Why Was the Berlin Airlift Important?

BE001163The Berlin Airlift is considered as one of the first of the many crisis situations that emerged during the Cold War. Before going into details, knowing the historical background is essential.

A Divided Germany

When World War II ended, Germany fell under Soviet and American control. The eastern section fell under Soviet control and the west side came under the United States. Berlin was divided into two. However the Soviets had access over the railway system, which was crucial. Without it, access was impossible.

The Blockade

As Stalin tightened controls over the eastern block, more and more people started to go over to the western side. The economic situation worsened in the east, while in the west a new currency was set in place.

Before the Berlin Airlift was introduced, the situation in the east was already deteriorating. To keep their control, Stalin suddenly ordered the blockade on June 24, 1948.

The goal was simple. By blocking the supply routes, access by westerners to Berlin would be impossible. Stalin’s objective was to make the Berliners succumb to the pressure.

With the blockade, the United States and her allies would have no choice but to let the Soviet Union supply the food and fuel to the entire city. This would give Stalin total control of Berlin. As the focal point of Central Europe, it would be a remarkable triumph.

The Western Response

The United States and the Allies were left with no choice but the Berlin Airlift. They could force their way into the city, but it would likely lead to a full blown conflict with the Soviet Union.

However they also didn’t want Stalin to gain total control of the city. Therefore the US decided that airlifting food supplies was the only way to go. The Soviets derided the plan, saying that it was doomed to fail.

The Airlift Begins

On June 26, 1948 the Allies started the process with 32 C47s. They carried over 80 tons of food. At the onset less than 100 tons were delivered but as the weeks went by, the US, UK and other European allies began accelerating the process.

In time the Berlin Airlift was sending over 650 tons of flour, 120 tons of cereal and 100 tons of meat daily. 200 tons of potatoes, 200 tons of sugar and 11 tons of coffee were added. Tons of cheese, milk, vegetables and salt were sent.

Removal of the Blockade

By 1949, over 8,000 tons were being delivered to the city and it was in fact exceeding the supplies provided by the railway the Soviets blocked. In spite of harassment, the planes were able to send the supplies regularly.

Operation Little Vittles involved dropping candies and chocolates for the children in the city. It was a huge hit, propaganda wise. The Soviets were further humiliated when their food rations were rejected by the people.

On May 12 1949, the Soviets decided to lift the blockade. It was a clear victory for the Western allies. Although the Berlin Airlift didn’t actually end the conflict, it was able to provide relief for thousands of people.

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