Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with George F. Muller
Mr. Trimble, Mr. Burns and I met with the Berlin Commandant, Maj. Gen. Barksdale Hamlett, at the latter's residence in the late afternoon. In the meantime, the general had ordered the Berlin garrison into a state of alert. The GIs were called back from the movies, for instance. The motors of our tanks, stationed on Huettenweg, not far from the Autobahn, were revved up. The general called in the tank task force commander, Major Tyree, and instructed him to hold himself in readiness; if necessary, he wanted to extricate the convoy. We were of course certain that the activity at U.S. HQ would be reported to the Soviets.
At this point Mr. Burns suggested that he and I go over to Soviet HQ in a last effort to resolve the crisis; until we reported back, military action would be held in abeyance. Mr. Trimble and Gen. Hamlett agreed. Findley then asked Mr. Trimble if he could use the ambassadorial Cadillac, flags flying, to impress the guards at Brandenburg Gate with the importance of our mission. When we told the driver to take us to Karlshorst, he said he wasn't sure the Caddy could make it; it had transmission trouble. So we also took Mr. Burns' official car as a backup.
We arrived at Soviet HQ in the early evening; the place was fully lit and we were immediately ushered in to meet the Acting Political Adviser, a major, whose name I forgot. It was obvious that we had been expected. After going through the ritual of assuring the Soviets that the convoy contained only what was on the manifest, the Soviet major told us the convoy would be released. Needless to say, we returned happily and wrote the telegram to Washington saying that this particular crisis was over. (I might mention parenthetically, that Gen. Hamlett was reprimanded by his superior, Gen. Hodes, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Army Europe, on the grounds that he did not have the authority to mount an extrication operation—although this was in his contingency plans. Happily, Gen. Hamlett survived the reprimand and rose to 4-star rank as Vice-Chief-of-Staff, U.S. Army.)
I should perhaps add a word about the inspection of the vehicles, which was one of the things that we constantly had to worry about, and had to coordinate with our allies, the British and the French. As I said, we had an absolute prohibition on the Soviets inspecting our vehicles.
The Brits did not. The reason was that the British lorries were much higher than our trucks. Whereas a Soviet checkpoint officer could look into our trucks and see—the Soviets were always checking for East German refugees or fugitives being smuggled out of Berlin—whereas a Soviet checkpoint control officer could visually inspect our trucks, he could not visually inspect the British trucks. So the Brits permitted them to climb up on the back and look in.
This is the sort of thing that, as Deputy POLAD, I was charged with trying to work out with the British and the French. But of course we also met with our Russian counterpart from time to time, until the Wall crisis. The original Soviet POLAD, Colonel Kotshuiba, had been very difficult to deal with—at least until he had downed a few Vodkas. His successor, Lt. Col. Markushin, was more relaxed and spoke passable German, so I could converse with him before or after the official part of meetings.