Berlin Blockade

From Metapedia

Jump to: navigation, search
This section or article contains text from Wikipedia which has not yet been processed. It is thus likely to contain material which does not comply with the Metapedia guide lines. You can help Metapedia by editing the article and cleaning it from bias and inappropriate wordings.
Bolshevistic propaganda against the airlift to Berlin
Berliners watching a C-54 land at Tempelhof Airport (1948)
History of Berlin
Coat of arms of Berlin
This article is part of a series
Weimar Republic (1919–33)
1920s Berlin
Greater Berlin Act
Nazi Germany (1933–45)
Welthauptstadt Germania
Bombing of Berlin in World War II
Battle of Berlin
Divided city (1945–90)
East Berlin
West Berlin
Berlin Wall
Berlin Blockade (1948–49)
Berlin Crisis of 1961
"Ich bin ein Berliner" (1963)
"Tear Down This Wall" (1987)
See also:
History of Germany
Margraviate of Brandenburg

   v • d • e 

The Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948May 11, 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union -- blocked the three Western powers' railroad and street access to the western sectors of Berlin that they had been controlling. The crisis abated after the Western powers bypassed the blockade by establishing the Berlin Airlift.


Postwar division of Germany

When World War II ended in Europe on May 8 1945, Soviet and Western troops were stretched across Germany on a line running roughly along the Elbe, although branching off in several locations. Units of the (re-forming) French army were also present in southwest Germany.

From July 17 to August 2 1945, the victorious Allied Powers reached the Potsdam Agreement on the fate of postwar Europe, calling for the division of the defeated Germany into four occupation zones (thus re-affirming principles laid out earlier by the Yalta Conference), roughly located around their respective armies' pre-existing locations. Additionally, the German capital of Berlin would be divided into four zones. However, because of the city's location (deep within eastern Germany) the French, American, and British sectors of Berlin were surrounded by the Soviet's overall occupation zone. Administration of occupied Germany was coordinated by the Four Power Allied Control Council (ACC).

Part of the overall agreement was encoded in the Morgenthau Plan, which was based on the basic concept that Germany's economy would be re-constructed at 50% of its 1938 capacity, so that a militarized Germany could not re-emerge in the future. The Soviets were in favor of the plans, a response to the repeated German assaults on Russia. As Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov told United States Secretary of State James F. Byrnes in 1946, they wanted to see a united Germany that could be neutralized after the Soviet Union received industrial reparations. The U.S.'s JCS 1067 reflected these goals, stating that the U.S. occupation would "…take no steps looking toward the economic rehabilitation of Germany [or] designed to maintain or strengthen the German economy." As a part of these plans, factories in the U.S. Zone of Control were disassembled and sent eastward, thereby fulfilling both the reduction in German industrial capacity and the provision of Soviet reparations.

Differing views

The effects of the Morgenthau Plan were far more wide-reaching than originally predicted. The effect of Germany's industrial economy on that of Europe's total economy was greatly underestimated; after the Plan's implementation, the now-suppressed German economy began dragging down the whole continent's economy. Conditions became so bad that William L. Clayton, an economic adviser to then -U.S. President Harry S. Truman at the Potsdam Conference, reported back to Washington, D.C. that "millions of people are slowly starving."

At first, this outcome did not change the U.S. policy on Germany (which continued to follow the Morgenthau Plan as encoded in JCS 1067). However, in view of increased concerns by the U.S.'s General Lucius D. Clay and its Joint Chiefs of Staff over growing Communist influence in Germany, plus Europe's now-plunging economy, in summer 1947 U.S. Secretary of State General George Marshall -- citing "national security grounds" -- was able to finally convince President Truman to rescind directive JCS 1067. It was replaced with JCS 1779, which completely reversed JCS 1067. Among other features, it stated that "An orderly, prosperous Europe requires the economic contributions of a stable and productive Germany.”

As part of the developing Marshall Plan, large sums of U.S. capital were freed up for use by any European nation that requested it. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was highly suspect of these U.S. plans; they disrupted his dream of a non-military "buffer"-state Germany, and he felt that this U.S. aid would "buy" a pro-U.S. re-alignment of the new Europe, expanding the U.S.'s influence to near-imperial size. He stated "This is a ploy by Truman. It is nothing like Lend-Lease -- a different situation. They don't want to help us. What they want is to infiltrate European countries."[1] Molotov was initially interested in the program and attended its early meetings, but later described it as "dollar imperialism". Stalin eventually forbade any countries of the newly-formed Cominform from accepting the aid, which required some strong-arm tactics in the case of Czechoslovakia.[2]

As the U.S. and Soviet/U.S.S.R. policies toward Germany changed in light of its terrible economic conditions, the former Allies grew apart. To Stalin, it remained essential to destroy Germany's capacity for waging another war; but, this conflicted with U.S. desires to re-build Germany as the economic center of a stable Europe. Little common ground could be found, and attempts between the two superpowers to further clarify post-war plans for a unified Germany stalled. In 1946 the Soviets stopped delivering agricultural goods from their zone in eastern Germany, and Clay responded by stopping shipments of dismantled industries from western Germany. As a result, the Soviets started a public relations campaign against American policy, and began to obstruct the administrative work of all four zones of occupation.

The U.S. stance was that if it could not re-unify Germany with Soviet cooperation, the West should develop Germany's western, industrial portions (controlled by the UK and U.S.), and integrate these areas into a new western European sphere known as the "Bizone" (to be re-named the Trizone, when France would join it). Led by the U.S., these three major Western powers reached an agreement on this approach during a series of meetings in London, from February to June 1948. As outlined in an announcement on March 7 1948, the London Conference declared support for fusing the three Western zones of Germany into an independent, federal form of government, and bringing Western zones into the U.S.-led economic reconstruction efforts.

Focus on Berlin

Berlin quickly became the focal point of both U.S. and Soviet efforts to re-align Europe in their respective visions. As Molotov noted, "What happens to Berlin, happens to Germany; what happens to Germany, happens to Europe."[3] A key event took place earlier, in 1946, when Berlin's citizens overwhelmingly elected democratic members to its city council (with an 86% majority) -- strongly rejecting the election's Communist candidates. It appeared that any future effort to re-unite Germany would lead to, or first require, the expulsion of the Soviet elements; the Western nation's tactics demonstrated that they would be more than willing to support such an outcome.

The ACC met for the last time on March 20, 1948. After asking for details of the London meetings and failing to get them immediately, Vasily Sokolovsky stated "I see no sense in continuing this meeting, and I declare it adjourned." The entire Soviet delegation arose and walked out. But Sokolovsky was the chair of the council during March, and therefore in charge of scheduling future ACC meetings. He simply didn't call for any future meetings; therefore, the ACC effectively ended. Truman later noted "For most of Germany, this act merely formalized what had been an obvious fact for some time, namely, that the four-power control machinery had become unworkable. For the city of Berlin, however, this was the curtain-raiser for a major crisis."[2]

On March 31 the Soviets increased the pressure on the West by demanding that every train entering Berlin from the western zones be examined. Several U.S. and British trains "forced the issue" with varied results, so General Lucius D. Clay, commander of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, ordered all military trains to stop making the trip. Instead, he started an airlift, later to be known as the Little Lift, in order to supply the U.S. garrison with food and ammunition. The Little Lift lasted only about ten days, during which the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) flew in about 300 tons of supplies. The Soviets eased their restrictions on Allied military trains on April 10, 1948 but continued to periodically interrupt rail and road traffic during the next 75 days.

The Currency Crisis

In February 1948, the Americans and British had proposed to the ACC that a new German currency be created, replacing the over-circulated and de-valued Reichsmark. The Soviets refused to accept this proposal, hoping to continue the German recession in keeping with their policy of a weak Germany. The three Western powers continued to work on their new currency plan in secret, and then introduced the new Deutsche Mark -- in their occupation zones -- on June 21, 1948. The Soviets refused to honor the currency, even in Berlin, but the Allies had already smuggled 250,000,000 Deutschmarks into the city; so, it quickly became the standard currency in all zones.

This new currency, along with the Marshall Plan that backed it, appeared to be able to revitalize Germany -- against the wishes of the Soviets. Worse, by introducing the currency into western Berlin, it threatened to create a bastion of economic resurgence deep within the Soviet zone. Stalin, considering this a provocation, now wanted the West completely out of Berlin.

Berlin Airlift


On June 12, 1948 the Soviet Union declared that the Autobahn, leading into Berlin from West Germany, was "closed for repairs." Three days later, road traffic between the sectors was halted, and on June 21 all barge traffic into the city was stopped. Finally, on June 24 the Soviets announced that due to "technical difficulties" there would be no more rail traffic to or from Berlin. The following day, they announced that the Soviet sector would not supply food to Berlin's western sectors. The Western powers had never negotiated a pact with the Soviets guaranteeing these passage rights. The Soviets 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, tunnels, and railroads.

At the time, Berlin had thirty-five days' worth of food, and forty-five days' worth of coal. Militarily, the Americans and British were greatly outnumbered due to the post-war scaling-back of their armies, which the Soviets had resisted doing (for several reasons). If a war had started, the West would have certainly lost Berlin. General Lucius D. Clay, in charge of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, summed up the reasons for not retreating in a cable to Washington, D.C. on June 13, 1948: "There is no practicability in maintaining our position in Berlin and it must not be evaluated on that basis... We are convinced that our remaining in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for good or bad, it has become a symbol of the American intent."[4]

General Clay felt that the Soviets were bluffing -- that they would not want to be viewed as starting a third world war -- about Berlin. He proposed sending a large, armored convoy driving peacefully -- as a moral right -- down the Autobahn from West Germany to West Berlin; but, with instructions to fire if it were stopped or attacked. President Truman, however, following the consensus in Congress, stated, "It is too risky to engage in this due to the consequence of war."

Deciding on an airlift

Although the ground routes had never been negotiated, the same was not true of the air. On November 30, 1945, it had been agreed, in writing, that there would be three twenty-mile wide air corridors providing free access to the city.[5] Additionally, unlike a force of tanks, the Soviets could not claim that cargo aircraft were some sort of military threat. In the face of an unarmed aircraft refusing to turn around, the only way to enforce the blockade would be to shoot them down. An airlift would force the Soviet Union into the position of either taking military action in a morally reprehensible fashion that would break their own agreements, or backing down.

Forcing this decision would require the airlift to actually work, however. If the supplies could not be flown in fast enough, Soviet help would eventually be needed in order to prevent starvation. 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. LeMay replied "We can haul anything."[5]

When the American forces consulted the British Royal Air Force about a possible joint airlift, they learned that the RAF was already running an airlift in support of their own troops in Berlin. Clay's counterpart, General Sir Brian Robertson, was ready with some concrete numbers. During the Little Lift earlier that year, British Air Commodore Reginald Waite had calculated the resources required to support the entire city. His calculations indicated they would need to supply seventeen hundred calories per person per day, consisting of 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over 2 million people alive.[5] Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.[6]

Carrying this out would not be easy. The post-war demobilization had left the U.S. forces in Europe with only two squadrons of C-47 Skytrain planes, which could each carry about 3.5 tons of cargo. Clay estimated they would be able to haul about 300 tons of supplies a day. The RAF was somewhat better prepared as they had already moved some aircraft into the area, and they expected to be able to supply about 400 tons a day. This was not nearly enough to move the 5,000 tons a day that would be needed, but these numbers could be increased as new aircraft arrived from England and the U.S. The RAF would be relied on to increase their numbers quickly; they could fly additional aircraft in from England in a single hop, bringing their fleet to about 150 C-47s and 40 of the larger Avro Yorks with 10 ton payload. With this fleet the British contribution was expected to rise to 750 tons a day in the short term. For a longer-term operation the U.S. would have to add additional aircraft as soon as possible, and they would have to be as large as possible while still able to fly into the Berlin airports. Only one such aircraft type was suitable, the C-54 Skymaster, and its U.S. Navy equivalent, the R5D.

Given the feasibility assessment made by the British, the airlift concept appeared to be the best course of action. A remaining concern was the population of Berlin. Clay called in Ernst Reuter, the Mayor-elect of Berlin, who was accompanied by his aide, Willy Brandt. Clay told Reuter, "Look, I am ready to try an airlift. I can't guarantee it will work. I am sure that even at its best, people are going to be cold and people are going to be hungry. And if the people of Berlin won't stand that, it will fail. And I don't want to go into this unless I have your assurance that the people will be heavily in approval." Reuter, although skeptical, assured Clay that Berlin would make all the necessary sacrifices and that the Berliners would support his actions.[4]

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 1944–45 and had an intimate knowledge of the World War II Allied airlift from India over The Hump of the Himalayas. He was in favor of the airlift option, giving it a major boost.[4] The British and Americans agreed to start a joint operation without delay; the U.S. action retained the name "Operation Vittles," while the British one was called "Operation Plainfare."

The Airlift begins

On June 24, 1948, LeMay appointed Brigadier General Joseph Smith, commander of the Wiesbaden Military Post, as the Task Force Commander of the airlift. On June 25 1948, Clay gave the order to launch Operation Vittles. The next day thirty-two C-47 cargo planes lifted off for Berlin hauling 80 tons of cargo including milk, flour, and medicine. The first British aircraft flew on June 28. At that time, the airlift was expected to last three weeks.

On the 27th, Clay cabled William Draper with an estimate of the current situation:

"I have already arranged for our maximum airlift to start on Monday (June 28). For a sustained effort, we can use seventy Dakotas (C-47s). The number which the British can make available is not yet known, although General Robertson is somewhat doubtful of their ability to make this number available. Our two Berlin airports can handle in the neighborhood of fifty additional airplanes per day. These would have to be C-47s, C-54s or planes with similar landing characteristics, as our airports cannot take larger planes. LeMay is urging two C-54 groups. With this airlift, we should be able to bring in 600 or 700 tons a day. While 2,000 tons a day is required in normal foods, 600 tons a day (utilizing dried foods to the maximum extent) will substantially increase the morale of the German people and will unquestionably seriously disturb the Soviet blockade. To accomplish this, it is urgent that we be given approximately 50 additional transport planes to arrive in Germany at the earliest practicable date, and each day's delay will of course decrease our ability to sustain our position in Berlin. Crews would be needed to permit maximum operation of these planes." -Lucius D. Clay, June 1948

By July 1 the system was starting to come into action. C-54s were starting to arrive in quantity, and the Rhein-Main Air Base was made exclusive C-54 depot, while Wiesbaden retained a mix of C-54s and C-47s. Aircraft flew east-northeast into Tempelhof Airport on one of the three air corridors, then returned due west flying out on a second. After reaching the British Zone, they turned south to return to their bases.

The British ran a similar system, flying roughly south-southeast from a variety of airports in the Hamburg area into Gatow Airport in the British Sector, and then returning out on the same air corridor as the U.S., turning for home or landing at Hanover. On July 5, the Yorks and Dakotas were joined by ten Short Sunderlands and, later, by Short Hythe flying boats. Flying from Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg to the Havel river next to Gatow, their corrosion-resistant hulls lent them to the particular task of delivering table salt into the city. Alongside the British and U.S. personnel were aircrews from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

In order to accommodate the large number of flights, required maintenance schedules, and cargo loading times, Smith developed a complex schedule and pattern for arranging flights. Aircraft were scheduled to take off every three minutes, flying 500 feet higher than the previous flight. This pattern began at 5,000 feet and was repeated five times.[7]

During the first week the airlift averaged only ninety tons a day, but by the second week it reached 1000 tons. This likely would have sufficed had the effort lasted only a few weeks, as originally believed. The Communist press in East Berlin, for its part, ridiculed the efforts. It derisively referred to "the futile attempts of the Americans to save face and to maintain their untenable position in Berlin."[8]

Black Friday

As it became clear the Soviets were not going to relent any time soon, more drastic measures were called for. On July 27 1948 Lt. General William H. Tunner of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) took over the operation. Tunner had significant experience in commanding and organizing the airlift over the Burma Hump.[4] He took over command of the entire airlift operation, creating the Combined Airlift Task Force at Tempelhof.

Shortly after arriving to take command, on July 30, 1948 Tunner decided to fly into Berlin to grant an award to Lt. Paul O. Lykins, an airlift pilot who had made the most flights into Berlin up until that time. Cloud cover over Berlin descended to the height of the buildings, and heavy rain showers made radar visibility poor. A C-54 crashed and burned at the end of the runway, and a second that landed behind him blew its tires trying to stop to avoid hitting it. A third aircraft ground looped on the auxiliary runway, closing the entire airport. Tunner got on the radio and ordered all aircraft to return home immediately. This became known as "Black Friday".

As a result of this experience, Tunner instituted a number of new rules; instrument flight rules would be in effect at all times, regardless of actual visibility, and each sortie would have only one chance to land in Berlin, returning to its base if it missed its chance. Accident rates and delays dropped immediately. Another decision came about due to the realization that it took just as long to unload a 3.5 ton C-47 as it did to unload a 10 ton C-54. One of the reasons for this was the C-47's slanted floor made truck loading difficult, whereas the C-54 was level and a truck could back up to it and cargo could be unloaded quickly. Tunner decided to remove the C-47 from the Airlift.

Another change was aimed at improving efficiency. Having noticed there were long delays as the flight crews returned to their aircraft from the terminal when getting refreshments, Tunner ordered that the aircrew could not leave their aircraft for any reason while in Berlin. Instead, he equipped trucks as mobile snack bars and staffed by some of the prettiest Berlin girls, handing out refreshments to the pilots while they remained in the cockpit. As Gail Halvorsen later noted, "he put some beautiful German Frauleins in that snackbar. They knew we couldn't date them, we had no time. So they were very friendly."[6]

The Berliners themselves solved the other problem of a lack of manpower. Crews unloading and making repairs at the Berlin airports were replaced almost entirely by locals, who were given additional rations in return. As the crews improved, the times for unloading continued to fall, with a record being set by unloading an entire 10 ton load of coal from a C-54 in ten minutes. This was later beaten when a twelve-man crew unloaded the same load in five minutes and 45 seconds.

By the end of July, after only one month, the Airlift was succeeding; daily operations flew more than fifteen hundred flights a day and delivered more than 4,500 tons of cargo, enough to keep the city supplied. All of the C-47s were withdrawn by the end of September, and 225 C-54s were devoted to the lift. Supplies improved to 5,000 tons a day.

Operation Little Vittles

Gail Halvorsen, one of the many Airlift pilots, decided to use his offtime to fly into Berlin and make movies with his handheld camera. He arrived at Tempelhof on July 17 after hitching a ride on one of the C-54s, and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the planes coming in. He introduced himself and they started to ask him questions about the aircraft and their flights. As a goodwill gesture, he handed out his only two sticks of Wrigley's Doublemint Gum, and promised that if they did not fight over them, the next time he returned he would drop off more. The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over, and he replied, "I'll wiggle my wings."[5]

The very next day, on approach to Berlin, he rocked the airplane and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that the number of children would increase and he made several more drops. Soon there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to "Uncle Wiggly Wings", "The Chocolate Uncle" and "The Chocolate Flier". His commanding officer was upset when the story appeared in the news, but when Tunner heard about it he thought it was great and immediately christened it "Operation Little Vittles". Other pilots joined the fun, and when news reached the U.S., children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon the major candy companies joined in as well. In the end, over three tons of candy were dropped over Berlin,[5] and the "operation" became a major propaganda success.

Soviet responses

This turn of events was decidedly against the Soviets. As the tempo of the Airlift grew, it became apparent that the Western powers might be able to pull off the impossible: indefinitely supplying an entire city, by air alone. In response, starting August 1st, the Soviets offered free food to anyone that would cross into East Berlin and sign over their ration cards. Few took them up on the offer, however, thinking it was a trick.

On September 6, 1948, East German Communists occupied the city council building, to block new elections. Three days later RIAS Radio, urged West Berliners to protest the East German actions. A crowd of 500,000 people gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, next to the Reichstag (the war-ruined German Parliament house). The Airlift was working so far, but many West Berliners feared that the Allies would eventually abandon them to the Soviets. They needed reassurance that their sacrifices would not be for nothing. Ernst Reuter took to the microphone and pled for his city, "You peoples of the world. You people of America, of England, of France, look on this city, and recognize that this city, this people must not be abandoned -- cannot be abandoned!" The crowd surged towards the east and someone ripped down the Red Flag from the Gate. Soviet military police responded, killing one.[6]

The elections went ahead for December 5, and once again the East Berliners attempted to disrupt them. When it became clear that their efforts were failing, they withdrew from the process and elected an entire government of their own, under Friedrich Ebert. Reuter once again won the official elections, effectively dividing the city (and eventually, the nation) into East- and West- versions of its prior self. In the east, a Communist system with house, street, and block wardens was quickly implemented.

Political interference was not the only action on the part of the Soviets. Starting on August 10 they started harassing aircraft in the Airlift, and after one year, 733 incidents had been reported. One of their favorite acts was for Soviet fighters to buzz the cargo aircraft, or to shoot into the air near them. After a Soviet fighter buzzed a British passenger plane too closely, both planes crashed with a loss of 35 lives. Balloons were released in the corridors, flak was fired randomly and searchlights were shone on the aircraft. Additionally they set up a fake radio beacon on the same frequency as Tempelhof, in an effort to draw aircraft out of the airways. None of these measures proved very effective.

Preparing for winter

Although the early estimates required 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 Airlift dragged on into the fall, the situation changed considerably. Although the food requirements would remain the same (around 1,500 tons), the need for additional coal to heat the city grew dramatically (an additional 6,000 tons a day).

In order to maintain the Airlift given these requirements, 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. Tunney looked to the Germans once again, hiring (plentiful) ex-Luftwaffe ground crews.

Another problem was the lack of runways in Berlin to land on: two at Tempelhof and one at Gatow -- neither of which was intended to support the sorts of loads the C-54s were putting on them. All of the existing runways required hundreds of laborers, who ran onto them and dumped sand into the pierced steel planking to soften the surface and help the planking survive. As this system could not endure through winter, between July and September 1948 a 6,000ft.-long asphalt runway was created. Far from ideal, with the approach being over Berlin apartment blocks, the runway was nevertheless a major upgrade to the airport's capabilities. With it in place, the auxiliary runway was upgraded from PSP 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.

By this time the French, who initially had refused to support the Berlin airlift efforts (considering the city a lost cause), also became interested in supporting the airlift. The French Air Force, meanwhile, was 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 new and larger airport in its sector, on the shores of Lake Tegel. French military engineers 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 also needed to level the ground, equipment that was too large and heavy to fly in on any existing aircraft. A solution was found by a Brazilian engineer who had perfected the technique of dismantling large machines for transport, and then re-assembling them. He was flown in to advise the effort, and using five larger C-82 Packet transports, they were able to move the machinery in. This served the double purpose of helping build the airfield, and demonstrating that the blockade could not keep anything out of Berlin.

There was an obstacle in the approach to Tegel, however. A Soviet-controlled radio tower caused problems with its proximity to the airfield. Pleas to remove it went unheard, so on November 20, French General Jean Ganeval made the decision to simply blow it up. The mission was carried out on December 16, much to the delight of Berliners, and to the complaints of the Soviets. The airfield evolved after the crisis into the Berlin-Tegel International Airport.

In order to improve the air traffic control, which would be critical as the number of flights grew, the newly-developed Ground Controlled Approach Radar system (GCA) was shipped 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 insured.

None of these efforts could fix the weather, though, which would be the largest problem. November and December 1948 proved to be the worst months of the airlift operation. One of the longest-lasting fogs ever experienced 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 November 20, 42 planes departed for Berlin, but only one landed there. At one point, the whole city had only a week's supply of coal.

Weather improved, however. More than 171,000 tons were delivered in January 1949, but that figure fell to 152,000 tons in February. In March, the tonnage rose to 196,223.[8]

The Easter Parade

By April 1949, airlift operations were running smoothly, and Tunner wanted to break up 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 planes was available.

From 12:00PM April 15, to 12:00PM April 16, 1949, crews worked around the clock. When it was over, 12,941 tons of coal had been delivered as a result of 1,383 flights...without a single accident. A welcome side effect of the effort was that operations in general improved, and daily tonnage increased from 6,729 tons a day, to 8,893 tons per day thereafter. In total, the airlift delivered 234,476 tons in April.[8]

On April 21 a point was reached where the amount of supplies flown into the city exceeded what was previously brought by rail. The Berlin Airlift had finally succeeded, and appeared able to operate indefinitely.

The Blockade ends

The continued success of the Airlift humiliated the Soviets, and the Easter Parade was "the last straw". On April 25, 1949 the Russian news agency TASS reported a willingness by the Soviets to lift the blockade. The next day, the U.S. State Department stated the "way appears clear" for the blockade to end. Soon after, the four powers began serious negotiations, and a settlement was made on Allied terms. On May 4 the Allies announced that an agreement to end the blockade, in eight days, had been reached.

The Soviet blockade Berlin was lifted at one minute after midnight, on May 12 , 1949. A British convoy immediately drove through to Berlin, and the first train from the West reached Berlin at 5:32A.M.. Later that day, an enormous crowd celebrated the end of the blockade. General Clay, whose retirement has been announced by U.S. President Truman on May 3rd, was saluted by 11,000 U.S. soldiers and dozens of airplanes. Once home, Clay would receive a ticker-tape parade in New York City, get to address the U.S. Congress, and be honoured with a medal from Truman.

Flights continued for some time, though, to build a comfortable surplus. By July 24, 1949 a three-month surplus was built-up, ensuring that the airlift could be re-started with ease if needed. The Berlin Airlift officially ended on September 30, 1949, after fifteen months. In total, the U.S.A. delivered 1,783,573 tons, while 541,937 tons were delivered by the RAF, totaling 2,326,406 tons of food and supplies on 278,228 total flights to Berlin. The C-47s and C-54s together flew over 92 million miles in the process, nearly the same distance as the earth is from the sun.[9]

A total of 101 fatalities were recorded as a result of the operation, including 39 Britons and 31 Americans, mostly due to crashes. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation.

The cost of the Airlift operations were approximately $224 million ($2 billion in inflation-adjusted 2008 dollars).


Operational control of the three allied airlift corridors was given to BARTCC (Berlin Air Route Traffic Control Center) air traffic control located at Tempelhof. Diplomatic approval authority was granted to a four-power organization called the Berlin Air Safety Center, also located in the American sector.

Tegel was developed into (West-) Berlin's principal airport; by 2007, it had been joined by a re-developed Berlin-Schoenefeld in Brandenburg. As a result of the development of these two airports, Tempelhof is being closed, while Gatow is now home of the Museum of the German Luftwaffe. During the 1970s and 1980s, Schoenefeld had its own crossing points through the Berlin Wall for western citizens.


  1. Why Stalin Rejected Marshall Aid
  2. 2.0 2.1 Airbridge to Berlin, "Eye of the Storm" chapter
  3. Airbridge to Berlin, "Background on Conflict" chapter
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Airbridge to Berlin, Chartper 11
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 The Berlin Airlift
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 The Berlin Airlift
  7. MAC and the Legacy of the Berlin Airlift
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Fifty years ago, a massive airlift into Berlin showed the Soviets that a post-WWII blockade would not work, C.V. Glines
  9. Berlin Airlift: Logistics, Humanitarian Aid, and Strategic Success, Major Gregory C. Tine, Army Logisrician
Personal tools
In other languages