Berlin Blockade & Berlin Airlift

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Berlin Blockade & Berlin Airlift
historical context:

  • Potsdam Agreement (July and August 1945)

  • Marshall Plan

  • Six-Powers-Conference (February to June 1948)

  • Soviet delegation left the Allied Control Council (20 March 1948)

  • Soviets restricted traffic between Western Allies’ zones and West Berlin (25 March 1948)

  • April Crisis

  • currency crisis (June 1948)

the beginnings of the Berlin Blockade:

  • Berlin Blockade began on 24 and 25 June 1948

    • transport by rail and roads as well as shipping traffic stopped

    • electricity cut off

    • food supply of non-Soviet sectors ended

  • West Berlin had food for 36 days and coal for 45 days

  • 1500 tons of food and 3500 tons of coal (per day) needed to supply West Berlin

  • US Air Force able to transport 300 tons a day and Royal Air Force 400 tons a day

Why did the Western Allies make the effort to stay in Berlin?

(cf. Sources of Modern History, “Ernest Bevin on the Significance of Germany” (July 1948), p.107+108)

  • strong Germany as a barrier to Communism (cf. ll. 16-21)

  • West Berlin as “a means to an end” (l.65)

  • “symbol of German unity” (ll.41+42) and “the last democratic island in the Soviet sphere” (ll. 52+53)

    • prestige

    • support of European freethinkers (especially the German people)

  • Blockade as a Soviet bluff to gain influence

    • no escalation expected

Berlin Airlift strengthened the Western Allies’ bargaining position
the course of the Berlin Airlift:

  • “Operation Vittles” started on 25 June 1948 and “Operation Plainfare” on 28 June 1948

  • after two weeks 1000 tons were flown to Berlin every day

  • William H. Tunner (“Tonnage Tunner”) became commander of “Operation Vittles” (28 July 1948)

    • aimed at 1440 landings a day

    • accident rates and delays decreased drastically

    • daily tonnage increased to 5,000 tons

  • in winter 1948/49 more coal was needed

    • Ground Controlled Approach radar system installed

    • runways improved by using asphalt and concrete

    • France built the airport Tegel within 90 days (August to November 1948)

      • h
        success for the Western Allies
        eavy machinery flown to Berlin

      • Soviet radio tower blasted

  • however, the Airlift almost failed due to bad weather conditions

  • situation settled down in spring 1949

  • William H. Tunner wanted to boost the Airlift by a new record on Easter Sunday

    • 13,000 tons delivered (16 April 1949)

    • Airlift exceeded the “pre-Blockade tonnage”

  • Berlin Blockade ended on 12 May 1949

  • Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949

Soviet reaction during the Airlift:

  • Communists invaded the Stadtverordnetenversammlung von Groß-Berlin several times

    • SED boycotted the parliament

basic facts:

  • participants:

United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand & South Africa

  • tonnage:

2,350,000 tons
nited States delivered about 1,800,000 tons

United Kingdom delivered about 550,000 tons

  • 278,228 flights

  • when the Airlift reached its peak, every thirty seconds one plane landed in West Berlin

  • 101 pilots died during the Airlift

the consequences:

  • Airlift improved co-operation between the Western Allies

  • Berlin Blockade proved the Soviet Union to threaten the First World (the West)


  • Sources of Modern History (Klett)

  • Horizonte (westermann)

  • Germany (Oxford Advanced History)

  • Germany 1848-1991 (Collins)








by Max Cleve

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