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Umbilical to Steinstucken: Army Aviation in the Cold War

Historical Perspective / By Mark Albertson: From 1933 to 1945, Berlin stood as the capital of Nazi Germany.  Yet after a lifespan of only twelve years, the Thousand Year Reich died a miserable death, leaving Berlin to rise from the ashes to take on a significance of a different sort . . . that of focal point of the Cold War;  central to the decades of strategic stalemate between NATO and the Warsaw Pact.  Immersed within the global contest for political and military supremacy was a tiny group of Army Aviators who, over a ten year span, performed an errand of mercy to guarantee the freedom of a nondescript little settlement known as . . . Steinstucken.

Steinstucken a

UH-1 rotor blades encased in concrete, commemoration to Army Aviators who flew the relief of Steinstucken. Erected in 1976, shown after restoration in August 1988.

Steinstucken was an exclave,(1) belonging to the Spandau and Zehlendorf districts, as part of a Greater Berlin.  Steinstucken itself led a diminutive existence in a sea of woe; just 200 souls atop a 31.5 acre plot some 1,200 meters outside West Berlin.

The Soviets sought to annex Steinstucken on October 18, 1951, attempting to incorporate same so as to further tighten their grip round West Berlin.  Then U.S. commander in Berlin, Major General Lemuel Mathewson protested, stating that Soviet actions were in direct contravention to the European Advisory Agreement of 1944.  By this accord, it was stipulated that the Zehlendorf District was considered part of the U.S. sector.(2)

The East German Police who had been sent into Steinstucken were ordered out by the Soviet occupation authorities.  The following day, West German policemen entered the exclave; though Soviet troops and VOPOs(3) maintained a siege of the little town for five days.  Ensuing negotiations allowed for the three West German policemen to stay and the standoff was ended.  And from 1953 to 1961, the inhabitants were able to enter and exit along what was little better than a footpath which served as Steinstucken’s link to West Berlin.

However in August 1961, the infamous Berlin Wall began to snake its way round the Allied portion of the old German capital.  This posed a new threat for the people of Steinstucken in the form of Soviet troops and VOPOs controlling the sole artery in and out of the exclave; with traffic reduced solely to residents and on a restricted basis only.  A difficult situation to be sure for those in Steinstucken since their township had little or no trade or commerce and was beholden to West Berlin for its services, supplies and medical needs.

General Lucius D. Clay, special envoy to Berlin for President Kennedy, urged that the U.S. Army Aviation Detachment be made available to splice an aerial umbilical cord to Steinstucken.

Steinstucken b

UH-1 rotor blades encased in concrete, commemoration to Army Aviators who flew the relief of Steinstucken. Erected in 1976, shown after restoration in August 1988. / AYDIN MEHMET

The Army Aviation Detachment was attached to the Berlin Brigade; and, was stationed at Tempelhof Air Base.(4)  Among the duties of the Aviation Detachment was to fly surveillance patrols round the perimeter of West Berlin; this in accordance with the ground patrols.  Another task was to offer orientation flights for visitors round the divided metropolis; and, that included British and French officials, since according to STAR & STRIPES, June 11, 1968, the British and French did not have helicopters in their zones.

Despite having only nine aircraft—at least six of which were helicopters—Army Aviators accumulated some 2,300 to 2,500 hours between October 1, 1987 to September 30, 1988 . . . with a zero accident rate, this according to Ron Gardiner, Berlin Observer, August 4, 1989.(5)

In a December 1990 story which appeared in Soldiers, “Freedom City Fliers,” Steve Harding observed, “The detachment currently consists of 21 soldiers and 16 civilians operating six Hueys for local VIP transport and tactical missions, two Swiss-built UV-20 fixed wing utility aircraft, and a single Beech C-12 transport for flights to and from other cities in Europe.”  And he added, “The unit’s 10 pilots are dual-rated in both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft . . .”(6)

However, CWO4 Bill Inman noted the demanding nature of flying round Berlin.  For Army Aviators were operating in a crowded environment, heavily populated with many buildings and in an area considered to be one of the world’s most heavily trafficked.  As CWO4 Inman said with regards to flying round Berlin, “. . . has few open spaces suitable for emergency landings.  You’re constantly flying over real estate, whereas in the tactical environment, you’re flying over open fields, rivers or trees.”(7)

Steinstucken c

Panoramic view of the Berlin Aviation Detachment.

The Army Aviation Detachment did more than just fly in badly needed supplies.  Several military policemen were airlifted in to set up shop in town.  Refugees from East Berlin were flown to West Berlin, one such escapee clad in a U.S. military policeman’s uniform.

The Aviation Detachment lifeline flew upwards of several times each week for ten years, from September 1961 to September 1971.  “In 1971, a quadripartite agreement granted Steinstuckeners and Berliners unrestricted access to the isolated city via a narrow strip of land connecting the village to West Berlin, acquired in a trade.  The people of Steinstucken were thus guaranteed their freedom.”(8)

In 1976, a pair of UH-1 rotor blades was encased in a concrete monument to commemorate the Army Aviation Detachment.  In August 1988, AAAA members in concert with appreciative Germans restored the monument.  A UH-1 was flown to the monument for the occasion by the Aviation Detachment.  Emblazoned across the cargo door side of the helicopter was the word, “Steinstucken.”

Notes

  1. “Technically an exclave is a portion of land which is completely separated from the main part by politically alien territory.  The same territory is an enclave in respect to the country to which it is politically attached (i.e. in which it is physically located).  Outside the German language, one rarely encounters the term exclave; through usage the word enclave has come to mean either of the two.” See page 60, Notes No. 2, “Steinstucken:  The Politics of a Berlin Exclave,” by Honore M. Catudal, Jr., World Affairs, Vol. 134, No. 1, Summer 1971.
  2. See pages 2 and 18, “Protocol on Zones of Occupation and Administration of the Greater Berlin Area, September 12, 1944,” Documents on Germany, 1944-1959:  background documents on Germany, 1944-1959, and a chronology of political developments affecting Berlin, 1945-1956, digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/History/History-idx?type. . . ,i. . .
    On page 2, such is the following:  North-Eastern part of “Greater Berlin,” . . . will be occupied by forces of the USSR.  North-Western part of “Greater Berlin,” . . . will be occupied by the forces of * * *.  Southern part of “Greater Berlin,” will be occupied by the forces of * * *.
    On page 18, “Allied Statement on Zones of Occupation in Germany, June 5, 1945,” point No. 2. The area of “Greater Berlin” will be occupied by forces of each of the four powers.  An Inter-Allied Governing Authority (in Russian, Komendatura) consisting of four Commandants, appointed by their respective Commanders-in-Chief, will be established to direct jointly its administration.
     Per the above, it would appear as if there was some confusion as to what constituted the actual American and British Zones in Berlin.  Regardless, in the end, Steinstucken remained in the Allied camp.       
  3. VOPO is a contraction of Volkspolizei or People’s Police.  Better known as the East German Police.
  4. An installation of the USAF.
  5. USAREUR Units—Berlin Brigade—U.S. in Germany,  www.usarmygermany.com/.../Berlin%20Brigade/USAREUR_Berlin%20Br...
    There is more to the story of accident-free flying by the Aviation Detachment.  As reported by Steve Harding on page 43 of “Freedom City Fliers,” “Good maintenance takes work,” crew chief Spec. William Medlin said.  “The flying here is some of the best in the Army, because of the upkeep of our aircraft.  The work that’s done on them here is checked at least three times; by the man doing the work, by the supervisor, then by the tech inspectors.  The detachment’s safety record—over 20 years of accident-free flying—speaks for itself.”  (Italics added.)
  6. See page 42, “Freedom City Fliers,” by Steve Harding, Soldiers, December 1990.
  7. See page 42, Harding. See page 126, “Checkpoint Charlie Commitment,” Army Aviation, August-September 1989.

        
Bibliography

  1. Catudal, Honore M., Jr., “Steinstucken:  The Politics of a Berlin Exclave,” Vol. 134, No. 1, World Affairs, Summer 1971.
  2. “Checkpoint Charlie Commitment,” Army Aviation, Westport, Ct., August-September 1989.
  3. “E, W Germany unite; USCOB inactivates,” Berlin Observer, www.theberlinobserver.com/USCOB_inactivates.htm
  4. G2 Division, Berlin Brigade Intelligence Summary, Period Ending 072400 Dec 61 (ISUM#2) (U), Headquarters Berlin Brigade, Office of the AC of S, G2 APO 742 US Forces, Louis A. Waple, Lt. Colonel, GS, A Cofs, G2, USABB
  5. Harding, Steve, “Freedom City Fliers,” Soldiers, December 1990.
  6. “Protocol on Zones of Occupation and Administration of the ‘Greater Berlin’ Area, September 12, 1944,” Documents on Germany, 1944-1959:  background documents on Germany, 1944-1959, and a chronology of political developments affecting Berlin, 1945-1956, digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/History/History-idx?type . . . ,I. . .
  7. USAREUR Unites—Berlin Brigade—U.S. Army in Germany,  www.usarmygermany.com/.../Berlin%20Brigade/USAREUR_Berlin%20Br...
  8. Ziemke, Earl F., Battle for Berlin:  End of the Third Reich, Battle Book, No. 6, Ballantine Books, Inc., New York, NY, 1968.