Turkey and the Cyprian Crises of 1974..Official vs. Non-Official Reports concerning Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons history, a la official reports, and the situation that was told to me by older nuke techs who were in Turkey during the Cyprian Crises of 1974 are a little different. When I was a young nuclear weapons specialist, I would hear stories from the older NCOs who had been around for a decades before I enlisted in 1989. One of the common shared experiences was being stationed in Turkey in the early to mid 1970s, and the problems the U.S. Army faced in dealing with two NATO allies who were at each other’s throats; Greece and Turkey.

In short, the Greeks and Turks fight it out over Cyprus in 1974. Turkey wins, gains significant control of part of the island.

The Greeks become upset at the U.S. for allowing the invasion, and Greek extremist group EOKA-B assassinates the U.S. ambassador Roger Davies by sniper fire. The U.S. Congress then puts an arms embargo on Turkey after the invasion (in 1975, against the wishes of the Ford administration), which now upsets the Turks, who then attempt to seize U.S. military installations in Turkey, except for Incirlik and Izmir air bases, both of which supported NATO missions.

In a recently declassified memo, Pres. Ford and Sec. of Defense Dr. James R. Schlesinger discussed the matter.

Now this is where official statements and actual on-the-ground situations differ.

Per the memo: “Under domestic pressure to retaliate, the Turkish government closed down U.S. installations in Turkey, except Incirlik and Izmir air bases because they had NATO missions, and asked for negotiations over the future of U.S. military facilities. There may have been some concern that Turkish forces would seize the area at Incirlik where the U.S. stored nuclear weapons. To avoid a “nasty incident,” Schlesinger proposed that Washington go to the Turkish government and say that there was some “mistake” and then get them out”.1

The memo further reads, “The Turkish government made no moves against the nuclear weapons, but Congress kept the embargo going until 1978, when Turkey restored access by U.S. forces to military facilities.”

Now, this is where it gets interesting

The U.S. official stance was that the Turks made no moves against U.S. nuclear weapons. This contrasts sharply with the history told to us younger nuke techs by our NCOs who were in Turkey at the time. These were men with TS clearances, reputable and did not have an agenda. This was in the early 1990s, at the time that we were dismantling and removing Army battlefield nuclear warheads from Europe during Operation Silent Echo.

The unofficial, on the ground situation (according to them) was…the Turks surrounded their depot, which housed Honest Johns and 203mm nuclear artillery. The Americans went into beast mode by putting shape charges on every nuclear weapons container, and wired the entire depot to explode if the gates were breached. There was a tense standoff, until the Turks departed empty handed.

I had heard this story many times by superiors, some differing in the finer details, but the wiring of the depot to explode scenario was always the same.

1 The official documents can be found here: https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/19693-national-security-archive-doc-20-memorandum

Nuclear weapon safekeeping is paramount. Reduction and elimination is desirable.

Author: Jeff Woodward