Cold War Museum Newsletter

When World War II ended in Europe in 1945, the four victorious Allies occupied defeated Germany and Austria, splitting the territory into zones. Relations between the three western Allies and the Soviet Union deteriorated in the first few years, resulting in 1948 in the Soviet blockade of West Berlin and the subsequent Allied airlift to that cut-off city. However, there had been signs of a split between the secretive Soviets and the West long before the airlift. Danger signs pointed to possible renewed war on German soil as early as late 1945, and US occupation forces desperately needed intelligence information. US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) had to scramble to collect intelligence on Soviet and satellite military forces.

USAFE's reconnaissance operations began 1946 (at least) and did not end until German reunification in October 1990. Missions were flown from bases such as Wiesbaden, Rhein-Main near by Frankfurt and Fuerstenfeldbruck near Munich. Throughout their long life, using a mix of bombers and transports covertly modified with cameras and other detection devices, these units produced vital current and basic intelligence for both theater and national customers. Their aircrew had many brushes with their Soviet adversaries (some fatal). Collection activities extended all along the Iron Curtain, from the Baltic through the Black and Caspian Seas, and occasionally to Africa, Cuba, and even Southeast Asia. However, the main, most detailed, and most lucrative collection occurred in the Berlin Air Corridors and Control Zone, with missions flown almost daily throughout the long Cold War. The aircrews whose flew these missions called themselves the "Berlin for Lunch Bunch" and grew to love the city and admire its people. This talk will explore the nature and history of the various units and programs, including especially the intelligence collected how used and its impact on the Cold War.

John Bessette is a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel who, among other assignments, flew reconnaissance missions with USAFE's 7405th Support Squadron 1965-68. As an intelligence officer in Defense Intelligence Agency 1970 -73 he supported the Joint Chiefs of Staff with assessments on reconnaissance missions worldwide. After a military tour in NATO, at Ramstein, Germany he retired from the Air Force and joined DIA as a civilian intelligence analyst, where he specialized on the Soviet Air Force. In this line of work, he used intelligence products from all sources, but especially loved the material from airborne recon, including his old flying outfit.

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