The Berlin Crisis


Kentucky's Berlin Crisis Ribbon
Kentucky's Berlin Crisis Ribbon

Upon its return from Europe to the service of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the Kentucky Air National Guard was re-equipped with its former aircraft, the F-51 "Mustang." The Spaatz Trophy for military proficiency was awarded to the 165th when it received RF-101 "Voodoo" supersonic jets.

Most of the duty of the mid-fifties consisted of state emergencies and disorders such as the fire duty at Mitchell Hill in Louisville, the civil disturbance at Sturgis, Kentucky, aid during flood control, and the recovery of drowned school children from the Big Sandy River at Prestonsburg, Ky., in 1958.

In September 1961, the 2nd Battalion, 123rd Armor, of Owensboro, with units in Livermore, Henderson and Paducah (two companies), and the 3rd Battalion, 123rd Armor of Bowling Green, with units in Russellville, Hopkinsville, Madisonville and Marion, were called to active duty to replace two battalions dispatched to Germany as a result of the Cold War Berlin Crisis. The 2nd Battalion 123rd Armor along with the 413th Ordinance Company, from Frankfort was sent to Fort Stewart, Georgia, and the 3rd Battalion 123rd Armor was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky. These units served on active duty for a period of 11 months, at which time international tensions were relaxed. The Kentucky Air National Guard was also called to serve during this emergency. After the Berlin Crisis, duty was again limited to state and local support during emergencies.

The Kentucky Army National Guard in the Berlin Crisis

From a draft manuscript entitled Kentucky National Guard History World War II - Berlin Crisis 1937-1962

Edited by COL (Ret) Joe Craft

In mid-1961, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached a crisis over the status of Berlin. The divided city, under the joint control of the four allied powers of World War II -- France, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union -- symbolized opposing Cold War ideologies. Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev was alarmed by the flight of nearly 300,000 East Germans per year to freedom in West Berlin. His threat to unilaterally alter the status of Berlin was rejected by President John F. Kennedy in Vienna. In July of 1961, the United States began a rapid build-up of its military strength in anticipation of a possible confrontation.

As of July 13, 1961, most Kentucky Guard officials felt that the Kentucky National Guard would not be called to federal active duty over the situation (1). They believed any mobilization would primarily affect division-sized units, and Kentucky had no complete Guard divisions. However, on August 18, 1961, 664 officers and men of the Kentucky Guard were among the first 76,500 reservists and Guardsmen selected to strengthen the Army's strategic reserve forces.

Kentuckians were called to duty at two different times. The 3d Medium Tank Battalion, 123rd Armor, and the 413th Ordnance Company were called first, on 25 August 1961. The 522-man 3d Medium Tank Battalion commanded by LTC Nelson Meredith was composed of five companies located at Bowling Green, Russellville, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, and Marion. The 413th Ordnance Company, commanded by CPT Calvin Knoop, was located at Frankfort and numbered 142 men. Active duty for both companies would begin 1 October.

On 7 September 1961, Adjutant General Lloyd received orders placing twelve additional units on "stand-by" status. Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, XXIIIrd Corps Artillery, the five companies of the 2d Medium Tank Battalion, 123 Armor, the 5th Target Acquisition Battalion, the 113th Ordnance Company, and the 103d Signal Company were ordered by the Department of Defense to intensify their training programs from four to six drills each month and to recruit prior service personnel to reach full authorized strength (2).

The second alert, coming on 19 September 1961, notified LTC William E. Hall's 2d Medium Tank Battalion to report for duty at Fort Stewart, Georgia, beginning 15 October. Its five companies totaling 484 men were located in Livermore, Paducah (two companies), Henderson and Owensboro.

Together, the units called to active duty amounted to twenty percent of Kentucky's 55 National Guard units. With the national average being only twelve percent per state, Adjutant General Lloyd commented, "In one way [the high percentage] is a compliment, for they are only calling the best qualified units" (3).

Frankfort's 413th Ordnance Company departed for Fort Stewart, Georgia, on 4 October 1961, at 0700 hours. It arrived at Fort Steward at 1300 hours on 7 October, the first of the activated reserve component units to arrive. Members began working in the Post Consolidated Section, performing various administrative tasks. The 413th was billeted in the 1800 block at Fort Stewart in Quonset huts until being moved later into permanent quarters (4).

The men of the 413th began a phase of modified basic training on 23 October that lasted until 18 November. They then entered the basic unit-training phase, undergoing 144 hours of field exercises in support of the 2d Medium Tank Battalion, among others. After completion of these exercises on 27 January 1962, advanced individual and advanced unit training began. Eighty-seven percent of all personnel qualified on the "Trainfire Range." Twenty-eight officers and enlisted men qualified in the "Close Combat" training course. The men were introduced to the 3.5 rocket launcher, and 15 members qualified on the weapon. The Army Training Test, a test for determining the combat readiness of men and equipment, was conducted with the 418th Ordnance Battalion 28-30 February. The unit received an overall rating of "satisfactory," but scored "unsatisfactory" on the tactical phase of the tests. Upon being retested, however, they passed with a score of 91.5 (5)

During the 5-20 April, the 413th joined the 2d Infantry Division for 16 days of mandatory field exercises emphasizing counter-insurgency and counter-guerilla warfare. Known as exercise "Seneca Spear," the two-week operation provided valuable training and served as a practical demonstration of cooperation between armor and infantry units (6).

The 413th participated in may sports activities while at Fort Stewart. They also formed a string band called "The Kentuckians," made up of the following members: SPC James Brown, SP4 Carl Hoover, PFC Edward M. Pollett, SP4 Jackie Nelson, and SP5 Carlos Almodover. "The Kentuckians" participated in a number of shows and provided entertainment during exercise "Seneca Spear" (7). The 413th won the "Troop Self-Help Award" twice during their stay at Fort Stewart and were recognized for having the best motor pool and mess hall.

The 3d Medium Tank Battalion arrived at Fort Knox on 10 October 1961. The processing of men there was slow and uncoordinated; almost every major question had to go to the Department of the Army for an answer, resulting in considerable delay (8).

Their stay at Knox was also plagued by a shortage of vehicles. The quality of the vehicles they did receive from ordnance was very poor and many were inoperable. In addition, it was over four months after their arrival before the battalion finally received its full allocation of vehicles. Various administrative changes and changes in logistics and maintenance procedures seemed especially detrimental due to the "intensified" status of the training program.

The battalion also suffered from a lack of experience and knowledge among key personnel. The battalion staff had in the past merely supervised training at the individual and platoon level and had not acted as players in tactical exercises (9).

Cold weather presented another problem for the battalion. Having previously trained during the summer months, men were unprepared for the numerous problems associated with operations conducted in the winter. The clothing they were issued was ill fitting and unsuitable for training, as evidenced by the dry-rotted boots issued to some members. Yet the tankers managed to find positive results even under these conditions: in his after-action report, one officer states that the unit learned "the importance of maintenance properly applied" and recommended that, in the future, maintenance be emphasized in training "as much as gunnery" (10).

The 3d Medium Tank Battalion underwent both field and classroom training and played a part in demonstrations of mobile firepower for Army Undersecretary Stephen Ailes and General Herbert B. Powell, Commander of the Continental Army Command (11).

The five companies of the 2nd Medium Tank Battalion arrived at Fort Stewart on 28 October. They fared much better than their comrades in the 3rd Battalion at Fort Knox. ON hand to greet them were Adjutant General Lloyd, Assistant Adjutant General William R. Buster, and Colonel Arthur Bonnycastle of the 149th Armor Group (12).

The tankers spent many days on the tank gunnery tables becoming familiar with weapons and equipment. They fired light weapons mounted on their M-48 Patton tanks on the first three tables, then fired their 90 mm main guns on the next three tables. In the final two stages, the tankers participated in day and night crew exercises with the tanks, testing their coordination and knowledge of tactics ranging from the crew and platoon levels up to those involving the entire battalion. Thirteen weeks later, the tankers passed their first Army Training Test (13).

The second big test for the battalion was exercise "Seneca Spear." This turned out to be the most realistic training the 2d Medium Tank Battalion had ever received, involving exposure to chemical, nuclear and counter-guerilla warfare tactics (14).

The tankers used their extra time at Fort Stewart to attend Army schools, take college extension courses, and obtain high school diplomas through the Army's Educational Development Program. An added highlight to their stay at Fort Stewart was a visit in May of 1962 by Kentucky Governor Bert Combs (15).

Gradually, troops were released from active duty as tensions relaxed on the world front. On 11 August, their year of active duty finished, the 1,148 Kentucky Guardsmen returned home. All 11 units were honored at Fort Knox. Army Commendation Medals and certificates were awarded to forty men, and citations were presented to 16 units (16). All Guardsmen who had served on active duty were presented commendations signed by Governor Combs and Adjutant General Lloyd. In his welcoming speech, General Lloyd observed that "Never in history have so many men, both Active and Reserve, combined efforts to effectively prevent, rather than engage in, armed conflict…We owe these returning Guardsmen a debt of gratitude" (17). The units were returned to National Guard status at 0001 hours on 12 August 1962.

Notes on Berlin

1. Sy Ramsey, "National Guard Aide Doubts State Call-Up," Louisville Courier-Journal, 13 July 1961, sec. 1 p. 1, cols. 5-6.
2. "12 Units in State Alerted For A Possible Call-Up," Louisville Courier-Journal, 7 September 1961, sec. 1 p. 1, cols. 1-3.
3. "Guard Call-Up May Continue," Louisville Courier-Journal, 29 October 1961, sec. 1 p. 3, cols. 7.
4. "Unit History Since Activation," report of the 413th Ordnance Company to Commanding General of the US Army Armor and Artillery Firing Center, 8 May 1962.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. After Action Report, 3d Medium Tank Battalion, 4 August 1962, 1.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. "10 Towns To Welcome 1,148 Guardsmen Home," Louisville Courier-Journal, 29 July 1962, sec. 1 p. 4, cols. 3-5.
12. "Called to Serve," history of units station at Fort Stewart during Berlin Crisis, 15.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Merrill McCord, "Fort Knox Pomp Send 3,000 Guard, Reserves Home," Louisville Courier-Journal, 22 July 1962, sec. 1 p. 21, cols. 1-8.
17. Arthur Lloyd, draft of address to returned Guardsmen (copy), 1-2.

Additional Resources

  • Ft Stewart Berlin Crisis Yearbook - Called to Serve Ft Stewart Salutes You! - Yearbook produced by Fort Stewart at the end of Berlin Crisis (28 Oct 61 - 2 Aug 62). Contains info & pictures of 2nd Tank 123rd Armor and 413th Ord Co.

About the Editor

COL (R) Joe Craft taken at Military Recoards and Research Branch
COL (R) Joe Craft taken at Military Recoards and Research Branch

COL (R) Joe Craft worked for a number of years, while he was manager of the Military Records and Research Branch, with various writers to compose a history of the Kentucky National Guard beginning where the Federal Writers Project had dropped off and carrying the history through the Berlin Crisis. His manuscript was never published. Craft's document was carefully researched with copious footnotes. Craft's manuscript referenced an earlier manuscript by former Adjutant General Jesse Lindsay edited by BG (R) William Buster while Buster was Director of the Kentucky Historical Society. Lindsay's manuscript covered 1920-1978 and was never published. Lindsay served as Adjutant General from 1951-1955.

The Berlin Crisis