Learn more about Berlin Blockade
The Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948 to May 11, 1949) became one of the first major crises of the new Cold War, when the Soviet Union blocked railroad and street access to West Berlin. The crisis abated after the Soviet Union did not act to stop American, British and French humanitarian airlifts of food and other provisions to the Western-held sectors of Berlin; this was referred to as Operation Vittles by the Americans and Operation Plainfare by the British.
When World War II ended in Europe on May 9, 1945, Soviet and Western (U.S., British, and French) troops were located in arbitrary places, essentially, along a line in the center of Europe. From July 17 to August 2, 1945, the victorious Allied Powers reached the Potsdam Agreement on the fate of post-war Europe, calling for the division of a defeated Germany into four occupation zones (thus reaffirming principles laid out earlier by the Yalta Conference), and the similar division of Berlin into four zones, later called East Berlin and West Berlin. The French, U.S., and British sectors of Berlin were deep within the Soviet occupation zone, and thus a focal point of tensions corresponding to the breakdown of the Western-Soviet wartime alliance.(See Origins of the Cold War)
 The dispute over Berlin
The Soviets pushed the Allies for reparations from West Germany's industrial plants, though this had not been agreed to. Predictably, Harry S. Truman refused to give the Soviet Union reparations; Joseph Stalin responded by splitting off the Soviet sector of Germany as a Communist state.
On June 18, 1948, the three Western sectors promulgated the laws, coming into force on June 20, that ended the use of occupation currency and introduced the Deutsche Mark, as a way of putting pressure on Stalin for the reunification of Germany and to spur the German reconstruction. The Soviets objected to this move. Having been invaded twice by Germany in the preceding three decades, they wanted Germany demilitarized like Japan before a reunification should take place. The Soviets also considered this move a breach of agreements reached at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, which stated that Germany would be treated as one economic unit.
 The Berlin Airlift
On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked access to the three Western-held sectors of Berlin, which lay deep within the Soviet-controlled zone of Germany, by cutting off all rail and road routes going through Soviet-controlled territory in Germany. The Western powers had never negotiated a pact with the Soviets guaranteeing these rights. Amid the fallout of the London Conference, the Soviets now rejected arguments that occupation rights in Berlin and the use of the routes during the previous three years had given the West legal claim to unimpeded use of the highways and railroads. As a further means of applying pressure, the Western sectors of Berlin were isolated from the city power grid, depriving the inhabitants of domestic and industrial electricity supplies.
The commander of the American occupation zone in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, proposed sending a large armoured column driving peacefully, as a moral right, down the Autobahn from West Germany to West Berlin, but prepared to defend itself if it were stopped or attacked. President Harry S. Truman, however, following the consensus in Washington, believed this entailed an unacceptable risk of war. Truman stated, "It is too risky to engage in this due to the consequence of war". Clay was told to take advice from General Curtis LeMay, commander of United States Air Forces in Europe, to see if an airlift was possible. By chance, General Albert Wedemeyer, the U.S. Army Chief of Plans and Operations, was in Europe on an inspection tour when the crisis occurred. He had been commander of the U.S. China Theater in 1944–1945 and had an intimate knowledge of the World War II Allied airlift from India over the Hump of the Himalayas. He was in favour of the airlift option and knew the best person to run the operation: Lt. General William H. Tunner was charged with organizing and commanding the Berlin airlift because of his experience in commanding and organising the airlift over the Hump.
On June 25 Clay gave the order to launch a massive airlift using both civil and military aircraft (ultimately lasting 462 days) that flew supplies into the Western-held sectors of Berlin over the blockade during 1948–1949. The first plane flew on the following day, and the first British aeroplane flew on the 28th. This aerial supplying of West Berlin became known as the Berlin Airlift. Military confrontation loomed while Truman embarked on a highly visible move which would publicly humiliate the Soviets.
The U.S. action was given the name Operation Vittles. An existing British supply plan known as Knicker evolved into 'Carter Paterson', and then became Operation Plainfare in early July 1948.
Hundreds of aircraft, nicknamed Rosinenbomber ("raisin bombers") by the local population, 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 (an idea of a pilot named Gail Halvorsen that soon gained considerable US civilian support). Sick children were evacuated on return flights. The aircraft were supplied and flown by the United States, United Kingdom and France, but pilots and crew also came from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand in order to assist the supply of Berlin. Ultimately 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. 
At the height of the operation, on April 16 1949, an allied aircraft landed in Berlin every minute, with 1,398 flights in 24 hours carrying 12,940 tons (13,160 t) of goods, coal and machinery, beating the record of 8,246 (8,385 t) set only days earlier.
The USSR lifted its blockade at 00:01, on May 12, 1949. However, the airlift did not end until September 30, as the Western nations wanted to build up sufficient amounts of supplies in West Berlin in case the Soviets blockaded it again.
The major Berlin airfields involved were Tempelhof in the American Sector, Gatow on the Havel river in the British, and Tegel (built by army engineers in 49 days with the help of Berlin volunteers) in the French. Operational control of the three allied airlift corridors was given to Berlin Air Route Traffic Control Center (BARTCC), located at Tempelhof. Tensions in the Berlin Air Safety Center (BASC) – a four-power organization manned by personnel from France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union – reached an understandable high during the Airlift, though the success of the campaign was in large part due to the coordination carried out within the BASC.
The Allied commander during the airlift was General Lucius D. Clay. He would return to Berlin during the second Berlin crisis, leading up to the building of the Berlin Wall and the Checkpoint Charlie crisis.
 British operation
Initially the British had about 150 C-47 Dakotas and 40 Avro Yorks. By July 18, the RAF was flying 995 tons of supplies per day into Berlin. In July, the Dakotas and Yorks were joined by 10 Short Sunderland and 2 Short Hythe flying boats, flying from the Elbe near Hamburg to the Havel river. The flying boats' speciality was transporting bulk salt, which would have been corrosive to the other planes. In November, Handley Page Hastings were added to the fleet and some crews and aircraft were removed to train others. By mid-December, the RAF had landed 100,000 tons of supplies. In April 1949, civilian companies involved in the airlift were formed into a Civil Airlift Division (of British European Airways) to operate under RAF control.
 Further reading
- Robert E. Griffin and D. M. Giangreco, Airbridge to Berlin : The Berlin Crisis of 1948, Its Origins and Aftermath, Presidio Press, 1988. ISBN 0-89141-329-4
 See also
- History of Germany
- West Berlin
- RAF Gatow
- East Berlin
- Gail Halvorsen (also known as "Uncle Wiggle Wings the Candy Bomber")
- The Big Lift, a 1950 film about the airlift from an American point of view.
 External links
- Agreement to divide Berlin
- Memorandum for the President: The Situation in Germany, July 23, 1948
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