By Website Staff with initial details
from Jim Chorazy, Web Staff
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The Bizarre Tale of Capt. Alfred Svenson
- A Spearheader Gone Wrong -


His defection to the Communists was national front-page news and stranger than fiction. According to an eye-witness, Alfred Svenson put on his steel helmet, bent over the steering wheel, and rammed his jeep through barbed wire into East Germany -- as the East Germans were firing at him.

Thus, on May 4, 1963, this 31-year-old 3rd Armored Division captain would become the first and apparently only U.S. military officer to defect to the Soviet bloc during all of the Cold War. Following his involuntary return to West Germany by the Reds in 1964, Svenson was convicted of desertion and theft of a military vehicle. For lack of evidence, the Army could not file more serious charges. Did Cpt. Svenson, who had served with 3AD Intelligence, reveal valuable secrets to the Communists? The question remains unanswered.

(See additional details below newspaper clippings.)



From various news services, with the original headlines
and in chronological order:

U.S. Captain & G.I. Defect; Ask East German Asylum

The New York Times (front-page story on May 7, 1963)

Berlin, May 6, 1963: East Germany reported today that a United States Army captain deserted from his post in West Germany on Saturday [May 4] and asked for political asylum.

The official press service, A.D.N., identified the man as Captain Alfred Svenson, deputy commander of the 2nd Tank Battalion, First Cavalry Regiment, of the United States 3rd Armored Division. Capt. Svenson was stationed at Giessen, close to the East-West German border, A.D.N. said.

United States Army Headquarters in Heidelberg confirmed the incident and said a "full-scale investigation" had been ordered.

A.D.N. said that the flight of Captain Svenson followed by a day the defection to East Germany of another United States serviceman [not from the 3rd Armored Division], who was identified as Sgt. Benjamin Cain. The press service reported that Cain was stationed with the 6th Infantry in West Berlin and had sought asylum in East Berlin with border guards there.

Svenson was understood to be the first United States officer to defect to East Germany since the end of World War II. Soldiers of the Western garrisons in Berlin have in the past occasionally gone to East Germany, usually to escape punishment for offenses committed in the service.

Army officials said that Cain, 35 years old, was employed as a supply sergeant at the Army's McNair barracks in Berlin. His home address was given as Frederica, Delaware.

Heidelberg headquarters said the home address of Svenson, 30, was 20787 North Main Avenue, Scranton, Pa. He was born in Lithuania in 1932. The captain is not married. He was graduated from the University of Scranton and is reported to have a Bachelor of Science degree.

The army said that his mother, Mrs. Antonia Svenson, lives at 611 Maryland Avenue, Washington, D.C.

A.D.N. said Svenson crossed the border to East Germany near Eisenach, Thuringia, during the end, and gave himself up to East German border guards. He was in full uniform and riding a military vehicle, A.D.N. said.

According to official East German sources, both Americans are being interrogated by Soviet and East German military and security authorities.

Captain's Mother Shocked
United Press International

Washington, D.C., May 7, 1963: Mrs. Antonia Svenson, the mother of Captain Alfred Svenson said today: " I have nothing else to live for. My life is my boy. I hope it isn't true."

Mrs. Svenson was tearful and nearly incoherent when told that her son had asked asylum in East Germany.

"The military has done something to my boy," she said.

U.S. Army Defector Says German Reds Balk Return

Berlin, September 3, 1963: A man who identified himself as Alfred Svenson, a United States Army captain who defected to East Germany, said in East Berlin today that he is trying to return to the West.

The man got in touch with the Reuters office in East Berlin and said he had been manhandled by East German policemen when he attempted to cross to West Berlin.

He asserted that he remembered nothing about his crossing into East Germany on May 4th. He said that the last thing he remembered was having a meal at a West German inn south of Kassel, which is near the East-West German border.

G.I.'s Fail to Find Defector Attempting to Flee Reds
The New York Times

Berlin, September 4, 1963: United States officials were unable to day to find an American in East Berlin who identified himself as Alfred Svenson, an Army defector, who said yesterday he was desperately trying to return to the west.

The man visited the East Berlin office of the Reuters news agency and told the correspondent in charge that East German border guards had beaten him when he tried to cross to West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie, and the East-West crossing in Berlin for non-Germans.

According to Jack Altman, the correspondent, the man's shirt was bloodstained and his face was bruised and cut. The man said the guards had broken one of his front teeth in the scuffle.

A United States Army patrol went into East Berlin this morning in an attempt to meet to Svenson at the place he designated, but he was not there. The Reuters correspondent said the visitor had told him he did not remember anything about his crossing into East Germany and asserted he must been drugged and taken across.

Svenson, born in Lithuania in 1932, immigrated to the United States in 1949. He received United States citizenship after serving with the Army during the Korean war.

U.S. Defector Plans to Stay in East
The New York Times

Berlin, September 30, 1963: Captain Alfred Svenson said today that he had deserted for political reasons and intended to stay in East Berlin. He was interviewed in his apartment by American newsmen, who had been invited there by the East German Foreign Ministry.

Svenson said he was now employed by East Germany's foreign-language radio services.

Western officials believed the interview was arranged to counter the story Svenson had told a British correspondent in East Berlin earlier this month. Svenson was reported to have said that he was desperately seeking to return to the West.

In denying this today, he said that he had been drinking heavily when he visited the East Berlin office of the Reuters news agency on September 3.

U.S. Captain Sent Back by Soviets in Germany
Associated Press

Heidelberg, May 7, 1964: The United States Army announced that Captain Alfred Svenson, who crossed into East Germany a year ago, was sent back today by the Soviet authorities. Informants hinted that his return was not voluntary. The captain is now in military custody in West Germany while his case is being investigated.

Berlin Reds Accuse Expelled American
The New York Times

Berlin, May 8, 1964: The East German Communists said today that they had "expelled" Captain Alfred Svenson, on the ground that he had committed criminal offenses.

United States officials here felt that the Russians had pressed the East Germans to return Svenson to the west.

The United States Army said that Svenson been taken to a military hospital for a check-up while his case was being investigated.

Army Opens Trial of U.S. Defector
The New York Times

Frankfurt, June 29, 1964: Court-martial proceedings opened in Frankfurt today against Captain Alfred Svenson, a United States Army intelligence officer, who left his unit in May, 1963, for a year's stay in Communist East Germany.

Svenson testified at the opening session that Army Counter-intelligence Corps agents had told him they had defense evidence, but that it would be suppressed at the trial. The captain's Defense Counsel submitted a request that the "voluminous C.I.C. file" on the case be made available.

Svenson Tells Court of Red Threat to Try Him
Associated Press

Frankfurt, June 30, 1964: Captain Alfred Svenson testified today that Communist officials had threatened him with a "show trial" as an American spy if he refused to cooperate in being drilled for an interview with two American newsmen.

Svenson said he was held in solitary confinement for most of September, 1963, in a room with no windows and a bright electric light burning all the time.

His testimony before the law officer, with the tribunal not present, was to determine whether a tape recording of the interview with the newsmen could be admitted as evidence. After hearing the recording, Lt. Col. Warren Taylor, law officer, ruled it could be admitted.

Ex-G.I. Testifies Captain Drove Into East Germany
United Press International

Frankfurt, July 2, 1964: A former United States Army jeep driver told a court-martial today that when he refused to accompany Captain Alfred Svenson into Communist East Germany, the officer cursed him and drove across the frontier himself under Communist gunfire.

The driver, Edward G. Rowland, 20, of Fall Branch, Tenn., said Svenson "cursed me and said it was an order" to ram their jeep through barbed wire into East Germany on May 4, 1963.

Mr. Rowland, a construction worker since his honorable discharge from the Army, said he refused and hopped out of the jeep. He said, "Captain Svenson took the wheel, put on a steel helmet, bent over the wheel, and rammed through the barbed wire."

Army Defector Is Found Guilty
Associated Press

Frankfurt, July 8, 1964: Captain Alfred Svenson, the United States Army officer defected to East Germany only to be expelled a year later, was found guilty today of desertion and larceny. The 31-year-old officer from Scranton, Pa., will be sentenced tomorrow. The two charges carry a maximum penalty of eight years in prison, five for the theft of the jeep in which he fled to the Communists and three for desertion.

A general court-martial deliberated for two hours and five minutes before finding the officer guilty. Svenson rammed the jeep through a fence at the border between East and West Germany on May 4, 1963. He was returned to the West on May 7, 1964, after the Communists pronounced him "unfit to be granted asylum."

Svenson Given 7 Years For Desertion and Theft
Associated Press

Frankfurt, July 9, 1964: Captain Alfred Svenson was sentenced today to seven years at hard labor for having deserted to East Germany and stolen a jeep. Svenson, the only United States Army officer to be tried for desertion to the Communists, also was dismissed from the service. He will reportedly be incarcerated at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

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