Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Martha Mautner


INT: The Checkpoint Charlie incident, that's after the barrier has become a wall. Can you describe how it came about and whether it was a provocation by General Clay and how much did he just gauge it right?

MM: It was an... it had an accidental...

INT: (Interrupts) Can you start by saying the Checkpoint Charlie...

MM: The Checkpoint Charlie crisis had an accidental initiation, but then escalated very quickly. It started when our chief in Berlin, Alan Leitner, and his wife were going over to East Berlin to go to the opera and the East German guards at the checkpoint stopped them, demanded to see their identification. The tradition in Berlin up until that time was an allied licence plate was sufficient to allow you to go into East Berlin with no control by the East Germans, you were just waved through, you were subject to quadro-partheid control, not to East German control and the East Germans had begun a probe to start controlling all kinds of traffic going in and I don't think they probably realised that... who Leitner was when they stopped him. But he knew who he was and he refused to show his identification. They stopped him, he went back to the American checkpoint, got a military guard, which was stationed there and presented himself to the control and they wouldn't let him through. The second time, he got a larger contingent of military with guns, they escorted him through the checkpoint and he went through, drove around East Berlin, came back. Then he tried it again, to register the point with the East Germans, same routine, they stopped him again. He.. Mrs Leitner was told to get out and stay back in the American side, General Clay was in charge here, he was already in telephone contact with them. Leitner tried to go through, was stopped again, the military guard came and escorted him through and went through the same whole routine. At which point we protested to the Soviet authorities, who were then... by then on the scene, they said they had nothing to do, they had a new head who came in there, probably from the KGB chief, who was negotiating, he went around to see that there was no follow-up on this business and decided to just let things ride. We protested this action to the Soviets and the next day started to send other people through. By that time, the Soviets had decided they were going to push a point. They probably had not put the East Germans up to this, but saw a chance to push something through easily and see if they could get by, because the British had already undercut the allied position by showing their passes. Their Chief of Mission had gone over to East Berlin and dutifully showed his passport to the East German guards, so the Soviets thought here was a chance to split the alliance and go on from there. At which point, General Clay stepped into the action and took it under his own wing. He started sending people over on a regular basis and then when the East Germans tried to stop it, he pulled up tanks to Checkpoint Charlie and stationed them there, at which point then people in Washington began to get scared, because this was being provocative. Clay's calculation was that the Soviets were responsible for East Berlin, not the East Germans, and he was determined that the Soviets would recognise their responsibility there. That Thursday evening, Soviet tanks moved in from outside the city. They had not been... there had been no Soviet military presence noted in East Berlin during the first couple of days of the wall cris... had not been noted in there during the period after the wall crisis, and the tanks moved in under cover of darkness and they were... their insignias, as far as we know, were painted over, so nobody could figure out whether they were East German tanks or Soviet ones. However, the people who were listening in on all of the radio apparatuses heard this... the directions were in Russian, not in German, and so they were not worried about it at all. This was exactly what Clay wanted. In Washington, however, there was panic in some quarters, because they were afraid this was East German confrontation, that they were going to come down to the wall and be East German tanks facing the Americans. Those of us on the hard side said that'd never be the case, because the Soviets would nev

INT: But what were the risks if some trigger happy sergeant had taken action?

MM: There wouldn't have been a trigger happy sergeant there. The soldiers in Berlin were specially vetted and trained for this job. There was... and so were the Soviets, by the way, on their side, that with all of the problems, the tensions and the crisis, you never had really a clash between the soldiers, because they knew how to restrain themselves, how to follow orders and never to do anything untoward. And if anything had happened accidentally, both sides would have quickly pulled in their horns to see that it was resolved. They knew very well whathe score was, so that there was less danger of an accidental confrontation in Berlin tthere would have been in any place else and this point, I don't think, was ever valued here in Washington, where the President personally and of course people around him were so afraid that some trigger happy sergeant, as you put it, would get us into world war.

INT: Because it's looked as almost more of a potential state for war than the August situation.

MM: But everybody there knew that and therefore acted accordingly.