119. Message From the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (Norstad) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff1

Exclusive for Gen Lemnitzer from Gen Norstad. Info exclusive for Gen Clarke from Gen Norstad, eyes only. From all reports, the West Berliners continue to be strong and of good morale, considering the circumstances, but they have clearly indicated strong dissatisfaction and disappointment with the developments of the situation since the events of last weekend. Messages from Lightner in Berlin and press reports of British Ambassador Steel’s reaction to his Berlin trip yesterday would suggest that the situation is quieting down. Bruce Clarke has told me over the phone that from his air and ground inspection completed yesterday morning, he felt that the situation was relatively quiet. I was surprised, therefore, to receive your message this morning2 with the news of the action that it is proposed to take over the coming weekend. However, Clarke has just confirmed to me that we are prepared to move the battle group on receipt of orders.

Although my views have not been solicited, I think the seriousness of the situation demands that I advise you of my thoughts. I agree, of course, that there is no military justification for the movement of a battle group to Berlin at this time. 12 to 13 thousand men could do very little in the military sense that could not be done almost equally well by the 10 to 11 thousand that make up the combined Allied garrison in Berlin at this time. Further, the movement of the battle group from its normal station could be considered a weakening diversion, although this is not a really serious point. From the political and the psychological standpoints, I assume higher authority has given consideration to the reaction of the West Berliners to a combat reinforcement of this relative magnitude, that is, substantially a 50% increase in U.S. fighting strength. Since Lightner has indicated in message Berlin to State 141, Aug 17,3 that they appear not to be concerned with their own physical well-being, there is the danger of their expecting armed action to restore the status quo ante. [Page 351] I gather from your message that the force will be given no mission but to remain in Berlin, and this means, of course, remaining in Berlin indefinitely.

I fully recognize the desirability, if not the necessity, of acknowledging the concern of Brandt and the West Berliners, but I would hope that this could be done by filling established and legitimate military needs which could be sustained on a long-term basis. For instance, we long ago established a requirement for an Engineer company and 9 additional APC’s for the Berlin garrison. With all its associated and transport vehicles, a total of about 40, this would make an impressive convoy entering Berlin. In addition to that, some of the permanent Berlin garrison is in Wildflecken undergoing routine training. The overland movement of these elements, involving 600 troops, back to Berlin would require an additional convoy of at least 30 two-and-a-half-ton trucks. The movement of these two convoys into Berlin would certainly be a token of the seriousness of our intentions, would have a valid military basis, and would not run the risk of being unnecessarily provocative at a critical time.

In the light of the atmosphere at the time this subject was considered, I can readily appreciate the desire to dramatize our action by sending the Vice President to Berlin. However, recognizing that this is entirely a matter of personal judgment, I feel that with the relatively quieter atmosphere of this morning, the Vice President’s trip might be wasted. The delivery of the President’s reply to the Brandt letter by the hands of the hero of a Berlin crisis of an earlier day, General Lucius Clay, would appear to me to be a brilliant stroke; but to add to this the great stature of the Vice President would be overdoing it, and would run the risk of exciting great expectations in West Berlin and possibly also among the unhappy East Germans. This is a big gun which we may need and need badly in the weeks and months to come.

I recognize that a firm decision may have been made, and I am prepared to see that that part of it which falls within my bailiwick is carried out promptly and effectively. If circumstances permit, however, I hope that you will discuss this further with Secretary McNamara.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Norstad Papers, Policy File, Berlin-Live Oak. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Repeated to USAREUR.
  2. Lemnitzer’s cable, August 18, summarized the discussion at the August 17 Steering Group meeting (see Document 118), noted McNamara’s and his military objections to sending a battle group to Berlin, and concluded that the “decision was made for political, psychological and morale purposes and not for military reasons.” (Eisenhower Library, Norstad Papers, Policy File, Berlin-Live Oak)
  3. Telegram 141 to Paris (226 to the Department of State), August 17, in a general assessment of measures that might be taken in Berlin, proposed strengthening the Berlin garrison for the political effect it would have on the local population. (Department of State, Central Files, 762.0221/8-1761)