One of the first events of the Cold War was the Berlin blockade and airlift of 1948–49.  

Describe what happened.

 

 

Summary

After the war Germany was split into four zones.   In January 1947, Britain and America joined their two zones into ‘Bizonia’.  This annoyed Stalin.   In June the Russians started stopping and searching all road and rail traffic into Berlin.  

On 23 June, Britain and America introduced a new currency into ‘Bizonia’.   Next day the Russians stopped all road and rail traffic into Berlin.  

President Truman decided to supply Berlin by air.   The blockade lasted 11 months.    In total 275,000 flights carried in 1½ million tons of supplies.   A plane landed every 3 mins.

The situation was bad at first – in the winter of 1948–49 Berliners lived on dried potatoes, powdered eggs and cans of meat.   They had only 4 hours of electricity a day.    But things got better as the blockade went on.   Lt Halvorsen attached little parachutes to sweets to drop from his plane as he flew over Berlin.   The USA stationed B-29 bombers (which could carry an atomic bomb) in Britain.

On 12 May 1949, Stalin gave in and re-opened the borders.

 

 

At Potsdam (July 1945) Germany had been split into four zones. Berlin, in Russia’s zone, was also split into four zones.   However, where Britain and the USA wanted to rebuild Germany – in January 1947, they joined their two zones into ‘Bizonia’ – Stalin wanted to destroy Germany.   In fact, the Russians were taking German machinery back to the USSR.

 

In 1948, the Cold War was just getting started.   Congress voted for Marshall Aid on 31 March 1948.  In retaliation, the Russians started stopping and searching all road and rail traffic into Berlin.   The crisis developed further on 1 June, when America and France announced plans to create the new country of West Germany.

 

On 23 June, Britain and America introduced a new currency into ‘Bizonia’ and west Berlin.   This destabilised the East German economy – Stalin interpreted it as an economic attack.   Next day the Russians stopped all road and rail traffic into Berlin.   Britain and the US interpreted this as Stalin was trying to force the USA out of Berlin.

 

The American Army wanted to fight its way into Berlin.   Instead, Truman decided to supply Berlin by air.   The airlift was called ‘Operation Vittles’ (victuals = ‘food’) – the British called their flights ‘Operation Plainfare’   The blockade lasted 318 days (11 months).    In total 275,000 flights carried in 1½ million tons of supplies.   A plane landed every 3 mins.

 

The situation was bad at first – in the winter of 1948–49 Berliners lived on dried potatoes, powdered eggs and cans of meat.   They had only 4 hours of electricity a day.   Stalin offered the inhabitants extra rations if they moved to East Berlin, but only 2% did so.

 

Things got better as the blockade went on.   On 16 April 1949, 1400 flights brought in 13,000 tons of supplies in one day – Berlin only needed 6,000 tons a day to survive.   Lt Gail Halvorsen attached miniature parachutes to bars of chocolates and dropped them out of the plane as he flew over Berlin.   In a tit-for-tat move, the Americans cut the gas supply to the house of the Soviet commander in the city.

 

Soviet planes ‘buzzed’ the supply planes, and weather balloons were placed in the flight paths.   But Stalin dared not shoot down the planes.   The USA stationed B-29 bombers (which could carry an atomic bomb) in Britain.

 

By 12 May 1949, it was clear that the blockade would never work, and Stalin re-opened the borders.   The airlift had cost the US $200 million.