Berlin blockade


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  • Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union occupied Germany at the end of the Second World War. Each country controlled a zone.
  • They also occupied Berlin, which was surrounded by the Soviet zone, and divided the city into four sectors.
  • Cooperation broke down in 1947 and early 1948. The three Western powers decided to create a separate West German government in their zones.
  • The Soviets tried to dissuade them by gradually escalating harassment of Western traffic to and from the city, which culminated in the Berlin blockade, imposed 24 June 1948.
  • Lucius Clay, the military governor of the American zone of occupied Germany wrote: "When the order of the Soviet Military Administration to close all rail traffic from the western zones went into effect at 6:00AM on the morning of June 24, 1948, the three western sectors of Berlin, with a civilian population of about 2,500,000 people, became dependent on reserve stocks and airlift replacements. It was one of the most ruthless efforts in modern times to use mass starvation for political coercion... "
  • Initially the Soviet authorities thought the plan was working. "Our control and restrictive measures have dealt a strong blow at the prestige of the Americans and British in Germany. " The Soviet authorities reported.
  • But the Western Allies responded immediately by mounting a tremendous airlift. C-47 "Skytrain" -- The initial aircraft of the Berlin Airlift. Up to 102 of these planes were flying during the first three months of the Berlin Airlift.
  • Under the leadership of General Curtis LeMay ( far right ), ten-ton capacity C-54s began supplying the city on July 1. LeMay will become known as the Father of the Strategic Air Command. Curtis Lemay served as a general for seventeen years - longer than any other man in the history of the United States military.
  • He was the Cold War's fiercest warrior.  His very first war plan drawn up in 1949, proposed delivering, "the entire stockpile of atomic bombs in a single massive attack."   That meant dropping 133 A-bombs on 70 cities within 30 days. He argued that, "if you are going to use military force, then you ought to use overwhelming military force. Use too much and deliberately use too much.. you’ll save lives, not only your own, but the enemy's too."
  • LIFE FOR THE BERLINERS 200.000 CARE packages into Berlin during the blockade Life for the Berliners was hard.  In the beginning, there was about a month's worth of supplies to be had, but stockpiles were dwindling.  The airlift had not reached its predicted consumption rate yet, and starvation was near.  In addition, when the winter of 1948-49 hit, there was little fuel to run the remaining industry, let alone heat the homes.  Berliners soon found themselves chopping down all of the trees in the city for fuel, and learning what grasses could be eaten for food.  In addition, people rummaged through garbage cans for food, but soon found that there was very little of that to go around.  It was a dire circumstance, but still they knew that their suffering in this manner would be better than succumbing to Soviet control.  They had seen the treatment the Soviet soldiers had given them when they arrived.  They were stealing everyone's valuables, systematically stripping the industry and all of the necessary equipment and shipping it back to Moscow.  In addition, German wives and daughters were being raped and abused all of the time.  German scientists and engineers were forcibly sent to Moscow and forced to reveal all of the German technological secrets.  Starvation was far better than that treatment.  When it was decided that an airlift would be attempted, Berlin's Lord Mayor Ernst Reuter held a public rally in support of the effort.  Germans would suffer and sacrifice to make it work.  The German resolve was strong, even in such a desperate situation. 
  • By the fall the airlift, code-named "Operation Vittles “ by the Americans and “Plain Fare” by the British was often referred to as "LeMay's feed and coal company ," was bringing in an average of 5,000 tons of supplies a day.
  • Using cargo aircraft, which are popularly called "raisin bombers", they supply West Berlin with foodstuffs, raw materials, and daily necessities. About 200,000 sorties transport about 1.5 million tons of provisions to the beleaguered city.
  • These were the primary air routes used during the Berlin Airlift.
  • The cargo needed to keep Berlin going included coal, food, medical supplies, steamrollers, power plant machinery, soap, and newsprint. More than 1.5 million tons of coal would be airlifted into Berlin.
  • Airplanes took off every three minutes, around the clock. They maintained that interval throughout the 170-mile (274-kilometers) flight, not veering an inch from the prescribed route, speed, or altitude.
  • When they arrived in Berlin, they were allowed only one landing attempt. If they missed it, they had to transport the load back to base.
  • Three-quarters of the flights of the 277,000 flights were piloted by Americans. At its peak, 32,900 American military personnel were involved, backed by another 23,000 civilians from the United States, Allied nations, and Germany.
  • By the end of operations - 31 American and 41 British participants and 5 Berliners had been killed.
  • When each plane landed in Berlin, the crew stayed in the plane: a snack bar on a wagon gave them food, and weathermen arrived in jeeps with weather updates. As soon as Germans unloaded the last bit of cargo, the plane would take off. Back at base, there was a 1-hour 40-minute turnaround allowed for ground crews to refuel, reload, do preflight preparations, and perform any required maintenance, which was considerable as the engines experienced rapid and excessive wear from the short flights. Tires also experienced extreme stress from the heavy loads and hard landings.
  • The other memorable cargo was candy. At Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, pilot Gail Halvorsen one day met some Berlin children who stood at the fences to watch the planes. Touched by their happiness when he gave them two pieces of gum, he cajoled his crewmates into pooling their candy rations.
  • For the next several weeks, they dropped candy to the children, using handkerchiefs as parachutes and signaling a drop by wiggling the plane’s wings. A German journalist, having been hit in the head by one of the packages, wrote a story about the man the children called the "Candy Bomber" and "Uncle Wiggly-Wings." His secret was out, but embracing a perfect propaganda story, the air force encouraged his kindness. The men on base began donating their candy rations and soon packages of candy, gum, and handkerchiefs arrived from the States. The project, called Operation Little Vittles, delivered 23 tons of treats to children all over West Berlin .
  • After Moscow lifted the blockade, celebrations, like this one by a US Navy squadron for an R-5D crew on its return from Berlin, were standard. It would be another four months before the Western Allies officially stopped all flights.
  • Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen was perhaps the most famous pilot of the Berlin airlift. On the success of the airlift: I just firmly believe that the Berliners were the heroes. They slept in bombed-out buildings, they slept without heat and with lights only for an hour or two ... not enough to eat -- but not one would complain. The Soviets offered them food rations: "Hey, we'll give you all you want. Just sign up with us." And only 4 percent of the total population of Berlin capitulated and asked for help from the Soviets. They were determined, they said, "It's freedom or else."
  • Berlin blockade

    1. 1. Berlin Blockade The first serious crisis of the Cold War
    2. 4. The three Western powers join their zones to create a separate West Germany.
    3. 7. Lucius Clay -- military governor of the American zone of occupied Germany
    4. 19. These were the primary air routes used during the Berlin Airlift.
    5. 23.