After the Second World War, Berlin was split between the UK, France, the US and the USSR as it was decided at Yalta and Potsdam. Soon afterwards the four zones merged into two, namely West and East Berlin. Berlin shortly afterwards became the front for the cold war between the USSR and the West.
On June 25th, 1948, the USSR set up a blockade around Berlin to try and force the Allies to give up their rights to the western part of the city. Stalin halted all traffic into and out of the Russian sector of Berlin; he also cut off all electricity, claiming technical difficulties. With all roads blocked, the Allies had no way of keeping the 2.5 million citizens of West Berlin, who only had enough supplies to last 45 days, fed and warm. At the beginning of the Blockade, however, some left wing British labour parties suggested that the UK should withdraw but the idea was quickly dismissed by Bevin , who said: “We intend to stay in Berlin The opinion of the whole world will condemn the ruthless attempt by the Soviet Government to create a state of siege in Berlin and so, by starving the helpless civilian population, secure political advantages at the expense of the other Allied Powers.”
General Clay devised a way of supplying the people of West Berlin in way of an airlift but first had to convince his commanding officer, General LeMay . He agreed and the airlift started on the 24th of June 1948 under the codename “Operation Vittles”.
At the same time, Clay pushed President Truman to reopen the closed roads, by force. Truman rightfully rejected the idea in fear that by using force would escalate the situation and upgrade the cold war into a full “hot war”.
At the start of the airlift, the main aircraft used was the C-47 , but due to space restrictions soon had to be replaced with the C-54. General Clay was ever to meet his goal of 4,500 tons of supplies a day. A total of 72 C-54 bombers and 2,500 crewmembers were used in the airlift and by September 1948, the airlift was transporting 5,583 tonnes of supplies into West Berlin.
Russia tried to justify the blockade by claiming the West had voided their right to the occupation of Berlin on July 14th, and that the blockade was to protect “the economy of the Soviet zone”. This was in some part due to the Allies insisting on setting up a separate West German government and issuing a separate currency. The USSR stood by its argument that “West Berlin is in the centre of the Soviet zone and is now part of that zone.”
The Western reaction to the Soviet accusations was as could be expected and they replied that no “Threats, pressure or other actions” could force the US out of Berlin. General Donovan also said “The place to make a stand against Russia is right here in Berlin. This is not a cold war. It is hot as hell Their motives are just what the Soviets had said, to stop the ERP and what they have not said, to drive us out of Europe. If the Soviets want war, they can start it 500 miles to the west just as well as here.”
Stalin could have just as easily shot down the bombers, but in fear of the Allies declaring a full-scale war, did not. Three paths, 20 miles in width leading from West Germany to Berlin, had been set-aside as flight paths. In November 1948, Soviet officials threatened to shoot down any planes that flew outside of the 20-mile corridors regardless of weather conditions.
On December 6th, a C-54 taking off from Fassburg, Germany crashed within walking distance of the airfield and three airmen were killed. These were the only reported military casualties during the blockade. Undaunted by several deaths, “Operation Santa Clause” was set into action on December 20th and began to fly gifts to the children of West Berlin which totalled close to 10,000 children.
In May of 1949 the USSR finally announces the end of the blockade after 328 days. The airlift continued, however, hoping to build up a 200,000 tonne reserve in Berlin only to be finally phased out by the US and Britain by October 31, 1949. On the day the blockade was lifted the French, British and American military governors agreed to a constitution for the Federal Republic of Germany. This was just one of the many consequences of the Berlin Blockade. During the 328-day blockade, the NATO treaty was signed in Washington D.C., American nuclear-armed bombers were based in Britain, the Council of Europe was founded in Western Europe and its Eastern rival, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance . The surrender of the USSR in regard of the Berlin blockade might have boosted the West’s confidence but it weakened the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Western world so much that the cold war would continue for an additional forty years and the reunification of East and West Berlin, as well as Germany on a whole, would not happen in the foreseeable future.
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