A Cardboard Castle? An Inside History of the Warsaw Pact, 1955-1991

By Vojtech Mastny; Malcolm Byrne | Go to book overview

Document No. 20: The "Buria" Exercise Preparing for an Advance
into Western Europe, September 28–October 10, 1963

"Buria" was the first major exercise conducted by the Warsaw Pact as a coalition. It was widely publicized at the time. Contemporary observers interpreted this as a mes- sage that the alliance was prepared for any potential Western military response to the signing of a separate peace treaty with East Germany. There are other records that relate to this point, but one interesting aspect of this first document, a secret speech by East German Defense Minister Heinz Hoffmann, is that it gives the starting point of the exercise as October 1, which points to the possibility that the Soviets had plans to conclude the treaty on that date, and that the exercise may have been intended not for publicity but in fact to prepare in earnest for a possible Western military response. According to the Hoffmann speech, the exercise began with a Western attempt to forcibly reopen access to West Berlin, which was being blocked by the Wall. Hostilities were foreseen, and the use of nuclear weapons forecast by October 6, the sixth day of the maneuver, although it is unclear who would use them first. "Buria" ends with a Warsaw Pact offensive and the occupation of Paris by October 16.

The second document is an excerpt from a memoir by the Polish liaison with the Warsaw Pact command, Tadeusz Pióro, who published his recollections in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War. He refers to the maneuver as part of the command post exercise taking place at Soviet military headquarters on the outskirts of Berlin, and describes how the advance into Western Europe was played out on maps. According to him, Warsaw Pact forces were not supposed to stop at Paris but take all of France and end only at the Pyrenees. So it is not fully clear from these two accounts what the real scenario was, but certainly outlandish ideas were being entertained here.

a) Speech by East German Defense Minister Heinz Hoffmann

We have to consider this exercise as the first step in an entire system of defense measures, to be undertaken in order to secure militarily the German Peace Treaty during the months of October and November. "…"

The simulated situation implied that a peace treaty with the GDR had been concluded. Starting at midnight, October 4, the "Western" powers could establish contact with their garrison in West Berlin only with permission from the government of the GDR. Therefore the border checkpoints had been closed, and the use of flight corridors by aircraft of the "Western" powers had been prohibited.

In this situation, the "West" tried forcibly to establish a link to West Berlin. In trying to enforce this link to West Berlin, they started to break through along the highway with troops of up to one division on October 5 at 3:00 p.m. They gradually expanded the area of incursion and tried to advance to West Berlin first by transport, then combat aircraft.

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