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Berlin Blockade - History

Berlin Blockade - History


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No agreement could be reached with the Soviets on continued control of Germany. When the Allies decided to introduce a new currency into West Germany to counter inflation, the Soviets opposed the move. As a response, and as a means of stopping the reunification of Western Germany, the Soviets imposed a blockade on Berlin on June 18th 1948 , which had been and remained under four-power control.

The American Commander in Germany, General Clay, stated that if the Soviets managed to push the U.S. out of Berlin, the next step could be the expulsion of the U.S. from Germany and then from Europe altogether. He suggested that the U.S. break the blockade by force. President Truman decided on an airlift. The airlift was very successful, and the Soviets lifted the blockade eleven months after it was imposed.



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On 24 June 1948, the Soviet Union attempted to block Western Allied Powers’ access over their occupation zones in Germany’s capital, Berlin. Eventually known as the Berlin Blockade, they intended to protest the merging of the sectors of France, the UK, and the US in West Germany. This event is believed to be one of the major crises signifying the Cold War.

See the fact file below for more information on the Berlin Blockade or alternatively, you can download our 23-page Berlin Blockade worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.


Berlin Blockade - History

An article in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, signed X, proposed that the West adopt a policy of "containment" toward the Soviet Union. The article's author, George Kennan, who set up the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 1943, called on the United States to take steps to prevent Soviet expansion. He was convinced that if the Soviet Union failed to expand, its social system would eventually break down.

The Containment Policy would adopt two approaches. One approach was military the other was economic. In 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a program to funnel American economic aid to Europe. Faced with a rapid growth in the size of Communist parties, especially in France and Italy, the U.S. proposed a program of direct economic aid.

In June 1947, George C. Marshall proposed to give financial aid to European countries. He called on Europeans to collectively agree on what kind of assistance they needed. Even the Soviet Union was invited to participate in the planning.

The Soviet delegation abruptly quit the summit in Paris to discuss the Marshall offer. When two Soviet satellites--Czechoslovakia and Poland--indicated that they wanted to take part in the Marshall Plan, the Soviet Union said no. The Soviet refusal to participate made it easier to secure congressional passage for the plan. When the Czechoslovakian government was overthrown in a Communist coup, congressional passage was assured.

The Marshall Plan committed more than 10 percent of the federal budget and almost 3 percent of the United States' gross national product to rebuilding Western Europe. Over the next 40 months, Congress authorized $12.5 billion in aid to restore Western Europe's economic health and to halt the spread of communism. Marshall's plan actually cost the United States very little, since it was largely paid for by European purchases of American coal, agricultural crops, and machinery.

In March and April 1947, the United States, British, French, and Soviet officials met in Moscow to discuss the future of Germany. The participants were unable to agree about whether to end the occupation of Germany or to reunify the country. The conference's failure led the Western Allies to unify their German occupation zones in June 1948 and to establish West Germany.

Outraged by Western plans to create an independent West Germany, Soviet forces imposed a blockade cutting off rail, highway, and water traffic between West Germany and West Berlin. A day later, an airlift began flying in food and supplies for West Berlin's two million residents. By September, the airlift was carrying 4,500 tons of supplies a day. Over the next 11 months, 277,000 flights brought in 2.5 million tons of supplies until the Soviet Union lifted the blockade.

In April 1949, a month before the Soviet Union lifted the Berlin Blockade, the United States, Canada, Iceland and nine European nations formed NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Member states pledged mutual assistance against an armed attack and cooperation in military training and strategic planning.

The U.S. stationed troops in Western Europe, assuring its Allies that it would use its nuclear deterrent to protect Western Europeans against a Soviet attack.

The admission of West Germany into NATO in 1955 led the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites to form a competing military alliance called the Warsaw Pact.


June 24, 1948 - Berlin Blockade

The Berlin Blockade was initiated on June 24, 1948 and lasted until May 12, 1949: a total of 11 months. The Berlin Blockade was created by the USSR in attempt to cripple the British, France and the United States’ ability to travel in and between their designated regions of post WWII Germany. The effects of the blockade included leaving 2.5 million people without supplies including electricity, heat and food. The only way that the Allies could keep people alive was by dropping supplies from planes. Over eleven months, US and British planes delivered 2.3 million tons of supplies to the stranded people of Bizonia (West Germany). To fully understand why the Berlin Blockade happened, you must understand what lead to it.

It all started at the Yalta Conference in 1945 where it was decided Germany would be split up into four zones. The U.S., Britain and France had similar ideas about what they wanted to do in Germany, while the Soviets went in a different direction. The U.S., Britain and France wanted to help revitalize Germany’s economy. One way they did this was by introducing a new currency in the west part of Germany. The U.S. also wanted to help other war-torn countries similar to Germany, and they made a plan to do so. This plan was called the Marshall Plan, and the US saw it as a way to stop the spread of the communism, something they would try to do throughout the entire Cold War. Stalin did not like the Allies’ plan with Germany and the rest of Europe. Stalin thought the Allies were attempting to make the economy in West Germany fail. Once the Allied forces combined regions in West Germany, Stalin activated the Blockade.

The Berlin Blockade was one of the first confrontations between the United States and the USSR in the Cold War, which in total lasted 45 years (which one lasted 45 years). This dilemma heightened tensions between the two world superpowers because Stalin wanted and thought the US would leave Europe alone after the war and the USSR would be the sole influence over the continent. The Berlin Blockade also encouraged the US to join NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), which they did in July of 1949. On the other side, the USSR was in its own alliance, the Warsaw Pact. Post war Germany is considered one of the starting factors of the Cold War.

US and British planes lifting off to deliver supplies

German Citizens watching the planes deliver supplies to them in their war-torn country.


Contents

When the Allied Powers met at Potsdam they agreed to divide Germany into four occupation zones, American, British, Soviet, and French. They divided Berlin into four zones as well. Berlin was surrounded by the Soviet occupation zone, so the only way to get to the three western controlled sectors was driving through Soviet-controlled territory.

The Soviet Union began the blockade because they thought the western half of Germany (controlled by the UK, USA and France) was becoming too strong, because one currency had recently been introduced throughout the entire western half - the Deutsche Mark. The Soviets were worried that a single currency would help the economy of the western half recovered quickly from the damage caused by the Second World War, and that this stronger western half would eventually develop into a country (it eventually did, called West Germany). The Russians wanted one Germany, without an army, that they could easily control. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union had killed one in seven Soviet people, and the Soviets feared that Britain, France and America might try to launch their own invasion at some point in the future. They therefore wanted as much land between them and France as possible, so that any major war would be fought in central Europe, and not in the Soviet Union where Soviet civilians might be killed (which is what had happened during WWII).

Germany also has lots of coal and iron near its border with France. The Soviets wanted to use the coal and steel to help rebuild their own country, but these resources woudl be difficult to access if the western half of Germany turned into a capitalist country that was allied to Britain, France, and the USA. If Germany was a single neutral country, gaining access to these resources would be easier because Germany could be bullied by the Soviet Union.

On 24 June 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access to the three Western-held sectors of Berlin. They cut off all rail and road routes going through Soviet-controlled territory in the United States. They also blocked routes by river and canal to the Baltic Sea. The Western powers had arranged a treaty with the Soviets guaranteeing the right to use the roads, railways and waterways.

The commander of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, wanted to send some tanks along the Autobahn from West Germany to West Berlin, with instructions to fire if they were stopped or attacked. President Truman said no, because that may start a war. Clay was told to ask General Curtis LeMay, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, to see if an airlift was possible. General Albert Wedemeyer, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, was in Europe when the blockade began. He had been commander of the American forces in India and China in 1944–45. He knew about the Allied airlift from India over "The Hump" of the Himalayas to China. He was in favour of starting an airlift. [1]

The first flight of the airlift was thirty-two C-47 cargo planes on 26 June 1948. They carried 80 tons of cargo including milk, flour, and medicine.

So many things had to be flown into Berlin that aircraft took off every three minutes. [2] If an aircraft missed its landing place it could not fly around the airfield and try again, it had to return to its base. This was easier and safer than holding up the aircraft following behind.

The Americans also recruited ex-Luftwaffe aircraft mechanics to help with maintenance, when the Allies realised that the blockade was going to last longer than the expected three weeks. [3]

British, U.S., Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and South African pilots flew in the airlift. The French were fighting in their colonies in South-East Asia and could not spare many aeroplanes for the airlift. Instead they built a new and larger airport in its sector, on the shores of Lake Tegel. They completed the building in less than 90 days. Today it is the Berlin-Tegel International Airport.

Hundreds of aircraft, nicknamed Rosinenbomber ("raisin bombers") by Berliners, were used to fly in a wide variety of cargo, ranging from large containers to small packets of candy with tiny individual parachutes intended for the children of Berlin, were flown out of Berlin on return flights.

278,228 flights were made, and 2,326,406 tons of food and supplies, including more than 1.5 million tons of coal, were delivered to Berlin. [4]

The USSR lifted its blockade at midnight, on 11 May 1949. But, the airlift did not end until 30 September 1949, because the Western states wanted to build up enough supplies in West Berlin in case the Soviets blockaded it again.

The three major Berlin airfields involved were Tempelhof, in the American Sector, RAF Gatow in the British and Tegel in the French. To keep everything safe, air traffic control was located at Tempelhof. A new four-power organization also started, Berlin Air Safety Center (BASC). BASC only closed down in 1990, when Germany was reunited and the ordinary German civilian air traffic control took over.

British operation Edit

The British had about 150 C-47 Dakotas and 40 Avro Yorks. The RAF was also using 10 Short Sunderlands and later by Short Hythe flying boats. These flew Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg to the Havel river. The flying boats were designed to resist rust and water damage so were very useful for transporting bulk salt, which would have rusted the other planes. Many other aircraft were later used, and the British had flown in about 100,000 tons of cargo by the end of the blockade.

39 British and 31 U.S. pilots died during the blockade. There is a monument with their names in front of Tempelhof airport. Similar monuments can be found at the military airfield Wietzenbruch near Celle and at Rhein-Main Air Base

They lost their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service for the Berlin Airlift 1948/49

Tegel was developed into west Berlin's principal airport, and by 2007 had been joined by a redeveloped Berlin-Schoenefeld in Brandenburg. As a result of these two airports Tempelhof has been closed, whilst Gatow no longer serves as an airport and now hosts the Museum of the German Luftwaffe. During the 1970s and 1980s Schoenefeld had had its own crossing points through the Berlin Wall for western citizens.


3 Answers 3

This is a good question. So many encyclopedia entries, passing mentions in books, etc. pass up the issue of ending the blockade, as if the motivation for dropping it was obvious. Daniel Harrington, in a mid-1980s round up and revisit of the arguments over the crisis, gives a typical example of this, "By mid-March, with the worst of the winter behind him, Stalin realized that whatever leverage the blockade afforded was shrinking rapidly" [3:110] This is true even in very recent accounts. Ted Hopf's book on the early cold war, writes, "After the airlift demonstrated its capacity through the winter, Stalin dropped his currency demands. " [2:141] which were the final obstacle to coming to resolution.

Usually there isn't much attempt to explain why he couldn't continue the blockade another year, two years, etc. The assumption I think many people make, even when works don't really show any evidence that Soviets thought this way, is that the political cost in terms of loss of international reputation was high, and not worth dragging the crisis out. My quick look through the literature didn't say much in detail on this however, but perhaps someone can chime in. Part of the problem, I think, is that the overwhelming predominance of literature on this subject seems to use almost exclusively Western sources (would be great if someone could point out recent work which makes use of Soviet archival sources).

I found one important exception to the above in the form of a 1997 article by William Stivers 1 in Diplomatic History which is frequently cited in subsequent works and encyclopedia entries on the subject of the Berlin blockade. I'm frankly surprised to see no integration of its findings into the Wikipedia entry on the blockade.

I saw three major takeaways from the Stivers piece that can help us answer your question:

The literature fundamentally distorts the facts on the ground during the conflict by portraying (as Allies did at the time) the situation in Berlin as creating a fully isolated city. As Stivers puts it and argues in detail in the article, “the Soviet blockade neither attempted nor achieved the isolation of West Berlin” [1:569]

No effort was made, however – either at the beginning of the blockade or during the course of it – to seal off the Western sectors from either East Berlin or from the surrounding countryside. As a result, a flood of goods – roughly a half a million tons, to take the mean of various estimates – entered the Western sectors from Soviet area sources over the ten-and-a-half-month period of “restrictions.” [1:570]

Many works, including the wikipedia entry note that there was food offered from the east but, "they do so chiefly to emphasize that the great majority of Western sector residents turned it down.” [1:571]

Speaking to your suggestion that the Soviets could have just continued indefinitely, Stivers suggests even more strongly:

East German and Soviet aims – once asserted with breezy certainty by Western historians – become suddenly elusive. In particular, the fact that the Soviets imposed the blockade, but then let it be undermined in a way that assisted the West to victory, is a contradiction in search of explanation. The Soviets probably could have “won” the conflict at any number of points. Had they imposed an absolute blockade at the very beginning of the crisis (thereby reducing the Allies’ cushion of time), or slogged on with it indefinitely . they would have strained morale to the limit. [1:595]

He answers this puzzle by emphasizing the fact that it was not the isolation of Berlin that they wanted, but the further integration of it into an economy that had great benefit for interaction with it [1:595] While all eyes are on the symbolism of the air-lift for relieving West Berlin, less attention is paid to the powerful impact of the counter-blockade on East Germany:

The East German economy suffered grievously from the Allied counterblockade imposed. against Western zone shipments to the East. Trade with Berlin’s Western sector companies helped reduce the damage of shattered interdependencies and avert collapse in certain key sectors. [1:587]

In this perspective, Stivers there was both an economic and a political cost - but here the political cost is not just internationally but in terms of its intra-bloc reputation as well:

As it was, the blockade was a massive blunder. In German eyes, not only did the Soviet Union appear a most implausible “friend,” but the necessity of seeking security with the West seemed conclusively proved. Economic considerations aside, Soviet supply and trade offers – beginning with the milk offer five days after the blockade began – look like efforts to deescalate the crisis in order to repair political damage. [5:596]

Finally, Stivers makes a complex argument, not considered in detail here, that the conclusion of the crisis, which hinged on the Soviet dropping of its demands, especially regarding the currency in West Berlin, came partly as a result of British resistance to certain aspects of American demands, and stalling actions by the British and French up to a point where the demand simply made little sense anymore, thus easing the way for a resolution to the crisis. The period of the blockade brought about changes in the economic environment and decreased the interdependency of the two sides to a point where the restoration of the pre-crisis state was increasingly unlikely. [1:602]

In conclusion, Stivers argue, reproduced by others who cite him in later works, is that the blockade came with a cost to the Soviets that was both political and economic in the form of the counter-blockade by the Allies on East Germany, and during its course, helped bring out economic changes in the relationship between East Germany and West Germany that made restoration of the pre-crisis status quo difficult and thus not worth the continuation of the blockade.

Sources refered with above as [Source Number:Page Number]

William Stivers, “The Incomplete Blockade: Soviet Zone Supply of West Berlin, 1948–49,” Diplomatic History 21, no. 4 (October 1, 1997): 569–602. Wiley Online

Ted Hopf, Reconstructing the Cold War: The Early Years, 1945-1958 (Oxford University Press, 2012). Gbooks

Daniel F. Harrington, “The Berlin Blockade Revisited,” The International History Review 6, no. 1 (February 1, 1984): 88–112. Jstor

in April 1949, planes were landing in the city every minute. Tensions were high during the airlift, and three groups of U.S. strategic bombers were sent as reinforcements to Britain while the Soviet army presence in eastern Germany increased dramatically. The Soviets made no major effort to disrupt the airlift. As a countermeasure against the Soviet blockade, the Western powers also launched a trade embargo against eastern Germany and other Soviet bloc countries.

Probably they got something for them too (source):

Realizing the blockade was failing, the Soviets sought to negotiate. On May 4, the Soviets met with the three Western Allies in Berlin and agreed to end the blockade, effective on May 12.

One more thing is that Soviets actually lost this fighting (source):

Not only did the blockade turn out to be totally ineffective, it ended up backfiring on the Soviets in other ways. It provoked genuine fears of war in the West. And instead of preventing the establishment of an independent West Germany, it accelerated the Allies plans to set up the state. It also hastened the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an American-Western European military alliance. In May 1949, Stalin had little choice but to lift the blockade.

Keeping the blockade could thus unite West more, which was not desired by Stalin.

Please also note that in West Berlin there were not only civilians, but also military forces of USA, UK and France. Disallowing their supply could have been considered as an act -- not war maybe, but aggression. USA had the A-bomb and nobody was 100% sure if this won't be used again. This might explain why "three groups of U.S. strategic bombers" made so much fear.

I am surprised that no one mentioned one of the major reasons for the blockade (which might help explain why it was finally lifted). On June 20 1948 western powers unilaterally decided to switch to the new money (new German mark) in their zones of occupation while the Soviet zone continued to use previous reichsmark bills whose issue was controlled collectively by the allied powers. USSR objected to that step because this resulted in clear economical separation of the three "western" zones from the "eastern" one which went (in Soviet opinion) against Potsdam agreement about collective sovereinghty of the four allied powers over Germany.

People in western zones were allowed to exchange the old money for the new very gradually and the rates naturally started going up. But in the eastern zone they could still use the old money to buy the goods - and you can imagine that in 1948, in the country laying in ruins, that was huge. So the Germans, and especially those who lived close to the eastern zone, crowded the eastern sectors, sweeping away everything that was offered at the stores.

So Soviet administration decided to stop the flow - they simply could not afford it financially - hence the blockade commenced and then slowly spread from just auto vehicles to trains and then to air transport.

Seems that nobody wanted to back down - not to mention, the cold war has started already, allies were not allies anymore - so down the road the things were getting worse and situation was deteriorating further and further. In just 4 days blockade became absolute.

The "funny" thing that for some time after the blockade had started Soviets shipped some food and goods into Western Berlin - obviously using that as a propaganda tool, but for the Berliners who benefitted that was likely not the main point, they just wanted to survive. And then the government of West Berlin . prohibited getting the food from eastern Berlin. For instance, government workers were being fired from their jobs if it was discovered they had been getting food and supplies from East Berlin. a sort of loyalty test, I guess. In August 1949 West Berlin government barricaded off Postdammerplatz where the major exchange of goods between the sectors had been organized, etc. USSR also used some underhanded tactics to try and undermine Western efforts.

Both sides pursued their political goals, and USSR was not a fluffy teddy bear either, by no means. However, the blockade was not something that Stalin just decided to do just because he was this super-villain bent on Communist world domination. As a matter of fact, it was rather a knee-jerk reaction to (probably) not very expected actions by USA-UK-France bloc.

Result - split of Germany into FRG and GDR in October 1949. So my explanation: Soviets stopped caring about the blockade mid-1949 because they have made the decision about the split. There was no more point to the blockade, since Germany would soon become two countries anyway, with real borders etc. And that's exactly what happened.

Keiderling G. Die Berliner Krise 1948/49. Berlin (West), 1982

Беспалов В. А. «Блокада Берлина» и продовольственный вопрос: забытые аспекты, Вестник РГУ им. И. Канта, 2007 (in Russian)

Summary of the First Law of Currency Reform Promulgated by the Three Western Military Governors, Effective June 20, 1948, United States-Department of State. Documents on Germany 1944—1985. Washington: Department of State

Tripartite Statement Announcing Extension of the Western «Deutsche Mark» as Currency in the Western Sectors of Berlin, Effective June 24, 1948, United States-Department of State. Documents on Germany 1944—1985. Washington: Department of State

Dates and simple facts (like split of Germany, creation of NATO) do not need a citation, I am sure.


Winter 1948 to spring 1949 [ edit | edit source ]

Preparing for winter [ edit | edit source ]

Although the early estimates were that about 4,000 to 5,000 tons would be needed to supply the city, this was made in the context of summer weather, when the Airlift was only expected to last a few weeks. As the operation dragged on into the fall, the situation changed considerably. The food requirements would remain the same (around 1,500 tons), but the need for additional coal to heat the city dramatically increased the total amount of cargo to be transported by an additional 6,000 tons a day.

To maintain the Airlift under these conditions, the current system would have to be greatly expanded. Aircraft were available, and the British started adding their larger Handley Page Hastings in November, but maintaining the fleet proved to be a serious problem. Tunner looked to the Germans once again, hiring (plentiful) ex-Luftwaffe ground crews.

C-54s stand out against the snow at Wiesbaden Air Base during the Berlin Airlift in the Winter of 1948–49.

Another problem was the lack of runways in Berlin to land on: two at Tempelhof and one at Gatow — neither of which was designed to support the loads the C-54s were putting on them. All of the existing runways required hundreds of laborers, who ran onto them between landings and dumped sand into the runway's Marsden Matting (pierced steel planking) to soften the surface and help the planking survive. Since this system could not endure through the winter, between July and September 1948 a 6,000 ft.-long asphalt runway was constructed at Tempelhof.

Far from ideal, with the approach being over Berlin's apartment blocks, the runway was, nevertheless, a major upgrade to the airport's capabilities. With it in place, the auxiliary runway was upgraded from Marsden Matting to asphalt between September and October 1948. A similar upgrade program was carried out by the British at Gatow during the same period, also adding a second runway, using concrete.

The French Air Force, meanwhile, had become involved in the First Indochina War, so it could only bring up some old Junkers Ju 52s to support its own troops. However, France agreed to build a complete, new and larger, airport in its sector, on the shores of Lake Tegel. French military engineers, managing German construction crews, were able to complete the construction in under 90 days. The airport was mostly built by hand, by thousands of female laborers, who worked day and night.

Heavy equipment was needed to level the ground, equipment that was too large and heavy to fly in on any existing cargo aircraft. A solution was found by a Brazilian engineer, H.B. Lacombe, who had perfected the technique of dismantling large machines for transport, and then re-assembling them. (The same technique had been used by Americans involved in flying "over the Hump" from India to China in 1944.) He was flown in to advise the effort and, using the five largest American C-82 Packet transports, it was possible to fly the machinery into West Berlin. This not only helped to build the airfield, but also demonstrated that the Soviet blockade could not keep anything out of Berlin.

There was an obstacle in the approach to the Tegel airfield, however. A Soviet-controlled radio tower caused problems by its proximity to the airfield. Pleas to remove it went unheard, so on 20 November 1948, French General Jean Ganeval made the decision simply to blow it up. The mission was carried out on 16 December, much to the delight of Berliners, and provoking complaints from the Soviets. When his Soviet counterpart, General Alexej Kotikow, asked him angrily on the phone how he could have done this, Ganeval is said to have answered him laconically, "With dynamite, my dear colleague." The Tegel airfield later evolved into Berlin-Tegel Airport.

To improve air traffic control, which would be critical as the number of flights grew, the newly developed Ground Controlled Approach radar system (GCA) was flown to Europe for installation at Tempelhof, with a second set installed at Fassberg in the British Zone in West Germany. With the installation of GCA, all-weather airlift operations were assured.

None of these efforts could fix the weather, though, which would be the biggest problem. November and December 1948 proved to be the worst months of the airlift operation. One of the longest-lasting fogs ever experienced there blanketed the entire European continent for weeks. All too often, aircraft would make the entire flight and then be unable to land in Berlin. On 20 November, 42 aircraft departed for Berlin, but only one landed there. At one point, the city had only a week's supply of coal left.

The weather improved, however. More than 171,000 tons were delivered in January 1949, 152,000 tons in February, and 196,223 tons in March. ⏄]

The Easter parade [ edit | edit source ]

By April 1949 airlift operations were running smoothly and Tunner wanted to break the monotony. He liked the idea of a big event that would give everyone a morale boost. He decided that on Easter Sunday the airlift would break all records. To do this, maximum efficiency was needed. To simplify handling, the only cargo would be coal, and stockpiles were built up for the effort. Maintenance schedules were altered so that the maximum number of aircraft were available.

From noon on 15 April to noon on 16 April 1949, crews worked around the clock. When it was over, 12,941 tons of coal had been delivered in 1,383 flights, without a single accident. A welcome side effect of the effort was that operations in general were boosted, and tonnage increased from 6,729 tons to 8,893 tons per day thereafter. In total, the airlift delivered 234,476 tons in April. ⏄]

On 21 April the tonnage of supplies flown into the city exceeded that previously brought by rail.


Berlin Blockade - History

The first heightening of Cold War tensions occurred in 1948 when the Soviets imposed a blockade of Berlin.

But the western powers would not give in. To demonstrate their resolve, the Americans
orchestrated a monumental airlift which flew necessities such as coal and food into the western sectors of Berlin. This airlift lasted for 324 days, and approximately 13,000 tons of supplies a day were delivered.

Operation Vittles

Explain one way in which the Cold War was fought.

The Cold War was fought in many ways including political pressure in order to claim further territory by driving the USA or USSR out of a region. This can be seen in Berlin in 1948 when the USSR stopped supplies entering West Berlin through the East Germany area they controlled. This effectively cut off the city, resulting in potential shortages in food, clothing, fuel and many other necessities. By cutting off supplies, the USSR hoped to drive the USA and her allies out of the region. The USA responded through an immense airlift program to supply West Berlin with the required necessities for survival. Lasting 324 days, approximately 13,000 tons of supplies were delivered per day in order to provide for the people. Realising the blockade was unsuccessful in driving out the USA, the USSR decided to discontinue this political standoff. While the Berlin blockade had been a failure for the USSR, it assisted the growth of the USA’s influence as hostility between the three powers occupying West Berlin was reduced in confronting a common threat. Furthermore the political conflict was a success for the USA as a greater perception of the USSR as a hostile threat emerged in West Germany and West Berlin, resulting in a lessening of the USSR’s influence in those areas. This event is an example of the USSR trying to use political pressure to extend their influence, however, this was not successful.


Airlift Berlin Blockade Essay

The Berlin blockade was a diplomatic crisis and military operation during the cold war precipitated by the Soviet Union’s blockade of the city of Berlin from June 18, 1948, to May 12, 1949, and the subsequent relief effort launched by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to provide provisions for the western half of the city. The Berlin blockade was one of the first major diplomatic crises of the cold war. The Western Allies’ ability to provide for the city proved to be a major diplomatic victory and ensured the creation of a pro-Western West German state. However, it also ensured the division of Germany and Berlin for the next four decades.

The diplomatic struggle over Berlin in 1948–49 had its origins in the final months of World War II and the agreements made among the Allied powers over the division of postwar Germany. Germany’s capital, Berlin, although deep within the proposed Soviet zone, would also be divided into four sectors of occupation. Although each power would be given sole control of its respective zone, an Allied Control Council based in Berlin would be assembled to coordinate and plan policy for all of Germany. These plans were made under the assumption that the occupation of Germany would be temporary and that Germany would be reunified relatively soon after the war’s end. Critically, the agreements were also made under the assumption of continued inter-Allied cooperation.

Within days of Nazi Germany’s defeat, the Soviets undertook efforts to ensure the dominance of sympathetic German communists in their zone, especially in Berlin, which the Soviets claimed was an integral part of their zone. Their overall aim was the reunification of a pro-communist German state, a goal that placed it at odds with the Western Allies. In 1946 the Soviet Union sponsored the forced merger of the German Communist Party and the Social Democrats (SPD) of its zone into the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Censorship of the press was instituted and members of noncommunist parties were frequently arrested in the Soviet zone. In Berlin agitators working for the SED frequently disrupted the meetings of the democratically elected city council. In 1946 the election of the Social Democrat Ernst Reuter to the office of lord mayor of Berlin was vetoed by the Soviets. However, the Soviets were unable to gain control of Berlin outside their zone or the rest of Germany.

Over the course of the next three years, hopes of inter-Allied cooperation quickly faded as it became increasingly apparent that neither the Soviets nor the Western Allies would come to an agreement on either a postwar settlement or reunifying Germany. In 1947 the British and the United States united their two zones to create the Bizone, or Bizonia. Although it was created as an economic union, the Bizone would eventually form the nucleus of what was to become West Germany. In the spring of 1948—the three Western Allies—along with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg— assembled at the London Conference to plan for the future of the three west German zones.

In 1948 with reunification unlikely, the British and the Americans made moves to sponsor the creation of a Western-oriented German state in their zones. Together with the French they created the deutsche mark to replace the inflated reichsmark. This currency reform took effect in the three western zones and the three western sectors of Berlin. The Soviets argued that this violated postwar agreements made at the Potsdam Conference and their rights to all of Berlin. They subsequently ordered a blockade of all rail, road, and barge traffic into and out of the three western sectors of Berlin.

The Soviets’ aim was to halt the creation of a West German state and force the Western Allies out of Berlin. It became apparent to the Allied powers that any compromise or appearance of backing down before Soviet intimidation would be diplomatically disastrous. Although several U.S. generals argued that Berlin was not strategically important enough to risk a confrontation and pressed for withdrawal, President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of State George C. Marshall felt that Berlin was critical to maintaining a strong front against the spread of communism. The Western Allies affirmed their support for their respective sectors in Berlin.

However, there were few actions that they could take. With only 15,000 Allied troops in West Berlin, a fight was not possible. General Clay advocated using an armed convoy to break the blockade. But both the U.S. State Department and the Pentagon saw this as both too risky and unworkable. The option of an airlift became increasingly attractive, as it would demonstrate Allied determination to remain in Berlin and provide it with much-needed provisions and supplies. Also, whereas the rights for land access to Berlin were left undefined, the Western Allies and the Soviets had concluded an agreement guaranteeing access by air. Thus the likelihood of war resulting from an airlift was much smaller than if the Allies were to force the blockade.

Between June 1948 and May 1949 almost all the provisions for the western zones of Berlin were shipped in by air, using aircraft such as the C-47 Dakota and C-54 Skymaster. The operation was given the code name “Vittles” and was commanded by General William H. Tunner. Tunner, who had experience transporting goods over the Himalayas during World War II, organized an extremely complex operation. During the summer months the airlift was able to provide only between 3,000 and 4,000 tons of goods a day. By the onset of winter, Vittles was providing between 5,000 and 6,000 tons a day.

The Allies were also blessed by a winter marked by frequently clear skies. During the spring of 1949 an aircraft landed at one of the three airports in the western zone once every two minutes. The citizens of Berlin greatly appreciated the Allied efforts and many West Berliners aided in distributing supplies throughout the city. Children called the planes Rosinenbombers (“Raisin Bombers”), and the name became a popular appellation for the aircraft throughout the city. Ernst Reuter, unofficially mayor of the western sectors and spokesman for the western half of the city, made great efforts to improve morale and win world sympathy for the city. What supplies the airlift could not provide were often found on the black market in the east and through legal East-West trade.

By the spring of 1949 it had become apparent that the western sectors could be sustained with the necessary provisions, so long as the Soviet military did not interfere. However, it had come at a cost: 31 Americans, 40 Britons, and 5 Germans lost their lives to air related accidents during the course of the airlift.

On May 12, the Soviets, aware they would neither force the Western Allies to back down on the issue of currency reform nor end their support for a West German state, ended the blockade. Fearful that the Soviets might try to renew the blockade, the Allies continued airlifting provisions into September of 1949. The blockade was a disastrous diplomatic defeat for the Soviet Union. In the short-term it had failed to accomplish its two primary goals: to prevent the creation of a pro-Western German state and to expel the Allies from Berlin. The French, who had initially opposed the creation of a western Germany, joined their zone to the Bizone in 1949. That same year, both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic were proclaimed.

The chief long-term effect was the prolonged division of Germany. The Western Allies had confronted the Soviets and had maintained their commitments without having to resort to armed action. The blockade also proved damaging to world opinion of the Soviet Union. Berlin, long perceived as a bastion of German-Prussian militarism, had been transformed into a symbol of freedom. The allied presence in Berlin would be the source of almost constant difficulty for the East German state, as it provided an enclave of Western liberalism and economic prosperity that was a constant source of enticement for the citizens of the communist state. West Berlin would be a popular destination for East German emigrants over the course of the next decade, their massive flight from the east stopped only by the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961.


The Berlin Airlift could be called the first battle of the Cold War. It was when western countries delivered much needed food and supplies to the city of Berlin through the air because all other routes were blocked by the Soviet Union.

In response to the Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin, the United States begins a massive airlift of food, water, and medicine to the citizens of the besieged city. For nearly a year, supplies from American planes sustained the over 2 million people in West Berlin.


Watch the video: Berlin Airlift: The Cold War Begins - Extra History (May 2022).