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Berlin Airlift

Harry S Truman

Berlin Airlift: Harry S Truman was the 33rd American President who served in office from April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953. One of the important events during his presidency was the Berlin Airlift.

Definition and Summary of the Berlin Airlift
Summary and definition:
The Berlin Airlift (1 April 1948 – 12 May 1949) was a military operation by the United States, Great Britain and other western European nations to take food, fuel and other vital provisions into West Berlin. The Berlin airlift began after the Communist government of East Germany, which surrounded West Berlin, under the orders of Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin, launched a blockade cutting off the land and canal supply routes to the western part of the city.

The only remaining access routes into the city were three air corridors across the Soviet Zone of Occupation in East Germany. The Western Powers made the decision to launch the Berlin Airlift to get vital supplies to the West Berliners rather than abandoning the city. The Berlin Airlift lasted for 318 days (11 months) in which 275,000 flights carried in 1˝ million tons of supplies into the city.

What was the Berlin Airlift? The Berlin Airlift was a military operation initiated as a rescue mission to keep West Berlin alive and functioning despite the Soviet blockade of the city.

When was the Berlin Airlift? The Berlin Airlift began on June 24, 1948 and ended on May 12, 1949 when Stalin lifted the blockade

What was the purpose of the Berlin Airlift? The purpose of the Berlin Airlift was to supply vital food, fuel and provisions to the isolated West Berlin after the Soviets mounted a blockade of the city.

Who was involved in the Berlin Airlift? The Berlin Airlift was undertaken the United States and Great Britain whose aircraft who supplied the city with vital supplies by air.

Where was the Berlin Airlift? US Planes participating in the Berlin Airlift took off from western European airports and landed at Templehof or Gatow airport in West Berlin.

Facts about Berlin Airlift
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Berlin Airlift.

Berlin was the capital of Germany that lay in the Soviet (eastern) sector of Germany. The city was located 100 miles (160 km) and entirely surrounded by Soviet-controlled eastern Germany and was behind the Iron Curtain.

At the end of WW2 the Allied Control Council (ACC) had agreed that one railroad and one highway were set aside for Western use and approved three, 20 mile wide, air corridors from Frankfurt, Hamburg and Buckeburg which secured Western access to Berlin.

There were three airports in west Berlin. Tempelhof Airport was located in the American zone and Gatow airport was in the British zone. Tegel airfield in the French zone, was turned over to the RAF for aircraft use

Following the end of WW2 the USSR and the USA became embroiled in a tense relationship and the period of  "non-hostile belligerency" referred to as the Cold War (1945 - 1991)

Tensions between the Soviets and Americans increased due to disputes over German war reparations and exacerbated still further by the Truman Doctrine (March 27, 1947) and the Marshall Plan a US-financed relief package, that included $1,390,600 aid to Germany.

Matters came to a final head when the western zones in Berlin joined together and introduced a new deutschmark to replace the former German currency and caused economic chaos in the Russian zone.

Berlin was a dangerous flash point during the Cold War. The East and the West were in close proximity to each other, acutely aware of the political divides between communism and capitalism.

The USSR dictator Joseph Stalin realized he would never get the war reparations he had demanded from Germany and ordered the Berlin Blockade in an attempt to starve the Western allies out of the capital and abandon the city.

On June 23, 1948 the Soviets cut power to West Berlin and initiated a total blockade of the city, blocking all entry points to the Western zones. Access to road, rail, and canals from the Western zones to Berlin was halted.

The two million West Berliners were faced with an extremely serious situation including the western military forces in the  city numbering 8,973 American, 7,606 British and 6,100 French servicemen. The blockade provoked the Berlin Crisis.

The blockade initiated the Berlin Crisis. President Truman sent bombers with nuclear weapons to bases in Britain. It was a desperate situation and the West were faced with the challenge of keeping the city alive without provoking an all-out war with the Soviets.

The conditions in the city was assessed and it was estimated that there is only enough food for 36 days. Looking ahead to the winter months there was only enough coal to last for 45 days.

The United States and Great Britain made the decision to respond to the blockade by supplying the western part of the city by air.

June 26, 1948: The Berlin airlift began on June 26, 1948. The Americans sent 32 flights by USAF Douglas C-47 Skytrains to the Tempelhof airport in Berlin.

Eighty tons of provisions were delivered to the city on the first day but it was estimated that 4,500 tons of food, coal and other essentials were needed to be delivered daily in order to maintain a minimum level of existence

The American attempt to supply Berlin's two million people was dubbed "Operation Vittles," whilst the British effort during the airlift became known as "Operation Plainfare."

Operation Plainfare was to deliver 1,340 tons of food every day during the operation, delivering 17% of the total provisions delivered to the city.

July 12, 1948: The Americans began construction on a new runway at Tempelhof. The existing grass runway would not be able to cope with the massive increase in traffic due to the airlift. The old airport terminal was demolished to create additional space for unloading more airplanes.

July 23, 1948: Major General William Tunner was made the operational head of the American airlift

The Royal Air Force (RAF) had begun the airlift with York and Dakota aircraft with RAF Short Sunderland flying-boats flying to Havel Lake in Berlin.

August 4, 1948: The  British begin using civilian aircraft in the airlift including British European Airways (BEA) and Freddie Laker's Air Charter, Eagle Aviation and Skyways.

The Americans also used commercial airlines to help with the airlift including American Overseas Airline, Pan American, TWA, Seaboard and Western Airlines, Transocean Air Lines and Alaska Airlines.

15 October 1948: The Allies created a unified command to promote increased safety and cooperation between the separate US and British airlift efforts.

RAF Station Gatow was under the command of Group Captain B. Yarde. The US military started to use Gatow airport in August to help relieve the congestion at Tempelhof.

The Combined Airlift Task Force, under Major General William H. Tunner, USAF, was established at Tempelhof airport. Tunner added 72 C-54s to the airlift effort and brought in two-thirds of all USAF C-54 aircrews from across the world to fly the airlift 24 hours a day

The US carried the major portion of the supplies carrying mostly coal, flour, dehydrated potatoes, powdered eggs, cans of meat as well as many other vital foods. The British mainly carried the oil, gasoline, diesel and kerosene with other provisions such as salt and fish.

The Americans and British were joined in the Berlin Airlift by twelve crews of the Royal Australian Air Force squadron, ten crews from the Royal South African Air Force and three crews from the Royal New Zealand Air Force

The French Air Force had lost most of it planes in WW2 so it handled all cargo and supervised the civilian work force

The Soviets tried various methods to harass the allied pilots. The most common incidents included close flying, buzzing, searchlights and radio interference.

Tempelhof airport became famous  as the location of "Operation Little Vittles" during which the Americans dropped candy to children living near the airport. Colonel Gail Seymour "Hal" Halvorsen was the original "Candy Bomber" who started dropping candy by parachute just before landing. The efforts of Hal Halvorsen were expanded by other pilots and eventually became a part of the airlift legend

December 1948: The US government launched a special airlift known as "Project Sleighbells" to deliver servicemen Christmas gifts from their families in the United States.

December 20, 1948: "Operation Santa Claus" delivered Christmas gifts to 10,000 the children of West Berliners.

December 20, 1948: The comedian Bob Hope put together a Christmas show, called the "Christmas Caravan" to entertain US airmen and toured the airlift bases in West Berlin. The hit of Bob Hope's show was the 'Airlift Anthem' composed by Irving Berlin.

February 1949: Delegates from the US and USSR begin negotiations to end the blockade

April 16, 1949: Tunner's "Easter Parade" operation breaks a 24-hour-delivery record, delivering nearly 13,000 tons of supplies to Berlin.

April 25, 1949: The Russian news agency TASS reports a willingness by the Soviets to lift the blockade and the following day, the U.S. State Department announced that the "way appears clear" for the blockade to end.

May 4 1949: the four powers issue a joint communique announcing that the blockade would end one minute after midnight on 12 May,1949

12 May 1949: At one minute after midnight, the Soviets lifted their barricades and access and the blockade was lifted.

During the Berlin airlift nearly 700 aircraft logged over 124 million miles and delivered about 2.3 million tons of supplies

Berlin Airlift Casualties: A total of sixty-five people lost their lives. There were 5 crashes involving the RAF with 25 casualties, 5 crashes involving British Civilian aircraft resulting in 18 casualties, 3 crashes involving C-47's that resulted in 6 casualties and eight C-54 crashes resulting in 23 casualties.

The airlift continued in order to build up a reserve of supplies. The final "Operation Plainfare" airlift flight was on 5 September 1949. The final “Operations Vittles “ flight left on 30 September 1949. The aircraft was painted: “Last Vittles Flight, 1,783,572.7 tons to Berlin.”

Relinquishing Berlin to the Soviets would have seriously undermined the US policy of Containment. The Berlin Airlift forced Stalin and the Soviets to choose between war and peace. Joseph Stalin refused to give the order to shoot down the American planes, another war was averted and West Berlin remained free from communism.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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