escalator east

The standoff between US and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in 1961

On October 1961, border disputes led to a standoff and for 16 hours the world was on the brink of war while Soviet and American tanks faced each other just 300 feet (100 meters) apart. On August 1961 Washington and its British and French allies had failed to prevent the Soviets building the Berlin Wall. On October 27, after several days of escalating U.S. rebuffs to East German attempts to get American officials to show identification documents before entering East Berlin (thus indirectly acknowledging East German sovereignty, rather than Soviet occupation authority) ten U.S. M-48 tanks took up a position at Checkpoint Charlie.

There they stood, some 50 meters from the border, noisily racing their engines and sending plumes of black smoke into the night air. Alarmed by the apparent threat, Moscow, with the approval of the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, sent an equal number of Russian T55 tanks rumbling to face down the Americans. They too ground to a halt some 50 meters from the East/West Berlin. This was the culmination of several days escalation of actions on both sides and the face-off of the Soviet and American tanks, with guns uncovered, the first (and only) such direct confrontation of U.S. and Soviet troops.