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 Berlin Crisis (1958-1963) State Dept Secret History & Documents

Berlin Crisis (1958-1963)
U.S. State Department Secret History
& Historical Document Transcripts

2,310 pages of the State Department's formerly secret history of the Berlin Crisis and Department of State transcripts of documents related to the Berlin Crisis.


Berlin Crisis (1958-1963)

On November 10, 1958, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech in which he demanded that the Western powers of the United States, Great Britain and France pull their forces out of West Berlin within six months. This ultimatum sparked a three year crisis over the future of the city of Berlin that culminated in 1961 with the building of the Berlin Wall. The division of Germany and its capital city of Berlin among the four victors of the Second World War was frozen in time by the onset of the Cold War despite the postwar agreements to unify the zones.

In the summer of 1961, President John F. Kennedy met with Khrushchev in Vienna to address the ongoing issue of Berlin, in addition to the countries' competing interests in Laos, and the question of disarmament. Although they agreed to further discussions on Laos, they found no solution to the Berlin problem. In the wake of the conference, Khrushchev once again gave the United States six months to withdraw from Berlin. Kennedy responded by activating 150,000 reservists and increasing defense expenditures, in preparation for a potential conflict over the future of the city. Unwilling to face a potential nuclear escalation over the city, Khrushchev prepared to take his own form of action.

On the morning of August 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to discover that on the orders of East German leader Walter Ulbricht, a barbed wire fence had gone up overnight separating West and East Berlin and preventing movement between the two sides. The barbed wire fence was soon expanded to include cement walls and guard towers. The Berlin Wall would prevent the West from having further influence on the East, stop the flow of migrants out of the communist sector, and ultimately become the most iconic image of the Cold War in Europe.

On October 27, 1961, the Soviets deployed 10 tanks on their side of Checkpoint Charlie, and U.S. and Soviet tanks stood a mere 100 yards apart from each other. The confrontation made headlines around the world, and until Moscow and Washington mutually agreed to pull back, it looked as if the Cold War would become hot.


Crisis over Berlin - A Top Secret Study Produced by the State Department's Historical Office.

677 pages of the Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Historian Records, Research Project 614, "Crisis Over Berlin: American Policy Concerning the Soviet Threats to Berlin, November 1958-December 1962," published in six parts between October 1966 and April 1970, and classified as "Top Secret." The parts include:

Part I: Renewed Soviet Threats against Berlin and the Western Response, November 1958-April 1959

Part II: The Geneva Foreign Ministers Meeting, May-August 1959

Part III: From the End of the Geneva Foreign Ministers Meeting to the Abortive Summit Meeting, August 1958-May 1960

Part IV: Developments during the Final Phase of the Eisenhower Administration, June 1960-January 1961

Part V: Developments in the Early Phase of the Kennedy Administration and the Meeting with Khrushchev at Vienna, January-June 1961

Part VI: Deepening Crisis over Berlin: Communist Challenges and Western Responses, June-September 1961, (includes Documentary Appendix)

"Crisis over Berlin" was produced by the Historical Office of the Department of State at the request of Martin J. Hillenbrand, a senior Foreign Service Officer and scholar of Germany. Hillenbrand requested the document in his capacity as Deputy Head of the Berlin Task Force (BTF), an interagency body charged with coordinating responses to the Berlin Crisis.

Hillenbrand's formal request of March 4, 1963 notes that the BTF found military histories of the crisis operationally helpful. Hillenbrand also hoped a State Department project focusing on the diplomatic aspects of the Berlin Crisis would also aid others in the future. Hillenbrand in a letter to Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Robert J. Manning, on March 4, 1963, wrote that he hoped the study would be, "useful in the future when the history of this particular foreign policy problem comes to be written."

The Historical Office accepted the task on March 22, 1963. Dr. Arthur Kogan was relieved of his other duties to fulfill Hillenbrand's request. In a memorandum of conversation between Hillenbrand, Kogan, and Edwin S. Costrell dated April 1, 1963, Hillenbrand is recorded emphasizing the historical importance of the project, requesting a "thorough" account of "some length."

Kogan received extensive access to highly classified Department of State documents for the purpose of creating a comprehensive account of the Crisis events. To address Hillenbrand's request for a comprehensive account, Kogan designed an eight-part study covering the period November 1958-December 1962. Kogan transmitted the draft of Part I to Hillenbrand on August 21, 1964. Hillenbrand extensively involved himself in the project, critiquing Part I in detail. Kogan noted, "Your comments and suggestions regarding Part I were most helpful and they have been fully taken into account in the drafting of the final version."

While waiting for Hillenbrand's comments on Part I, Kogan finished drafts of Parts II, III, and IV. Hillenbrand, newly appointed Minister to Bonn, brought Kogan to Berlin in June 1965 so he could take an aerial tour of the city and speak to key actors in the Berlin crisis. Soon after the completion of this trip, Kogan was appointed Chief of the Research Guidance and Review Branch of the State Department's Historical Office. Kogan's new duties prevented him from working extensively on the Berlin study; he noted regretfully on January 24, 1967 that Hillenbrand's revisions to Parts II, III, IV, and V had not been included and that his work on the draft of Part VI was incomplete. Kogan sent Part VI to Hillenbrand on June 14, 1967. Writing that he would not be able to undertake the final two sections of the study, he expressed his belief that the present study, extending to September 1961, was sufficiently detailed to accomplish Hillenbrand's goals.

The final copy of Part II was sent to Hillenbrand on August 11, 1969. The transmission letter for Part II stated that Parts III, IV, V, and VI, "will be given the final treatment before many months." In March and April of 1970, Hillenbrand, who then was serving as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR), sent final versions of the Parts I through VI to senior officials in EUR, the Executive Secretariat to the Secretary of State, the United States Embassy in Bonn, and the National Security Council.

State Department Berlin Crisis Documents Transcripts

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961�1963, Volume XIV, Berlin Crisis, 1961�1962

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961�1963, Volume XV, Berlin Crisis, 1962�1963

1,633 pages, covering 573 documents in two volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) series covering the Berlin Crisis. Produced by the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, The FRUS series presents the official documentary historical record of major foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity of the United States Government. These volumes document the facts and events that contributed to the formulation of policies and includes evidence of supporting and alternative views to the policy positions ultimately adopted.

The Berlin Crisis volumes present a comprehensive collection of the records of President Kennedy's meetings with heads of state and government with respect to Berlin. Also presented are records of the principal negotiations on policy and military contingency planning regarding Germany and the Berlin Crisis that took place among the Western Allies as well as with representatives of the Soviet Union.

The Department of State historians focused on the major lines of the development of the Crisis, the editors have expanded the principles of selection adopted for previous volumes documenting the Berlin problem, focusing more extensively on its military aspects. They have also presented a record of the U.S. reaction and response to the major political events within the Federal Republic of Germany insofar as they figured directly in ongoing high-level political negotiations.

Intelligence information regarding Soviet intentions with respect to Berlin and Germany in general was vitally important during the Berlin Crisis and found its way into political documents the historians selected for publication. The editors did not, however, attempt to document any particular operational activities by intelligence authorities in connection with the German problem or to explore the scope and impact of intelligence operations.

Sections in the two volumes include:

January-May 1961: Consideration of the Question of Germany and Berlin

June-July 1961: The Summit Conference at Vienna June 3-4; NSAM No. 58; the Western Reply to the June 4 Soviet Aide-Memoire

July-August 1961: NSAM No. 62; the Second Acheson Report on Berlin; Meeting of the Four Western Foreign Ministers at Paris

August-September 1961: The Division of Berlin; the Brandt-Kennedy Correspondence; Vice President Johnson's Trip to Berlin; General Clay's Appointment as Special Representative to Berlin;
NSAMs No. 92 and 94; Meeting of the Four Western Foreign Ministers at Washington

September-October 1961: Conversations with Foreign Minister Gromyko; Beginning of the Pal Correspondence

October-November 1961: The Crisis at the Friedrichstrasse Crossing

November-December 1961: Discussions among the Four Western Allies on Negotiations with the Soviet Union

December 1961-January 1962: First Meetings between Ambassador Thompson and Foreign Minister Gromyko

February-March 1962: Final Meetings between Ambassador Thompson and Foreign Minister Gromyko; Beginning of the Crisis over Air Access to Berlin

March 1962: Discussion of Berlin at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee Meetings at Geneva

April-May 1962: Differences between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany

May�July 1962: Further Discussions in Washington, Geneva, and Moscow

August-September 1962: Contingency Planning, the Death of Peter Fechter, and the Abolition of the Office of the Soviet Commandant

September�November 1962: U.S. Policy on Berlin during the Cuban Missile Crisis

November 1962�January 1963: Allied Consideration of Resuming Talks with the Soviet Union

January�June 1963: Resumption of Talks with the Soviet Union and President Kennedy's Trip to Germany

June-October 1963: Discussions at Moscow, New York, and Washington

October-December 1963: Convoy Incidents and Chancellor Erhard's Visit to the United States