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Checkpoint Charlie – The Tank Standoff that Nearly Triggered the End of the World

One of the most defining images of the cold war is the tank stand off at the famous Berlin checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie. Of course, nowadays we can all enjoy tank driving days at https://www.armourgeddon.co.uk/tank-driving-experience.html, but 1961 tank driving was a more risky business!

Checkpoint Charlie was one of the most well known checkpoints dividing the city of Berlin between the Western Allies and the Eastern Soviets, on the western side it consisted of not a lot more than a small hut, a barrier and piles of sandbags, to show the fact that the Allies saw the division as temporary. But from the Soviet side it was a much more imposing structure of guards in turrets, brick walls and barbed wire.

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The stand off started with Allan Lightner, a US diplomat who went to cross the border from the Allied side to the Soviet side to the state opera house in the East of Berlin. After a heated debate with the border guards of the east, Lightner refused to show them his documents, insisting Soviet officials were the only ones who were licensed to see these.

This ended in the diplomat being refused entry to the East and the American General, General Clay, ordered that US diplomats should be allowed through, escorted by the American Military, whilst on the other side the Eastern border guards continued to attempt to control the diplomats entering from the west.

Incensed by this, General Clay then sent a fleet of American M48 tanks to stand at the entrance to Checkpoint Charlie – they stood menacingly revving their engines and clearly sending a threatening message to the East. The Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev retaliated by ordering a fleet of the same number of the Russian T55 tanks to face off the Americans. For 16 hours the two sides stood no more than 75 metres apart, facing each other off as Berlin became the flashpoint for the potential start of an all-out nuclear war.

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Fortunately for the whole world, some worried American officials reminded President Kennedy what was at stake over Berlin, and following Kennedys’ discussions with Khrushchev, both sides removed their tanks and the situation was diffused.



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