Operation Vittles The Berlin Airlift – May ’98 Aviation History Feature

December 19, 2016 – 04:37 pm
Red Stars Over Berlin

Fifty years ago, a massive airlift into Berlin showed the Soviets that a post-WWII blockade would not work

By C.V. Glines

The morning of June 25, 1948, in Berlin was unseasonably warm, and a low ceiling of dark clouds hung ominously over the divided city. During the night, news editors in West Berlin had been busy remaking the front pages of their morning papers because of a flash from the Soviet-sponsored ADN news agency in East Berlin: “The transport division of the Soviet military administration is compelled to halt all passenger and freight traffic to and from Berlin tomorrow at 0600 hours because of technical difficulties. West Berlin will receive electricity only between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m….”

West Berliners quickly learned what the “technical difficulties” would mean. For weeks, the Soviets had been harassing the French, British and American authorities to try to force them to withdraw from the city. To this end, various restrictions, controls and slowdowns had been imposed on military and civilian traffic between West Germany and Berlin, and there had been many frustrating discussions during which neither side would give in.

The Western Allies had had to resort to airlifting military supplies to the city for 11 days, beginning on April 1, 1948, when U.S. authorities had refused to submit to Soviet inspection of military rail shipments. Land traffic resumed after much haggling, but on June 15 the Communists closed the autobahn “for repairs.” Six days later, they halted all barge traffic into the city. At this impasse, Douglas C-47 Skytrains from the 60th and 61st Troop Carrier Groups at Kaufbeuren and Rhein Main made an average of 38 trips daily for five days to West Berlin with needed military supplies. British Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft also flew in supplies for British nationals in the city. It was on June 26 that the so-called Berlin Airlift officially began and the first scheduled airlift brought supplies to the three Allied sectors of West Berlin.

Deep inside Soviet-held East Germany, West Berlin was an island of democracy in an ocean of communism. At the end of World War II, the Allied powers had agreed upon free access by military traffic to the occupied zones of Berlin within the Soviet sector of Germany. The Soviets later decided that this was no longer acceptable and that they would force the British, French and American military out in order to rid the city of democracy’s influence. They hoped to starve, freeze and scare the West Berliners into accepting communism by the simple expedient of cutting off all resupply of life’s essentials. The three 20-mile-wide air corridors remained open, however. The Allied occupation forces had been reduced drastically over the previous two years, and the Soviets didn’t believe there was a sufficient cargo force left in West Germany to mount a successful airlift.

Source: www.historynet.com

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