The Berlin Blockade or Berlin Airlift of 1 April 1948 to 12 May 1949 was a defining moment in European history and one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. Both sides had grown to resent each other since victory over the Nazis in 1945 due to ideological and economic differences (capitalism vs communism). The West had lost interest in helping the Soviets, who had become paranoid obsessed that every one hated them.
It was during the dysfunction multinational post–World War II occupation of Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road and canal access to the western sectors of Berlin from the other parts of Germany under allied (UK, USA and France) control. Neither side wanted a war to happen, so the Soviets only encircled and cut off W. Berlin, but did not disrupt the airlift one it had started. A total of 338 air-crews flew over 200,000 flights in 1 year to provide up to 8,893 tons of supplies on a daily basis to the encircled West Berliners. A total of 2,500,000 tones of aid arrived in the airtlift on a total of nearly 278,00 flights. Berlin Tempelhof Airport would be the hub of the event.
The background to the event
The fire-bombings were carried out against Hamburg in 1943, Dresden in 1945, and other German cities. had mad post war life in Germany near to impossible as the grim reaper harvested lives on a daily basis with starvation, cold, accidents and typhoid. Romania, Hungary, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, the USSR and Czechoslovakia were also badly hit by either Allied or Nazi instigated destruction.
Berlin had suffered enormous damage in WW2 and its population had fallen from 4,300,000 to 2,800,000. Over 100,000 German workers had held a demonstration during a general strike in Western held Hamburg against food shortages and heating oil was dangerously running low in Soviet East Berlin during 1947.
German agricultural production was 83% of 1938 levels, industrial production was 88% and exports were only 59%. The British, Italians and French also suffered, but not so badly, while the USSR, the Netherlands and Poland were at death's door.
The bad post-war attitudes
The jointly occupied Berlin, the official German capital city, was located deep in the Soviet occupied zone. It was also divided into four sections (France, UK, USA and USSR). In June 1948, the Soviets became politically paranoid and soon wanted Berlin all for themselves as a security measure.
Soviet authorities had forcibly unified the Communist Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party (SPD) in the Socialist Unity Party ("SED"). 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 and looted the nation's factories, equipment, technicians, managers and skilled personnel, which were forcibly removed to the Soviet Union.
The conservative to far-right Lower Saxony National Party (Niedersächsische Landespartei) formed of it's own will in Niedersächsischen region as a recreation of the pre-war regionalist German-Hanoverian Party and began to decline after the British formed the Lower Saxony Lander region in 1947. It renamed it's self the German Party (Deutsche Partei, DP) in 1947 and disbanded in 1963.
American, British, French, Luxembourger, Belgian and Dutch representatives met met twice in the London 6-Power Conference in early of 1948 to discuss both the the future of Germany and growing Soviet threats to ignore any decisions taken by the West. The Allied Control Council (ACC) met for the last time on 20 March 1948, when the Soviet representative, Vasily Sokolovsky demanded to know the outcome of the London Conference and the Western representatives prevaricated. He responded by declaring the council no-longer morally valid, walked out in disgust and quit it!
The West, in particular the UK, were more interested in defeating the Nazis than Germany as a whole. They also did not want repeat the errors of the Treaty of Versailles and make Germany so angry it would go for extreme politics yet again. On the other hand the Soviets were convinced Germany was irredeemably evil and needed to be crush once and for all regardless of the cost to them or the German people. They had already done this in Hungary, which now lay in ruins as a result of Soviet revenge. The Poles and Czechoslovaks also despised Germany after the blood thirsty occupations of 1939-45 and had started to forcibly expel the ethnic Germans from their nation. France, Belgian, the Netherlands and Denmark was also feeling bitter after there horrific plundering they had suffered during the occupation of 1940-45, for which they now demanded reparations for. France also wanted to join the coal-rich Saarland with the iron-rich its province of Lorraine to create a new industrial center to rival Germany's on the River Ruhr and the River Rhine. They thought the Soviets were for the most part right for devastating Germany, but did not want either part or all of Germany to be permanently occupied by the Soviets or turned in to a communist puppet state. This had ready occurred elsewhere with the Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948.
Selected WW2 European death tolls
|Combatant nation.||% dead (over 5% tinted in blue, 10% tinted in red and over 25% inted in brown).|
|Greece||7.02 to 11.17|
|USSR||14.2, with the worst losses in Ukraine SSR at 16.3% and Belarus SSR at 25.3%|
|Austria (De III Reich)||5.7|
|Germany (De III Reich)||9.7 to 10.0|
|Poland||16.1 to 16.7|
|Hungary||5.08 to 6.35|
|The Sudetenland (De III Reich)||20.00 to 30.00|
|Free City of Danzig (De III Reich)||10.0 to 20.0|
|Yugoslavia||6.7 to 11.00|
- For a more complete list, see World War 2!
The Soviets had debased the old Reichsmark by excessive printing, resulting in hyperinflation and thus the Germans using cigarettes as a de facto currency or for bartering. The Soviets opposed western plans for a reformed or new currency.
The Soviet Union ordered its military to introduce its own new currency (the Ostmark) and to permit only it and the Soviet currency to be used in their eastern sector of Berlin in May 1948 directed, if the West currency there. The United States, Britain and France announced on the 18th of June that on the 21st the Western backed Deutsche Mark would be introduced in the western sectors, but the increasingly paranoid Soviets refused to allow its use as legal tender in all of Berlin.
A total of 250,000,000 Deutsche Marks mad been transported in to into the city by the western allies and it quickly became the standard currency in all four sectors, replacing cigarettes as the legal tender.
The Deutsche Mark, along with the Marshall Plan that propped up many western European nations, appeared to be a way of reviving the ruined German nation regardless of Soviet objections. Stalin considered setting up W. Berlin as a capitalist bastion in the Soviet zone a economic threat and a political provocation. He was very angry and now wanted the West completely out of Berlin once and for all!
June 19 saw Soviet guards halted all passenger trains and autobahn traffic on the to Berlin state that all water born travel was to only be with special Soviet permission.The Soviets halted a United States military supply train to Berlin and sent it back to western Germany on the 21st. The Ostmark was printed and issued in the Soviet's zone on the 22nd of June, 1948.
The Soviets blockaded the city by land and canal, and only granted only three air corridors for access to Berlin from Hamburg, Bückeburg and Frankfurt. They hoped to starve its population in to surrendering to a Soviet take over. The Western powers then began sending in massive amounts of aid on masses of aircraft via the the 3 air corridors in order to keep the city alive.
A total of 338 air-crews flew over 200,000 flights in 1 year to provide up to 8,893 tons of supplies on a daily basis to the encircled West Berliners. A total of 2,500,000 tones of aid arrived in the airlift on a total of nearly 278,00 flights. Berlin Tempelhof Airport would be the hub of the event.
By mid-July, 1948 the Soviet army of occupation in their sector (the future East Germany) had increased to 40 divisions, against 8 in the Allied sectors (the future West Germany). By the end of July 3 groups of U.S. strategic bombers had been sent to Britain as potential future reinforcements in the Western Sectors. Luckily tension only remained high and a war actually break out. Neither side wanted a war to happen, so the Soviets only encircled and cut off W. Berlin, but did not disrupt the airlift one it had started.
The blockade also increased the perception among many Europeans that the Soviets posed a danger, helping to prompt the entry into NATO of Portugal (fascist), Iceland (weak), Italy (communist insurgency), Denmark (weak) and Norway (bordered the USSR). The Icelandic NATO riot of March 30, 1949 was the only majoor public protest over NATO at the time.
Operational control of the three Allied air corridors was assigned to BARTCC (Berlin Air Route Traffic Control Centre) air traffic control located at Tempelhof Airport, but this was replaced by a new four-power organisation called the Berlin Air Safety Centre, also located with in the American sector.
The post-war animosities between Germans and the occupying nations of Britain, France and the United States, were greatly reduced by the airlift out of a mixture of common interests, shared values and mutual respect in the face of Soviet aggression.
The proposed West German state and East German state became a political fact and would be created in the 1950s with the states being formed in 1949 and given independence in 1954.
A still anonymous pundit once noted that Berlin in 1950 had only two shortages: 1. Visible SED Party members (i.e., the Communist Party) and 2. instructors qualified to teach English to meet the surge in demand (assumidly due to the former airlift).
Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, French Armée de l'Air, a few West German volunteers, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force were involved in the airlift.
- Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948
- 1950–1953 Korean War
- Marshall Plan
- Allied plans for Germany
- OC603 from Telefunken bipolar transistor
- Inner German Border