Berlin Blockade

Berlin Blockade
Part of the Cold War
Berliners watch a Douglas C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948
Date24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949 (323 days)

Blockade lifted

  • West Berlin remains under the control of Western Allies
 Soviet Union United States
 United Kingdom
Supported by
Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Vasily Sokolovsky Lucius D. Clay
Brian Robertson
Casualties and losses
noneAircraft accidents:
39 British and 31 Americans killed
15 German civilians killed

The Berlin Blockade (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche Mark from West Berlin.

The Western Allies organised the Berlin airlift (26 June 1948 – 30 September 1949) to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the size of the city's population.[1][2] Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force,[3] the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force[4]:338 flew over 200,000 sorties in one year, providing to the West Berliners necessities such as fuel and food, with the original plan being to lift 3,475 tons of supplies. However, by the end of the airlift, that number was often met twofold, with the peak daily delivery totaling 12,941 tons.[5] The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict, even though they far outnumbered the allies in Germany and especially Berlin.[6][7]

The first blockade runners were RAF flights made in support of British military personnel stationed in the city. The UK–US then began a joint operation in support of the entire city.By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On 12 May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin, although for a time the US, UK and France continued to supply the city by air anyway because they were worried that the Soviets were simply going to resume the blockade and were only trying to disrupt western supply lines.

The Berlin Airlift officially ended on 30 September 1949 after fifteen months. The Royal Australian Air Force had delivered 7,968 tons of freight (0.34% of total) and 6,964 passengers during 2,062 sorties. The US Air Force had delivered 1,783,573 tons (76.40% of total) and the RAF 541,937 tons (23.30% of total),[nb 1] totalling 2,334,374 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 278,228 flights to Berlin.

The C-47s and C-54s together flew over 92 million miles in the process, almost the distance from Earth to the Sun.[8] At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.[9]

A total of 101 fatalities were recorded as a result of the operation, including 40 Britons and 31 Americans,[9] mostly due to non-flying accidents.[10] One Royal Australian Air Force member was killed in an aircraft crash at Lubeck while attached to No. 27 Squadron RAF.[11] Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation.

The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe and played a major role in drawing West Germany into the NATO orbit several years later in 1955.

Postwar division of Germany

The red area of Germany (above) is Soviet controlled East Germany. German territory east of the Oder-Neisse line (light beige) was ceded to Poland, while a portion of the easternmost section of Germany East Prussia, Königsberg, was annexed by the USSR, as the Kaliningrad Oblast.

From 17 July to 2 August 1945, the victorious Allies reached the Potsdam Agreement on the fate of postwar Europe, calling for the division of defeated Germany into four temporary occupation zones (thus re-affirming principles laid out earlier by the Yalta Conference). These zones were located roughly around the then-current locations of the allied armies.[12] Also divided into occupation zones, Berlin was located 100 miles (160 km) inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany. The United States, United Kingdom, and France controlled western portions of the city, while Soviet troops controlled the eastern sector.[12]

Soviet zone and the Allies' rights of access to Berlin

Sectors of divided Berlin
The only three permissible air corridors to Berlin

In the eastern zone, the Soviet authorities forcibly unified the Communist Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Socialist Unity Party ("SED"), claiming at the time that it would not have a Marxist–Leninist or Soviet orientation.[13] The SED leaders then called for the "establishment of an anti-fascist, democratic regime, a parliamentary democratic republic" while the Soviet Military Administration suppressed all other political activities.[14] Factories, equipment, technicians, managers and skilled personnel were removed to the Soviet Union.[15]

In a June 1945 meeting, Stalin informed German communist leaders that he expected to slowly undermine the British position within their occupation zone, that the United States would withdraw within a year or two and that nothing would then stand in the way of a united Germany under communist control within the Soviet orbit.[16] Stalin and other leaders told visiting Bulgarian and Yugoslavian delegations in early 1946 that Germany must be both Soviet and communist.[16]

A further factor contributing to the Blockade was that there had never been a formal agreement guaranteeing rail and road access to Berlin through the Soviet zone. At the end of the war, western leaders had relied on Soviet goodwill to provide them with access.[17] At that time, the western allies assumed that the Soviets' refusal to grant any cargo access other than one rail line, limited to ten trains per day, was temporary, but the Soviets refused expansion to the various additional routes that were later proposed.[18]

The Soviets also granted only three air corridors for access to Berlin from Hamburg, Bückeburg, and Frankfurt.[18] In 1946 the Soviets stopped delivering agricultural goods from their zone in eastern Germany, and the American commander, Lucius D. Clay, responded by stopping shipments of dismantled industries from western Germany to the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviets started a public relations campaign against American policy and began to obstruct the administrative work of all four zones of occupation.

Until the blockade began in 1948, the Truman Administration had not decided whether American forces should remain in West Berlin after the establishment of a West German government, planned for 1949.[19]

Focus on Berlin and the elections of 1946

Berlin quickly became the focal point of both US and Soviet efforts to re-align Europe to their respective visions. As Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov noted, "What happens to Berlin, happens to Germany; what happens to Germany, happens to Europe."[20] Berlin had suffered enormous damage; its prewar population of 4.3 million people was reduced to 2.8 million.

After harsh treatment, forced emigration, political repression and the particularly hard winter of 1945–1946, Germans in the Soviet-controlled zone were hostile to Soviet endeavours.[16] Local elections in 1946 resulted in a massive anti-communist protest vote, especially in the Soviet sector of Berlin.[16] Berlin's citizens overwhelmingly elected non-Communist members to its city government.

Other Languages
العربية: حصار برلين
azərbaycanca: Berlin böhranı
français: Blocus de Berlin
한국어: 베를린 봉쇄
Bahasa Indonesia: Blokade Berlin
Lëtzebuergesch: Berliner Blockad
lietuvių: Berlyno blokada
Bahasa Melayu: Sekatan Berlin
norsk nynorsk: Berlinblokaden
português: Bloqueio de Berlim
Simple English: Berlin Blockade
slovenčina: Berlínska blokáda
српски / srpski: Блокада Берлина
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Berlinska blokada
中文: 柏林封鎖