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Gone Missing at the Border, 1948

The occupation was going much better than anyone ever imagined. There had been fear of outright civil insurgency, fear of mass starvation, fear of a Nazi or Communist “fifth column“, fear that Germany would descend into utter chaos. None of this happened. In the American, French and British zones during those first two years of peace, the Germans certainly encountered mass privation, the wholesale suspension of civil rights, shattered cities and a collapsed economy but through some intimidation and much cooperation, the occupiers and the defeated found common ground to build upon.

The Soviets ran their zone in a more ruthless fashion but also achieved results. The Germans had dreaded the arrival of a Cossack horde and the Russians certainly extracted a level of vengeance in their first months of occupation but soon settled in to create a new German socialist state. A Germany divided along political lines was not part of the original plan the four great powers hammered out at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences in the waning days of the war but increasingly, this seemed to be the Soviet goal.
As the flush of victory cooled, serious political disagreements began. Reconstituting Germany would be expensive and time consuming. The western Allies had a vision of forging a democratic Germany fully integrated into Europe at peace. The Russians wanted a wall of client buffer states with Germany, or at a minimum, the half they occupied, as a keystone. Agreements were dismissed as no long valid, in the ashes of Nazi totalitarianism, a new political fracture line arose, East versus West, Communism versus Democracy, the United States versus the Soviet Union. 1947 witnessed the warnings, 1948 signaled the beginning of the Cold War.
The Summer of 1948 was dominated by the daily news reports of the airlift carrying supplies into divided Berlin. The former capital of Germany had been segmented into four zones of control by the allies just as Germany on the whole was subdivided. In an arc across the western half of the city, the French, British and Americans each controlled a portion, the Soviets held the north and eastern districts. The fact that the divided city lay two hundred miles inside the newly forming socialist state in East Germany was increasingly a contentious fact for the Russians. By cutting off road, rail and barge traffic to the east at the boundary between the Russian and Allied zones in the late Spring of 1948, the Russians expected the Allies to either abandon the enclave or at least, grant major concessions to Soviet demands as to how Berlin would be run.

In a bold plan, the Americans decided to resupply the three western zones within the city by air and the great airlift began. Everything from coal and fuel oil to food to machine parts were flown in by military transports with near round the clock precision for over a year. Berlin was the site of the first major battle of the Cold War in Europe but elsewhere, there were skirmishes all along the zonal borders separating west and east.

In Bad Kissingen

From the occupation of the Kurstadt in 1945 through the early Summer of 1948, much progress had occurred in the town. Most of the US Army had departed and the hotel district was largely returned to German civil control. Manteuffel Kaserne was at first used by American troops, a variety of units seemed to come and go. There was discussion as to whether the US Constabulary force would station troops there. Instead, the cities of Hersfeld, Fulda, Hammelberg and Coburg were garrisoned. The Headquarters of the International Relief Organization moved into the vacant barracks and worked to resettle the thousands of displaced persons trapped in Germany. Refugee passports were produced: nationality-Bulgarian, departing camp-Wildflecken, country of arrival-Canada, document printed and approved-Bad Kissingen.

This is not to say, however, that the Americans had completely departed from the city. While every effort had been made to de-natzify German society and reconstitute the civil affairs with as much local control returned to the Germans as seemed prudent, the city and the balance of the US zone still had direct American military oversight. This was a period of transition from the army of occupation and direct Army control to the supervision of German society by the U. S. State Department. Dozens of U.S. based programs were underway in Germany to rebuild infrastructure, insure that democracy took root and that communist influences were identified and isolated. From youth groups to railroad bridges, the Americans seemed to have a hand in everything. Locally, at least in the summer of 1948, Lieutenant Sherman F. Turner was our man in Bad Kissingen.

The exact scope of his power, size of his staff and even the physical location of his office is unknown. He probably could exercise veto power over virtually anything in the city, a flying troop from the Constabulary forces was only a telephone call away. Daily interests, however, probably would have focused on keeping the electric lights on, smuggling and contraband suppressed, the communists out and the nazis in their graves.

Troublesome was the Soviet-American zonal border and that area from Mellrichstadt running northwest toward the junction with the state of Hesse near Fladungen-Frankenheim-Hilders. Berlin and the blockade were flashpoints and this dominated the news. There were, however, many acts of intimidation involving the Russian troops patrolling all along the zonal border region and Lt. Turner, although he did not have official responsibilities that far from the Kurstadt, drove north to take a first hand look. He was accompanied by a civilian employee of the U. S. Government, an American college professor with a background in military intelligence.

New York Times
10 August 1948
Two U. S. Officials Missing
Frankfurt


Two Americans have been missing in the Soviet zone since August 5, it became known today. They are Lieutenant S. F. Turner, director of the Military Government in Bad Kissingen and Roland M. Myers, a civilian employee of the Department of the Army.
According to the report of a German chauffeur who first notified Army authorities of the incident, he had driven the two men to a check point on the border of the State of Hesse and the Soviet zone in the State of Thuringia, east of Frankfurt. He said they were on a routine crop inspection.

The United States officials crossed the border to inspect a farm that extended into the Soviet zone and were almost immediately picked up by Soviet troops, according to the best information available here. The German driver said the Russians had motioned him to come along but that he had departed in the other direction.

A United States Army radio broadcaster cited an unconfirmed report that the Russians had promised to return the two men by noon tomorrow.

New York Times
11 August 1948
Russians Complete Rail Work
Berlin AP


“Repairs"to the railway link between blockaded Berlin and the Western zones of Germany were reported virtually completed today but there was no sign the Russians would reopen the line.

Rumors had circulated in Berlin last night and today that early resumption of service would be permitted, but W. T. Babcock, United States Deputy Commander in Berlin said investigation had established the rumors to be unfounded. The British licensed German press service quoted the German supervisor of the line as denying a report the blockade would be lifted soon.

The Russians closed the road in June, citing “ technical difficulties “. The Western powers said the Soviet claim was a fraud.
The Russians were reported to have promised United States authorities yesterday that they would release Lieut. Sherman S. Turner of Council Bluffs, Iowa and Roland M. Myers of 233 Hemlock Street, Brooklyn, N. Y. Lieutenant Turner, military government officer in charge of Bad Kissingen and Mr. Myers, another military government official were arrested August 5.

A flight of at least twelve Soviet Yak fighter planes flew over the British and American sectors of Berlin shortly before sunset. Witnesses said the planes flying in two formations, caused great excitement and brought residents out into the streets.

British officials said they were investigating the flight and would not comment until “all the facts are in.” American authorities had no comment.

Officers at the Gatow British airport in Berlin said the planes were flying at 4, 000 feet and that there was no question they were “buzzing“ the area.

New York Times
13 August 1948
Two Americans Still Held
Frankfurt am Main AP


Two Americans seized by Soviet troops a week ago remained in Russian hands tonight with apparent hope of immediate release. Russian liaison officers refused today to turn loose Lieut. Sherman S. Turner of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Chief of the Military Government in Bad Kissingen, and Roland Mason Myers of 233 Hemlock Street, Brooklyn, of the Military Government in Nuremberg.

New York Times
20 August 1948
Russians Still Hold 2 Seized Americans
Frankfurt am Main AP


United States Army authorities made little-if any-progress today trying to free two Americans held prisoner by the Russians for two weeks. The detention of the two Americans is the latest in a whole series of arrests by Soviet soldiers in the present East-West impasse.

Russian authorities in Berlin were reportedly insisting they knew nothing about the arrest August 5 of Lieut. Sherman S. Turner of Council Bluffs Iowa and Roland M. Myers of Brooklyn.

The United States Army for its part showed reluctance to talk about the case. The wife of Lieutenant Turner said she was “slowly going crazy waiting for news.”

New Your Times
21 August 1948
Two Held by Soviets to Admit “ Guilt “
Frankfurt am Main


United States Army headquarters at Heidelberg gave details today of negotiations with the Russians for the return of two Americans who on August 5 had crossed the zonal boundary and were apprehended by the Russian Army.

The United States announcement said that the two men, First Lieutenant Sherman F. Turner and Roland Myers, the latter a civilian employee of the Department of the Army, had sought to take photographs of the boundary markers of the United States zone in the State of Hesse. They had proceed into Russian held territory.

An attempt on August 10 to arrange the return of the two men failed when Russian authorities tried to get a United States liaison officer to sign a statement admitting the guilt of the two men and containing a protest by a Russian general.

The United States liaison officer, who saw that the men were “ clean and in good condition “ while he had argued with the Russian officers in the Soviet zone town of Wartha, refused to sign the statement because he had instructions to sign only an ordinary receipt for the two persons.

According to today’s announcement, the two men being held had signed the prepared statement which was two pages long. The Russians tried “ sometimes in a friendly manner and sometimes in a rough manner” to persuade the liaison officer to sign but the latter remained adamant.

New York Times
24 August 1948
Freed Officials Tired of Cabbage -Two Military Government Men Held 18 Days by the Russians Tell of Their Experience
Frankfurt am Main AP


The Russians released today the two United States Military Government officials after having detained them of eighteen days in Gotha, twenty five miles west of Weimar. Their detention was the longest by Russian officials in the recent series of arrests of Americans.

The men were Lieut. Sherman S. Turner, 34, of Council Bluffs Iowa and Rowland M. Myers, 41, of Brooklyn. They were seized August 5 at the border of the Russian zone of Eastern Germany at a point seventy-five miles east of Frankfurt.

They said they had been “ well treated, if you like cabbage “ after their release this morning at Hersfeld on the border of the Unites States and Soviet zones.

Mr. Myers, who had been a Professor of Romance Languages at the University of Texas, said they had been kept in a private house and guarded night and day. He added: “ We stayed there for the eighteen days. From time to tome we thought there were other prisoners in the house. “

Produced at the Border

The Americans were arrested when they crossed into the Soviet zone, perhaps inadvertently at Mellrichstadt. The Russians produced then on Aug 10 at the border, but Untied States liaison officers would not sign a receipt drawn up by the Russians that said the two had entered Russian terrify “ without authority “ and had taken pictures illegally of the border. The Russian negotiator then took the two back into the Soviet zone.

The men were released today to Lieut. Lincoln Landis, who said he had signed a “ simple receipt.” He indicated that the qualifications found objectionable previously by the Americans had been withdrawn. The men were taken to the headquarters of the 22nd Constabulary Squadron at Hersfeld. Lieutenant Turner, Military Government officer at Bad Kissingen said that the only time he had been questioned by the Russians was for fifteen minutes the first night.

“They asked what American troops were in the area,” he said, “what I was doing up at the border-I was on business-and where the local American counter-intelligence unit was. They also asked what education I had, where I was born and a lot of stuff that didn’t seem to have anything to do with anything.”

Appeared to be a Headquarters

He said he and Mr. Myers had been kept in a house that appeared to be headquarters for Soviet counter intelligence. “ From my point of view,” he declared, “we were ambushed at the point of a gun when we were first arrested. The Russians soldiers came out from behind trees. We were definitely in the American zone. There is no question about it.”

“At first we didn’t see each other at all, “ Lt Turner continued, “ not until that Tuesday-Aug 10-when the Russians took us to the frontier and were ready to release us and the Americans wouldn’t take us.”

“That was the day that the American lieutenant said, ’ I will be back in ten minutes ’ and didn’t come back for two weeks because the Russians wanted him to sign a paper saying we were illegally in the Russian zone which we weren’t.”
“Then we had chow together after that-but what chow. At 10 : 30 we had breakfast. That was cabbage with cheese and bread. At 4 : 30 we had lunch. That was cabbage soup with carbohydrates in it-you know-some stick to your ribs thing like potatoes, macaroni or barley. At 10P. M. we had dinner-that’s the way the Russians do things. Cabbage, cheese and bread-very substantial.”

Lived in the Same Room

“They put us to live together in the same room. Much better-but the beds were flea ridden. But they gave us German books and a checkers set. I read about the siege of Leningrad and other books and translated them for amusement. What else could we do? The we played checkers some of the time-and I lost.”

Mr. Myers, who is deputy chief of the United States Military Government’s Civil Affairs Division said that the Russians had a “fine time“ inspecting his possessions.

“I collect pieces of paper,” he said. “and they spent hours studying all the stuff in my pockets-the telephone numbers and all that stuff-and they must have thought it very important. But they treated us real good-they called me ‘ the professor.”
“I told them we were not in the Russian zone when we were arrested. They said,’ Then you mean our troops were in the American zone?’ I told them I didn’t say that. But in any case the border is so poorly marked. As far as I am concerned, we weren’t in their territory.”

“For my money we were treated satisfactorily. The Russians were careful never to lay a finger on us. The only time I touched a Russian was when the Russian colonel came in every three days and shook hands.” 

Colonel (Retired) Lincoln Landis

Those events were a long time ago and to be honest, I do not recall the specific day that I signed for Lieutenant Turner and Mr. Myers, but the reports in the paper seem correct. I would never sign any document for return of personnel except for a simple receipt.

I graduated with the class of 1945 from the United States Military Academy at West Point and was posted to Germany as an infantry office in the border area. I certainly felt the Russians were a strange breed of ally and to learn more about them, I took a Russian language course and returned to the area in 1947.

From October of that year until the following October, I was attached for rations and quarters to the 22nd Constabulary Squadron, 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment. I served under US Constabulary G-2 as a Russian Liaison Officer at Bad Hersfeld, Germany. I was responsible for the northern half-the Hesse region of the US-Soviet zonal border, while Lt. Jim Ryan was at Coburg with responsibility for the southern half of the border, Bavaria. I had a group of corporals and sergeants who were of Ukrainian decent and had superior language skills as my staff. Across the zonal border, my Soviet counterparts were Lieutenant Colonel Garber and Major Sazanov of the 8th Guards Army. To resolve official problems along the border, we met at the Russian controlled towns of Wartha for the Hesse region and Sonneberg for the Bavaria region.

This was the only official mechanism for discussing the ever increasing number of issues along the zonal border and I believe it was initiated in 1947. Problems involving Berlin were discussed in that city through a separate set of military contacts. Lt. Ryan and I also had unofficial contact with the Russians along our respective zonal areas and on the whole things were usually friendly at least in the early days.

The same summer that Lt. Turner and Mr. Myers were apprehended, I too was taken into custody by the Russians along the border. I was with my driver, Sgt Morosky, and clearly in the American zone when a Russian patrol stopped us and took us prisoner. We were taken to a house in the Soviet zone and held for several hours. The interrogating Russian officer was very surprised that both Americans spoke Russian so well and were so forceful in demanding to be returned to the US zone immediately. I also had committed to memory, the telephone numbers of key personnel of the 8th Guards Army. I invited my captors to call my counterparts at Wartha and explain why, precisely, we were being held. We were released a few hours later.

I then spent much of my career studying the Soviet society and mindset with several assignments in liaison and intelligence positions. I continued this academic study with advanced degrees at both Columbia and Georgetown and served at the White House as the advisor for Soviet-American Cooperative Exchanges. My book, Gorbachev’s Hidden Agenda-Glimpses of the Soviet Mind (Vantage Press ISBN: 0 533 09101 2) details my thinking on the Russian-Soviet mind and the profound dangers faced by western democracies in believing there is any true drift toward democracy in Moscow.

The Search for Mr. Myers and Lt. Turner

Dr. Rowland M. Myers taught Romance languages and literature at a variety of universities including Johns Hopkins, New York University and Southampton College in the years following his departure from Army intelligence. In retirement, he lived in Manhattan and died in 1984, at the age of 76

And Mr. Turner? I really wanted to talk with the last American military official in charge of Bad Kissingen. I don’t believe he could have shed much light on his period of captivity with the Russians beyond what appeared in the newspaper, but I’ll bet he had some stories to tell about Bad Kissingen. Unfortunately, I had no luck in the search. In going through the Social Security Death Index, there were no matches for Sherman S. Turner, however, there was one direct match for Sherman F. Turner and one of the newspaper articles of the period did use F as the middle initial. The date of birth listed in that particular SSDI line would have made this man 34 in 1948, the same age of the lieutenant as reported in the period newspaper account. Mr. Sherman F. Turner, died in Alexandria, VA in 2001.

 
 


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