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British Army (Incident, Stahnsdorf)

Volume 655: debated on Monday 12 March 1962

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asked the Minister of Defence whether he will make a statement about the incident at Stahnsdorf, on 10th March, when a British R.A.F. corporal was wounded.

While returning by car to Potsdam from a routine tour about midnight 10th–11th March, Lieut.-Colonal Brown and Corporal Day, of the British Military Mission to Soviet Headquarters in East Germany, were fired upon by East German frontier police at Stahnsdorf. They were in an unrestricted area and the East German frontier police opened fire for no apparent reason and without warning Corporal Day was seriously wounded and taken to an East German hospital.

Colonel Brown was held by the East German police until released by a Soviet officer. The Soviet authorities have expressed regret for the incident. The Head of the British Military Mission has been instructed to raise this matter urgently with Soviet Headquarters and to register a strong protest.

Her Majesty's Government will consider what further action may be called for in the light of the detailed report of the incident and of the discussions with Soviet Headquarters by the Head of the British Military Mission.

May I express our sympathy with Corporal Day and with his family?

Is this the first time that such an incident as this has occurred, British soldiers being fired upon in East Germany? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us in due course what further measures he and the Government are contemplating? Is the evidence so far that this was an isolated act of indiscipline, or is there reason to think that it was more serious than that?

I understand from newspaper reports that the excuse given was that the East Germans did not identify the car. Would the right hon. Gentleman consider getting further means of clear identification of our cars by day and night agreed with the Soviet authorities?

As the right hon. Gentleman says, this is a matter between the British and Soviet Governments. The cars in which the members of the Mission go about—and, of course, they are accredited to the Soviet Commander-in-Chief—have special number plates. The number plates were on this car and they were clearly identifiable. The question of mistaken identity does not arise.

Yes, Sir, and it was a public highway, where the car had every right to be. It was not in any forbidden zone.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind wishes, which I am sure the House supports, to Corporal Day. My latest news is that he is a good deal better and that he will be moved to a British hospital as soon as it is considered medically safe to move him.

I should prefer not to comment in detail on the broad issue until we have had a report from the Head of the British Mission, after he has had talks with his Soviet opposite number. Until then, it is difficult to say whether it was a mistake, or a piece of provocation, or something else.

Do we not expose ourselves to acts of provocation of this sort so long as we keep British troops stuck out in the centre of Europe? How long will it be before the Government come to an arrangement over Berlin and bring our troops home?

This has nothing to do with the British garrison in Berlin. This is a British Military Mission to Soviet headquarters in East Germany. As I am sure my noble Friend knows, there is a counterpart Soviet Mission in West Germany. This is an interchange which, I think, is valuable, because it enables each side to keep on eye on what the other is doing.

Will the right hon. Gentleman make a further statement when he has later information?