Safe Haven I and II

by Daniel L. Haulman

Operation Name: Safe Haven I and II (Hungarian Refugee Airlift)
Location: Central Europe
Date: December 11, 1956–June 30, 1957
Emergency: After Soviet armed forces quelled an anticommunist uprising in Hungary, tens of thousands of refugees fled to Austria and, eventually, to other countries willing to accept them.
Organizations: 1608th and 1611th Air Transport Wings
Airlifted: 10,184 refugees.
Aircraft Used: C–118, R6D, and C–121 (numbers unknown)

On December 6, President Eisenhower offered asylum in the United States to 15,000 refugees who escaped to Austria during the Soviet military suppression of the Hungarian uprising (see Hungarian Refugee Supplies, November–December 1956). They traveled by train and bus from Vienna to Munich, where the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration processed them for flights to the United States. The committee helped refugee families to stay together during the transport process.

The Pentagon directed MATS to prepare an airlift. Between December 11, 1956, and June 30, 1957, the Atlantic Division of MATS conducted two operations, Safe Haven I and II.

Lasting from December 11 to January 3, Safe Haven I involved C–118 and R6D aircraft from the 1611th Air Transport Wing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey; C–121 Super Constellation aircraft from the 1608th Air Transport Wing at Charleston AFB, South Carolina; and commercial contract aircraft. President Eisenhower’s own airplane, Columbine III, participated in the airlift.

On December 22, Vice President Richard Nixon, accompanied by the commander of USAFE, Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner, observed Safe Haven I operations at Munich Riem Airport. On the busiest day of the operation, December 24, Atlantic Division planes moved 984 refugees from Munich to McGuire AFB. Throughout the airlift, special missions carried women in late stages of pregnancy, infants, and the ill and infirm. During Safe Haven I, 107 flights transported 6,393 passengers to the United States.

In Safe Haven II, which lasted from January 6 through June 30, the 1611th Air Transport Wing airlifted an additional 3,791 refugees from Neubiberg AB near Munich to McGuire AFB on 66 transatlantic flights.

During Safe Haven I and II, MATS planes airlifted 10,184 Hungarian refugees on 173 flights from West Germany to New Jersey. Commercial contract airliners flew 4,170 refugees on 58 flights. After landing at McGuire AFB, the Hungarians moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where they were processed for settlement in the United States. Safe Haven was the most significant European humanitarian airlift operation since the Berlin Airlift, transporting more refugees than ever before. In nearly seven months of almost continuous operations, and despite bouts with fog and storms, the 1608th and 1611th Air Transport Wings experienced no major accidents and transported all passengers safely.

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