Foreign Relations of the United States
Volume X July - September 1960 : The RB-47 Airplane Incident
Editorial Note

Editorial Note

On July 1, the Soviet Union shot down a U.S. Air Force RB - 47 airplane, which was on a proposed mission from the United Kingdom near the northern borders of Norway and the Soviet Union and over the Barents Sea, and rescued two of the six crew members. The two survivors were Captain John B. McKone and Captain Freeman Bruce Olmstead. President Eisenhower discussed his initial reaction to a report that the Soviets had shot down the plane in a telephone conversation with Secretary of State Herter on July 11; see Document 158. For text of the July 11 Soviet note presenting the Soviet account of the incident, see Department of State Bulletin, August 1, 1960, pages 164 - 165. For a memorandum of the President's telephone conversation with Secretary Herter on July 12 on the proposed U.S. reply to the Soviet Union, see Document 159. For texts of a statement by James Hagerty, the President's Press Secretary, July 12, and the U.S. note, July 12, claiming the RB - 47 was never closer to the Soviet Union than about 30 miles and never penetrated Soviet territorial waters or air space, protesting the Soviet interpretation, demanding the release to U.S. custody of the two officers, and proposing a joint investigation with the Soviet Union and any other acceptable "authority," see Department of State Bulletin, August 1, 1960, pages 163 - 164. The United States also postponed negotiations with the Soviet Union on an air transport agreement scheduled to begin in Washington on July 18. For text of the aide- memoire to the Soviet Foreign Ministry on July 14 declaring the postponement, see ibid., page 165.

For texts of the President's July 13 statement agreeing to a full discussion of the RB - 47 incident and his July 13 letter to Senator Mansfield responding to Mansfield's July 13 telegram in which he suggested the incident be brought before the U.N. Security Council, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1960 - 61, pages 578 - 579. Mansfield's telegram is in Eisenhower Library, White House Central Files. For texts of the July 15 Soviet note rejecting the U.S. version of the incident and the July 18 U.S. note reiterating its position, see Department of State Bulletin, August 8, 1960, pages 210 - 211. The National Security Council discussed the incident on July 15 and President Eisenhower and Secretary Herter met on July 19; see Documents 160 and 161.

The U.N. Security Council took up the Soviet complaint July 22 - 26. For texts of statements by Representative Henry Cabot Lodge on July 22, 25, and 26, see Department of State Bulletin, August 15, 1960, pages 235 - 244. For text of the Soviet draft resolution, which the Security Council rejected on July 26 by a vote of two (Poland and the Soviet Union) to nine and a U.S. draft resolution, as modified, July 26, which the Soviet Union vetoed, and an Italian draft resolution, July 26, which the Soviet Union also vetoed, see ibid., page 244. The discussion in the Security Council is summarized in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1960, pages 41 - 42.

For text of the August 2 Soviet note replying to the U.S. note of July 18, and the August 4 U.S. note reiterating its demand for the release of the two officers, see Department of State Bulletin, August 22, 1960, pages 274 - 276. Ambassador Llewellyn E. Thompson spoke with Nikita Khrushchev on the RB - 47 case on September 8; see Document 162.

Meanwhile, because the RB - 47 flight originated in the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union sent a protest note to the British Government. For the reaction of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, including the text of the undated letter he sent to Khrushchev rebutting the Soviet accusations on the matter, see Macmillan, Pointing the Way, pages 237 - 241. The text of Macmillan's letter to President Eisenhower, July 18, which explained his decision to write a personal rebuttal to Khrushchev, as well as the texts of the British note to the Soviet Government and Macmillan's letter to Khrushchev, were transmitted in telegram 426 to London, July 18. (Department of State, Central Files, 711.11 - EI/7 - 1860) Eisenhower's reply to Macmillan, July 21, congratulating him on his personal letter to Khrushchev, was transmitted in telegram 554 to London, July 21. (Ibid., 711.11 - EI/7 - 2160) The United States and the United Kingdom also reviewed their working arrangements concerning reconnaissance flights involving British territory. Memoranda of conversation between Ivan B. White, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and British Ambassador Sir Harold Caccia on July 26, 27, and 28, and September 1 on this question are ibid., 700.5411. Memoranda of conversation between White and T. Brimelow, Counselor of the British Embassy in Washington, continuing these discussions on September 9, 22, and 26 are ibid.

The United States and Norway also reviewed U.S. reconnaissance flights touching Norwegian territory. A memorandum of conversation between Secretary Herter and Norwegian Foreign Minister Halvard Lange on October 10 indicated that the United States agreed to give Norway advance notice of U.S. peripheral reconnaissance flights through military-to-military channels. (Ibid., 700.5411/10 - 1060) A memorandum of conversation between Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Paul Koht, Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, October 13, confirmed this agreement. (Ibid., 700.5411/10 - 1360)

The Soviet Union also raised the RB - 47 incident, along with the U - 2, in the U.N. General Assembly. For text of a statement by James J.Wadsworth, Representative to the United Nations, in the General Committee on September 23, replying to the Soviet complaint on the two incidents, see Department of State Bulletin, October 17, 1960, pages 622 - 623. On September 23, the General Committee rejected by a vote of 12 to 3 the Soviet proposal that its complaint be allocated to plenary consideration. For text of Wadsworth's statement, October 13, opposing the Soviet proposal to take up the two plane incidents in plenary session, see ibid., November 7, 1960, pages 726 - 727. On October 13, the General Assembly rejected the Soviet proposal by a vote of 10 to 54 with 33 abstentions and referred the issue to its First (Political and Security) Committee, but discussion there was deferred until 1961.

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.