy and divide Germany as well as Berlin into four occupation zones (American, British, French, and Soviet).  The three capitalist zones were in the western two-thirds of occupied Germany and the Soviet one was in the eastern third.  Freedom of movement from the Western zones to and from Berlin and within Berlin itself was guaranteed.  These agreements were codified in the Potsdam Agreement on September 2, 1945.

Lying 110 miles inside the Soviet occupation zone, Berlin offered the Western Allies a potential base from which to undermine communism and advance capitalism. A prison state may have been forming, but in Berlin “there was a prison state with an open door.”[1] Nevertheless, the Soviet government did not consider the provisions of the Potsdam Agreement to be permanent.  Before a group of German communists, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin revealed his plan to undermine the position of the West and within a year or two they would have to withdraw.[2]

Before the hammer and sickle flew over the Reichstag, communist German exile Walter Ulbricht was inserted into Berlin by the Red Army with orders to begin slowly building socialism.  Because of his “unyielding, uncollaborative, Stalinist style of ruling,”[3] even German communists disliked him.  Ulbricht reminded them of another German leader, if not “as murderous or as belligerent as Hitler but certainly as brutal toward his own people.”[4]  In the Eastern zone, Communist red was replacing Nazi brown.

From the founding of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949 to August 13, 1961, 2.8 million or 1/6 of the population fled,[5] the vast majority through West Berlin’s open door.[6]  Between September 1939 and May 1945, 1/12 of the German population died as a result of the Second World War.[7]  Proportionally then, the East German refugee crisis took away twice as much manpower from the GDR as Nazi Germany lost in World War II.  As one GDR Politburo member put it, the refugee crisis was “a critique with feet.”[8]

Amongst a plethora of ill-advised, socialist-inspired reforms, Ulbricht made heavy industry the backbone of the East German economy.  One repercussion of this decision was that in the ensuing refugee crisis, the GDR suffered more from a lack of manpower than an economy more focused on the production of consumer goods.  Allowed by Berlin’s special status, some 50,000 East Berliners (Grenzgägner) worked in capitalist West Berlin. [9]  The problem for the GDR wasn’t just that the Grenzgägner had better access to higher quality and more diversified consumer goods.  Nor was it that with their higher wages they were emptying out and thereby worsening an already bleak consumer market in the GDR.  Grenzgägner were a physical embodiment of the greater opportunities to be found outside socialism.  East Germans weren’t buying what Ulbricht was selling.

As early as 1952, Ulbricht had been seeking Soviet permission to end freedom of movement between the two Berlins in order to solve the refugee problem.[10]  Each time he was told that the better, more sustainable solution was to improve East German’s quality of life.  But that would have meant curtailing the size and scope of Ulbricht’s plans.  Due to the GDR’s position as the westernmost country of the Soviet bloc, he argued that it needed to be more faithful to the ideals of socialism.[11]

John Lewis Gaddis argues that during the Cold War, the superpowers “attached their own reputations to their respective clients…(and) fell into the habit of letting their German allies determine their German interests, and hence their German policies.”[12]  Despite his troublesome ally, the new Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev did have a card to play: West Berlin and Western access rights.  He intentionally raised tensions to change the political environment in order to rectify the West Berlin problem and in doing, he initiated the Second Berlin Crisis.

Before a group of Polish communists on November 10, 1958, Khrushchev declared:

The time has obviously arrived for the signatories of the Potsdam Agreement to give up the remnants of the occupation regime in Berlin and thereby make it possible to create a normal situation in the capital of the German Democratic Republic.[13]

The Western powers would have six months to negotiate a peace treaty with the GDR.  After six months, whether an agreement was reached or not, the USSR would then sign its own peace treaty with the GDR, granting full sovereign over East German territory—to include access rights into and out of Berlin unless superseded by any previous agreement the West might reach with the GDR—to East Germany.  West Berlin was to become a free city.  It truly was an ultimatum: why would the GDR reaffirm Western access rights it detested knowing it would soon be given sovereignty over them?  Khrushchev’s diktat was designed to get the Western powers out of West Berlin and was received rudely in the West.  US President Dwight Eisenhower didn’t even officially reply until March 1959 but by then the four powers had agreed to meet in Geneva to settle differences.  Khrushchev’s ultimatum had thus, passed without result.

To sooth tensions, Eisenhower invited Khrushchev to visit the United States from September 5-27 where he met everyone from politicians to entertainers.  Such was the spirit of the trip that Khrushchev invited Eisenhower and his family to tour the Soviet Union.  It was agreed that the four powers would meet again, this time in Paris the following May.  A surface-to-air missile, downed spy plane, and a captured American pilot changed that.

On May 1, 1960, American pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission over the USSR. On the first day of the Paris conference, Khrushchev warned Eisenhower, “Do not fly over the Soviet Union or the socialist countries.  If you don’t know where our borders are, we will show you.”[14]  He also demanded an apology.  While saying that the shoot down was an unfortunate incident and that he had already suspended all similar flights, Eisenhower would not apologize.  Khrushchev then withdrew from the conference.  He decided it would be better to wait to negotiate with the next American President[15] and Senator John F. Kennedy was leading in the polls.  But for Ulbricht and his fiefdom, “time was running out, along with the refugees.”[16]

On January 20, 1961, the youngest American President took the reins from the then oldest.  In his inaugural address, Kennedy declared the United States was prepared to:

Pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty….let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.[17]

His tough, but measured words were based on a misinterpretation of comments Khrushchev had made at a gathering of old communists on January 10.  Despite the rhetoric, Kennedy hinted at his desire for a meeting with Khrushchev and the Soviet Premier sent him a letter confirming their mutual desire.  Kennedy—thinking it imprudent to meet with Khrushchev before meeting with leaders of allied nations—made the mistake of waiting ten weeks to reply to Khrushchev. Khrushchev, a vain man—expected Kennedy to disregard the intricacies of diplomatic protocol—was insulted and now it was he who was slow to respond to Kennedy.

On April 17, Kennedy’s inexperience was highlighted further by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.  Although the invasion plans began in the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy did not—at that time—show the backbone to cancel a plan he was uneasy about nor did he make the necessary changes to improve its success.  With disappointment, former Secretary of State and then Kennedy adviser Dean Acheson wrote “The European view was that they were watching a gifted young amateur practice with a boomerang, when they saw, to their horror, that he had knocked himself out.”[18]  Five days earlier, the USSR had received another international relations boon: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth.  For Khrushchev—whose birthday was coincidentally April 17—the events of April 12 and 17 were like birthday presents.  Feeling the momentum of such events,[19] he was now willing to meet with Kennedy and Vienna would host.

Before the Vienna summit, each side was trying to mark its territory through diplomatic shadow boxing.  Khrushchev met with US Ambassador to the USSR Llewellyn Thompson and tried to impress upon him that “Berlin was really of little importance to either America or the Soviet Union, so why should they get so worked up about changing the city’s status?”[20]  Khrushchev was trying out a similar line used by Stalin at Yalta.  And wasn’t it Lenin who said, ‘Whoever has Berlin has Germany?’

Meanwhile, Kennedy briefly consulted allied leaders in London and Paris on how best to deal with Khrushchev.  He shared with longtime aid Kenneth O’Donnell his views on Berlin:

You can’t blame Khrushchev for being sore about that…We didn’t cause the disunity in Germany.  We aren’t really responsible for the four-power occupation of Berlin, a mistake neither the Russians nor we should have agreed to in the first place.[21]

Kennedy was preparing to bend on US policy where every President before him stood firm.  In Paris, Kennedy asked French President Charles de Gaulle when and why he should use force over Berlin:

If Mr. Khrushchev signs a treaty with the GDR, this in itself is no reason for a military retaliation on our part.  If the GDR starts stamping travel documents, this is not, per se, a cause for military action either.  In what way, therefore, at what moment, shall we bring our pressure to bear?[22]

De Gaulle’s advice was to “make sure that Khrushchev believes you are a man who will fight.”[23]  Kennedy was prepared to be pragmatic while Khrushchev was planning to intimidate the “boy in short pants.”[24]  A British diplomat voiced the concern of many, “We hope the lad will be able to get out of the bear cage without being too badly mauled.”[25]

The first day of the summit was unproductive.  Kennedy attempted to explain how previous wars began over miscalculations at which point Khrushchev erupted and accused him of asking the Soviet Union “to sit like a schoolboy with his hands on his desk,”[26] charging that “the United States seems to regard Soviet defense of its vital interests as miscalculation.”[27]

Trying to find common ground, Kennedy stated “We regard the present balance of power between the Sino-Soviet forces and the forces of the United States and Western Europe as being more or less in balance.”[28]  After stroking the Soviet Premier’s ego, he then suggested the West should stay in its sphere of influence and that the Soviet Union do likewise so as to avoid upsetting the balance of power.[29] Having made recent gains in the Third World, Khrushchev was not interested in cutting the USSR off from part of its growing power base.

After further unproductive exchanges, the Soviet Premier took the initiative:

The USSR does not wish any change; it merely wants to formalize the situation which has resulted from World War II…East Germany is an ally of the socialist countries and this should be recognized as a fait accompli.  East Germany has new demarcation lines and these lines should become borders…The position of the GDR should be normalized and her sovereignty ensured.  To do all this it is necessary to eliminate the occupation rights in West Berlin.  No such rights should exist there.[30]

Not mentioning the word, Kennedy was trying to avoid any miscalculation with his response:

The signing of a peace treaty is not a belligerent act…However a peace treaty denying us our contractual rights is a belligerent act.  The matter of a peace treaty with East Germany is a matter for Mr. Khrushchev’s judgment and is not a belligerent act.  What is a belligerent act is transfer of our rights to East Germany.[31]

Khrushchev gave a hypothetical example:

If you insisted on US rights after the signing of a peace treaty and if the borders of the GDR—land, air, or sea borders—were violated, they would be defended…Force would be met with force…If the US wanted war, that was its problem.[32]

Taken aback by Khrushchev’s intransigence and gritting his teeth, Kennedy replied, “It will be a cold winter.”[33]

One member of Kennedy’s entourage compared the mood on the flight back to the United States as “riding with the losing baseball team after the World Series.  Nobody said very much.”[34]  One American diplomat reasoned that the summit had been:

the golden opportunity for him to be charming, to have Jackie charm Khrushchev, and then have Kennedy come in and say, ‘Now look, I want to say this perfectly straight.  Get your bloody hands off Berlin or we’ll destroy you.’[35]

Kennedy later told New York Times writer James Reston that the Vienna summit had been the “roughest thing in my life” and that Khrushchev “just beat the hell out of me.”[36]  He reasoned, “The son of a bitch has got to see me move.”[37]

In East Germany, post-Vienna momentum was making a peace treaty between the USSR and GDR seem more likely.  On June 15, responding to a reporter’s question about where the boundaries in Berlin of a post-peace treaty GDR would be, Ulbricht answered oddly, “No one has the intention of building a wall.”[38]  That he would mention the word wall when the reporter did not ask about one implied that a wall was at least under consideration.  According to historian Hope Harrison, Ulbricht may have:

deliberately made the comments about the wall knowing that this would stimulate panic in the GDR and accelerate the exodus.  Khrushchev would then feel compelled to finally acquiesce in closing the border and signing a separate peace treaty.[39]

Torschlusspanik—the increasing anxiety of East Germans over the decision to leave now before it was too late—was rising.

In an Oval Office address on July 25, Kennedy stated the case for West Berlin:

West Berlin…is more than a showcase of liberty, a symbol, an island of freedom in a communist sea.  It is even more than a link with the Free World, a beacon of hope behind the Iron Curtain, an escape hatch for refugees.  West Berlin is all of that.  But above all it has now become—as never before—the great testing place of Western courage and will, a focal point where our solemn commitments stretching back over the years since 1946, and Soviet ambitions now meet in basic confrontation.  The United States is there; the United Kingdom and France are there; the pledge of NATO is there—and the people of Berlin are there.  It is as secure, in that sense, as the rest of us—for we cannot separate its safety from our own… And if there is one path above all others to war, it is the path of weakness and disunity.[40]

His words weren’t only meant to galvanize American public opinion though.  By mentioning ‘West Berlin’ 17 times, Kennedy was sending a message to Khrushchev: Do what you must in East Berlin in order to stabilize East Germany but don’t touch Western access rights or West Berlin.

This logic had support elsewhere.  On a Sunday television show July 30, Senator William Fulbright and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee offered his opinion:

The truth of the matter is, I think, the Russians have the power to close it in any case.  Next week, if they chose to close their borders, they could, without violating any treaty.  I don’t understand why the East Germans don’t close their border because I think they have a right to close it.[41]

Fulbright misspoke when he said a closure would have been legal.  But he, like Kennedy, was being pragmatic.  Even Khrushchev remarked, “Fulbright is a smart man, he does not want war.”[42]

As Kennedy saw it:

Khrushchev is losing East Germany.  He cannot let that happen.  If East Germany goes, so will Poland and all of Eastern Europe.  He will have to do something to stop the flow of refugees.  Perhaps a wall.  And we won’t be able to prevent it.  I can hold the Alliance together to defend West Berlin, but I cannot act to keep East Berlin open.[43]

We now know that the decision to erect the barrier that became the Berlin Wall was made in July.[44]  However, Ulbricht was told to wait but surreptitiously “prepare everything for a future contingency.”[45]  Ulbricht tasked GDR Party Security Secretary and his protégé, Eric Honecker with acquiring the necessary materials and organizing construction teams.  To avoid suspicion, the building materials were acquired using multiple East German purchasers who in turn ordered from multiple businesses; primarily in West Germany and the UK.  Lenin’s prediction that

‘The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them’ was coming true.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 13, East German police (Volkspolizei, Vopos) formed human chains, blocking all of the East-West Berlin crossing points.  Barbed wire and other entanglements were soon in place.  Freedom of movement inside Berlin ended for East Berliners.  US Chief of Mission of West Berlin, Allan Lightner Jr., cabled an understatement of understatements to Washington, “There seems to be something going on in East Berlin.”[46]  Despite diplomatic protests, the Western powers did nothing of any real significance.  A radio station in East Berlin repeated the joke, “Did you hear that [West Berlin Mayor] Brandt called the allies for help?  Yes, I heard, but the allies didn’t.”[47]

While he couldn’t express it in public, in private, President Kennedy was relieved:[48]

It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.  Why would Khrushchev put up a wall if he really intended to seize West Berlin?  There wouldn’t be any need of a wall if he occupied the whole city.  This is his way out of his predicament.[49]

In public, Kennedy needed to reassure the American people and more importantly, his allies.  He decided to send the hero of the Berlin Blockade—and registered Republican—Lucius Clay to Berlin as his personal representative on August 30.  Although Clay had no formal powers, he reported to no one other than the President.

Though the GDR stopped its refugee crisis, it still had another problem: it was unrecognized by most of the international community.  Volkspolizei began pulling over Western vehicles on the autobahn connecting West Germany to West Berlin demanding to see motorists’ identification.  Complying would lend—at least—a modicum of recognition to the East German state, thereby setting a legal precedent from which to build upon.  The standard operating procedure was, therefore to refuse and request to a Soviet official to intercede.  However, if stopped between West Germany and West Berlin, it often took quite some time before a Soviet official could arrive and thus, these stops were—aside from infringing on Western access rights—a considerable nuisance.  Amongst Clay’s first actions was to send US troops down the autobahn leading to and from West Berlin in random intervals to demonstrate an American presence while simultaneously asserting Western access rights.  If a Western vehicle stopped by Volkspolizei was spotted, the courtesy patrols—as they were known—would escort that vehicle to its intended destination.  Besides helping travelers, the courtesy patrols also served to maintain Western refusal to recognize the GDR.  One State Department cable read, “A problem that had vexed U.S. officials was settled by a simple action, and one can only wonder why it had not been taken before.”[50]

The Berlin Wall wasn’t really a wall on August 13, 1961. On August 17 though, brick and motor began replacing barbed wire section by section.  Walter Ulbricht declared that no one should approach within 100 meters on either side or they risked being shot.  He referred to these 100-meter exclusion zones as Todesstreifen (death strips).  Clay organized American soldiers who would drive along the western Todesstreifen in armored vehicles, again asserting Western rights and resolve.

The Soviets wanted predictable responses.  On August 9—four days before the border closure—a hero from the Battle of Berlin and recently retired Soviet Marshal, Ivan Konev was sent to East Berlin to ensure that nothing unpredictable occurred.  Clay’s modus operandi was to be unpredictable since he reasoned the Soviets would not allow the East Germans to risk an armed confrontation requiring Soviet assistance.  Such a confrontation would have revealed the GDR as a Soviet puppet state, not worthy of international recognition.  While Clay was becoming a local celebrity in West Berlin, in Washington his antics were unpopular, being deemed too provocative.  Following an incident in which he risked another provocation in a West Berlin suburb named Steinstücken, Clay cabled to Kennedy “I am not afraid of escalation.”[51]  Responding to criticism within the Kennedy administration—though not from the President himself—Clay argued “I can be of no real service if it is deemed wise to be extremely cautious in Berlin.”[52]  He offered to resign on October 18.

On October 22, Allan Lightner Jr. and his wife drove up to the Volkspolizei guard post at Checkpoint Charlie (the primary intra-Berlin checkpoint) and were promptly asked for identification.  Lightner refused and demanded to see a Soviet representative.  While waiting, he used his car phone to notify Lucius Clay of the situation.  After 45 minutes and no Soviet representative had appeared, Lightner apologized to the guards and drove off slowly towards East Berlin before being stopped a second time and surrounded by a larger group of Vopos.  By now, two squads of American soldiers were assembled at the American side of Checkpoint Charlie and marched to Lightner’s assistance.  Outgunned, the Vopos watched as Lightner and his escort went into East Berlin.  In order to drive home his point, Lightner went through Checkpoint Charlie two more times before a Soviet representative appeared.  The Soviet official apologized for the East German behavior but also criticized the American response.[53]  The following day, the GDR announced a new regulation whereby every person crossing into and departing East Berlin would have their identification checked except Western military personnel in uniform.

On October 25, Clay sent forward a probe of two American soldiers dressed in civilian clothes and as expected, they were stopped.  American diplomat Howard Trivers was on hand for such a situation and duly summoned a Soviet official.  This time, however, the Soviet official replied that the Americans must comply with GDR regulations.  Clay then ordered ten American tanks to park on the West Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie while a squad of US soldiers escorted the car through.  The Soviet official looked at Trivers and said, “We have tanks too.”[54]

More than half of the US tanks were equipped with bulldozer blades.  Konev worried that if the Americans decided to knock down the wall, the East Germans might shoot.  He resolved to prevent this and assembled ten Soviet tanks on the East Berlin side of Checkpoint Charlie.  Before they arrived, the order was given for the Soviet tank men to cover their insignias with mud and dress in all black uniforms in order to conceal their identity, though it was hardly in doubt.  East German tanks (or troops of any kind) in East or West Berlin would have violated the Potsdam Agreement. The tanks were now facing one another only 100 meters apart.

A short time later, Kennedy telephoned Clay who reported to his boss:

Clay:        What we’ve done is prove that the Russians are still in charge.

Kennedy: Well, that’s all right.  Don’t lose your nerves.

Clay:        Mr. President, we’re not worried about losing our nerves over here.  What we’re worried about is whether people in Washington are losing theirs.

Kennedy: [Possibly with Clay’s resignation letter in mind—Kennedy had not responded] I’ve got a lot of people here that have, but I haven’t.[55]

After sixteen hours, the Soviet tanks were ordered to pull back.  Shortly thereafter, the Americans matched their Soviet counterparts.  The ‘meeting of the tanks’ was the only time in the Cold War in which American and Soviet armor confronted one another at point-blank range.

We now know that the Soviets were extremely worried by Ulbricht’s escalatory measures and the American responses to those measures.  Khrushchev ordered Konev, who was—although unknown publicly—in charge of all Soviet and East German forces in Berlin, “Not one shot without permission from Moscow.”[56]  The whole purpose of Ulbricht’s escalation was to achieve international recognition for the GDR.  That the Soviets intervened showed that they didn’t fully trust the decision-making apparatus of their East German ally.  Ulbricht’s plans for international recognition would be set back by a decade.

At the heart of the ‘German Question’ was Berlin; a city that during the Cold War became a physical and psychological frontline between two ideologically opposed superpowers.  While the actions taken by the GDR on August 13, 1961 were illegal, it was an illegality that the West could live with; European stability was the common ground upon which Kennedy and Khrushchev stood.  The Berlin Wall ended the East German refugee crisis but, to paraphrase Khrushchev, the game continued.[57]  On September 3, 1971 the four Allied powers signed the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin.  That agreement paved the way for the bilateral Basic Treaty, signed between West and East Germany on December 21, 1972 which allowed for mutual diplomatic recognition of one another and by extension, the rest of the world.  When asked when the wall might be removed, Khrushchev told West German Ambassador to the USSR Hans Kroll, “The wall will disappear again someday, but only when the reasons for its construction disappear.”[58]  No one knew it at the time, but after the signing of the Basic Treaty, the Berlin Wall only had 17 more years to live.  But that is another story.

 

Works Cited

Békés, Csaba.  Conversation.  3 October 2015.

Brinkley, Douglas. Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years 1953-1971. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1994.

“For West Berlin, lying exposed”: JFKL, Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, President Kennedy, The White House. July 25, 1961. http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/JFK/003POF03BerlinCrisis07251961.htm.

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1959-1963. vol. XIV. U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs. 1991.

Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1997.

Harrison, Hope. Driving the Soviets Up the Wall. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2003.

Kempe, Frederick. Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth. New York: Berkley Books. 2011.

Miller, Roger. To Save a City: The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949. College Station: Texas A&M University Press. 2008.

“News Conference Remarks by Chairman Ulbricht Spelling Out the Consequences of Creating a ‘Free City’ of West Berlin, 15 June 1961.” Documents on Germany, 1944-1985. U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs. 1985.

‪“Notes of a Conference among Marshal Zhukov, General Clay, and General Weeks on Surface and Air Access to Berlin.” 29 June 1945.

“N. S. Khurshchev’s Speech at the Soviet-Polish Friendship Meeting (November 10, 1958).” Embree, ed., The Soviet Union and the German Question.

O’Donnell, Kenneth, Powers, David, and Joe McCarthy. Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. New York: Little Brown & Co. 1972.

Smyser, W. R. Kennedy and the Berlin Wall. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2010.

Sokolowski, John A., and Catherine M. Burns. Modeling and Simulations for Analyzing Global Events. Hoboken: Wiley. 2009.

Taubman, William. Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1994.

Those who had worked: Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Interview with Kempton B. Jenkins, Foreign Affairs OH. Interview conducted February 23, 1995 (copyright 1998 ADST). Box: 1 Fold: 34 Jenkins, Kempton B. (1951-1980). http://www.library.georgetown.edu/dept/speccoll/cl999.htm.

Wirtschaft und Statistik October 1956, Journal published by Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland. (German government Statistical Office).

 

Footnotes

[1] Csaba Békés.  Conversation.  3 October 2015.

[2] Roger Miller, To Save a City: The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008), 13.

[3] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 23.

[4] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 40.

[5] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), XIX.

[6] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 99.

[7] Wirtschaft und Statistik October 1956, Journal published by Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland. (German government Statistical Office).

[8] Ibid., 73.

[9] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 100.

[10] Ibid., 169.

[11] Ibid., 76.

[12] John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), 150.

[13] “N. S. Khurshchev’s Speech at the Soviet-Polish Friendship Meeting (November 10, 1958),” in Embree, ed., The Soviet Union and the German Question, 18.

[14] John A. Sokolowski and Catherine M. Burns, Modeling and Simulations for Analyzing Global Events (Hoboken: Wiley, 2009), 182.

[15] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 21.

[16] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 172.

[17] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 23.

[18] Douglas Brinkley, Dean Acheson: The Cold War Years 1953-1971 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 127.

[19] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 167.

[20] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 201.

[21] Kenneth O’Donnell, David Powers, and Joe McCarthy, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (New York: Little Brown & Co., 1972), 299-300.

[22] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 175.

[23] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 62.

[24] William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994), 485.

[25] Kenneth O’Donnell, David Powers, and Joe McCarthy, Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye: Memories of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (New York: Little Brown & Co., 1972), 294.

[26] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 65.

[27] Ibid., 66.

[28] Ibid., 66.

[29] Ibid., 67.

[30] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 176.

[31] Ibid.,177.

[32] Ibid., 177.

[33] Ibid., 177.

[34] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 258.

[35] Those who had worked: Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, Interview with Kempton B. Jenkins, Foreign Affairs OH. Interview conducted February 23, 1995 (copyright 1998 ADST), Box: 1 Fold: 34 Jenkins, Kempton B. (1951-1980): http://www.library.georgetown.edu/dept/speccoll/cl999.htm.

[36] William Taubman, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994), 495.

[37] Ibid., 766.

[38] “News Conference Remarks by Chairman Ulbricht Spelling Out the Consequences of Creating a ‘Free City’ of West Berlin, 15 June 1961,” Documents on Germany, 1944-1985, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, 1985, 737.

[39] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 180.

[40] “For West Berlin, lying exposed”: JFKL, Radio and Television Report to the American People on the Berlin Crisis, President Kennedy, The White House, July 25, 1961: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Historical+Resources/Archives/Reference+Desk/Speeches/JFK/003POF03BerlinCrisis07251961.htm.

[41] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 315-16.

[42] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 192.

[43] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 294.

[44] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 186.

[45] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 55.

[46] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 351.

[47] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 113.

[48] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 383.

[49] Hope Harrison, Driving the Soviets Up the Wall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 207.

[50] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 132.

[51] Ibid., 131.

[52] Ibid., 133.

[53] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1959-1963, vol. XIV, U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, 1991, 524.

[54] Ibid., 524.

[55] W. R. Smyser, Kennedy and the Berlin Wall (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publisher, Inc., 2010), 140.

[56] Ibid., 99.

[57] Ibid., 165.

[58] Frederick Kempe, Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth: Berlin 1961 (New York: Berkley Books, 2011), 294.

Why the Titanic was Found: A US Navy Covert Mission

The ship God himself could not sink found tinged in a Cold War tale (Titanic)

TitanicSoon a century will have passed since the April 15th, 1912, sinking of the greatest boat to scarcely float, the RMS Titanic. With a rerelease of the 1997 blockbuster, Titanic100th anniversary postage stamps, memorial cruises (imagine the irony in that), and exhibitions, the legend of the Titanic continues to grow (Brewin). The latest postscript to the tale, however, lays its roots in a supposed covert US Naval Intelligence mission during the Cold War.

All But a Sub-par Search For Titanic

A new National Geographic documentary set to premiere on April 9th, uncovers an alternate mission and larger purpose behind the discovery of the Titanic’s 73-year-old ocean resting place. After four previous attempts to uncover the ship’s remains off the coast of Canada, the ocean’s own Indiana Jones, veteran of more than 125 sea expeditions, Dr. Robert Ballard,set sail (West).

The professor of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island says, though, that this expedition, was not to uncover the Titanic, but to find the reactors and weapons from two sunken US nuclear submarines, the USS Scorpion and Thresher, who have interesting histories in themselves as the only nuclear submarines the US Navy has ever lost (West).

Scorpion, Stung by Soviets

USS_Thresher__SSN-593__launchingThe USS Scorpion specialized in the development of submarine warfare tactics, participating in exercises that cast her in varying roles, from hunter to the hunted, to intelligence-driven missions (Wikipedia). After 3 months of deployment and what has been unofficially recounted as a mission to spy on a Soviet submarine, the Scorpion was set to arrive at homeport at 1pm on May 29th, but something had gone amiss. A week before, unofficial reports suggest that the USS Scorpion had failed to respond to encrypted messages from headquarters regarding it’s home-coming, the impetus to a the seaboard-wide search-mission redirection of all Navy vessels still unverified by official Navy records (Offley).

Officially, the failure to break radio silence in the early morning of the day of arrival had sent the Atlantic Submarine Force headquarters into a bustling panic. At 3:15, event SUBMISS at 271915Z for USS Scorpion ETA NORVA had been executed (Offley). The USS Scorpion was officially missing.

Official reports never concluded what ended in the deaths of the 99 sailors aboard and a submarine buried in mystique and poignancy. Unofficial reports and interviews with former Soviet and US sailors paint a tale of a Cold War confrontation concealed in an attempt to avoid an escalation and to persist a status quo (Offley). Unofficial reports suggest that the Navy had known all along where the USS Scorpion lay, “officially” being hauled back to harbor five months after it had missed its Norfolk arrival (ibid).

With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic approaching and Dr. Ballard’s claims of a covert mission to uncover the nuclear remnants of the USS Scorpion, the tale of the Titanic and the US Navy’s interweaving mission only becomes more mythical with the story behind the second nuclear submarine, the USS Thresher.

Dasvidanya, USS Thresher Drowns in Atlantic Depths

“Experiencing minor problems…positive up angle…attempting to blow up…” were the last words of a revolutionary “hunter-killer” submarine designed to quietly hunt enemy (Soviet) submarines and dispatch of them at the Empire State building depths (Polner).

The USS Thresher was a nuclear-powered attack submarine, known for its well-trained sailors and revolutionary ability. It sunk during Test Depth exercises off the eastern seaboard in 1963 (Polner). Officially, the cause of the accident is believed to have been a pipe malfunction that led to an electrical malfunction, which quickly turned into a literal crushing of the hull of the nuclear sub as it plunged below maximum safety depth of 1,900 feet (ibid). Though officially reported to be an accident, rumors abounded regarding a second crater near the wreck site, possible evidence, many believed to be of the existence of a previously sunken Soviet submarine that collided with the US war-machine (ibid).

Because the submarine had been off the Atlantic coastal shelf (drawing a maximum depth of 600 feet), it sunk to the sea floor, over 8,000 feet below (Polner). Official reports have the USS Thresher’s remains being found by a deep sea sonar and diving submarine and dredging hooks, with findings that the submarine was not carrying nuclear weapons nor had the nuclear reactor broken up as it fell to the bottom of the ocean (Aerospace).

A Titanic Cover-Up

Of course the official findings, rumors, and now the claims made by Dr. Ballard all point to the discovery of the Titanic in Atlantic coastal waters to be shrouded in the history of the Cold War. The most grandiose vessel of the time laid at the bottom of the ocean, hidden from the world for over seven decades, while two equally grandiose military vessels, met their fates, either by accident or as casualties to the Cold War.

Dr. Ballard’s mission, still during the Cold War, in 1985, may have been much more.

According to Dr. Ballard his “mission was to find those reactors and find those weapons. But we didn’t want the Soviets to know that we were doing that or they’d put a satellite on us and we’d lead them to our submarines…so we needed a cover, and I suggested, naturally, the Titanic, because I wanted to find the Titanic. And so we then went out and did our covert operations and then went and did the Titanic” (West).

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Lint Center Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. or any employee thereof. The Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Lint Center Bloggers.


About the Authors:

Brittany Minder received her BA in International Relations from Stanford University and she serves as the Lint Center’s Public & External Affairs Associate.

Tim Coleman serves as the Center’s Director of Communications.


References:

  1. Titanic. 1997. Movie.
  2. Brewin, Kester. 5 April, 2012. 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of Titanic, 15 April: A grand Vision and Enduring Tragedy. TES. http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6204415&s_cid=tesmagazinehome
  3. West, Erik. 5 April, 2012. New Documentary Claims Mission to Find Titanic ‘was covert US Navy Operation.’ The Australian Eye. http://www.theaustralianeye.com/news/new-documentary-claims-mission-to-find-titanic-was-covert-us-navy-operation-aoi35826650.html
  4. ibid
  5. 5 April 2012. USS Scorpion (SSN-589). Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Scorpion_(SSN-589)
  6. Offley, Ed. 26 August, 2009. Retrieved 5 April, 2012. The USS Scorpion Buried at Sea. http://www.historynet.com/the-uss-scorpion-buried-at-sea.htm
  7. ibid
  8. ibid
  9. ibid
  10. Retrieved on 5 April, 2012. “The Death of the USS Thresher: 129 Men Perished in the 1962 Submarine’s Sinking-Norman Polmar-The Death of the USS Thresher. Epinions.com.
  11. ibid
  12. ibid
  13. ibid
  14. Retrieved on 5 April, 2012. Aerospaceweb.org Ask Us-Broken Arrow Nuclear Weapon Accidents. Aerospaceweb.org.
  15. ibid
  16. West, Erik. 5 April, 2012. New Documentary Claims Mission to Find Titanic ‘was covert US Navy Operation.’ The Australian Eye. http://www.theaustralianeye.com/news/new-documentary-claims-mission-to-find-titanic-was-covert-us-navy-operation-aoi35826650.html