In the turbulent years of the late 1940s, the city of Berlin found itself at the epicentre of Cold War tensions. When the Soviet Union imposed a blockade on West Berlin from June 24, 1948, to May 11, 1949, it triggered a remarkable response—the Berlin Airlift.
Berlin Airlift – Time line
The origins of the Berlin Airlift are rooted in the complex post-World War II landscape. In September 1944, the “London Protocol” divided Berlin into four zones, each controlled by an Allied power: the USA, the USSR, Great Britain, and France. Yet, West Berlin was entirely surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany, setting the stage for potential conflict.
The start of the journey towards the blockade began in January 1947, when the British and Americans combined their 2 separate zones in West Germany, to become the Bizone (France then merged their zone in April 1949, to become the Trizone).
The Soviet Union had no desire to see a strong Germany, as was agreed at the August 1945 Potsdam Agreement. So at this stage, differences between the former allies on the future of Germany were starting to appear.
In March of 1947 US President Truman, announced his “Truman Doctrine“, to give aid to any country that wanted help to contain communism. This was in response to Soviet meddling in Greece and Turkey.
A year later, in March 1948, the US Congress endorsed the Marshall Aid plan , aimed at aiding Western Europe’s economic recovery. The Soviet Union perceived this initiative as a challenge to its influence in Eastern Europe.
1 June 1948, America and Britain announced that they wanted to see the Bizone become West Germany.
23 June 1948, America and Britain, introduce a new currency (the Deutsche mark) into the Bizone and West Berlin.
24 June 1948, the Soviet Union closes all road and rail traffic in West Berlin between the British, US and French zones and from western Germany.
In response, the British initiated the airlift with Operation “Knicker” on June 28, originally aimed at supplying their garrison. It quickly became clear that the broader population in Berlin needed help. This led to Operation “Knicker” evolving into “Carter Paterson” on June 29. However, the Soviets saw through this strategy because “Carter Paterson” was the name of a real removal company. Consequently, the operation was promptly renamed “Plainfare.”
The American contribution to the Berlin Airlift, known as “Operation Vittles,” was a crucial part of this humanitarian effort. American personnel, including pilots, ground crews, and support staff, worked tirelessly to help make the operation a success.
Both Air Forces, including the civilian crews were operating in a challenging environment, they faced logistical complexities, adverse weather conditions, and tight flight schedules. These individuals played a significant role in keeping the airlift running smoothly, delivering essential supplies to the people of Berlin. Their dedication and efforts were critical in maintaining the well-being of the city’s residents during a challenging time.
The role of all who aided in the Berlin Airlift was a testament to the professionalism and resilience of all involved, as they executed a demanding and complex mission with determination and dedication.
Berlin Airlift Milestones:
During this period, an astonishing 394,509 tons of essential supplies were flown into Berlin, sustaining the city through its darkest days. Not just goods, but the Airlift also evacuated 83,405 tons of cargo and 68,000 people from the beleaguered city. This massive endeavour required the combined efforts of 441 USAF, 147 RAF, and 101 British civilian aircraft.
The Berlin Airlift is more than a historical footnote; it’s a testament to the indomitable human spirit when faced with adversity. It’s a story of regular people rising to the occasion, of courage and solidarity. Beyond the facts and figures, the Berlin Airlift reminds us that even in the toughest times, unity and determination can overcome the odds.
The Aircraft (images not to scale)
Royal Air Force DC-3 Dakota, No 46 Squadron.
United States Air Force C-47 Skytrain, 94th TG, 86th TFW. The C-47 was a support aircraft for the Wing. On 22nd October 1948, a gift of 7,000lb of sweets was flown to Berlin as a gift for children of Berlin.
United States Air Force Fairchild C-82 Packet, 60th TCG, 12th TCS. The Fairchild Packet was the 1st ever twin boom cargo aircraft.
Images and Photos
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