Berlin Airlift and Blockade in the Cold War

November 22, 2016 – 02:57 pm

Berliners watching a C-54 land at Tempelhof Airport in 1948. US Air Force

Berlin Airlift - Background:

With the conclusion of World War II in Europe, Germany was divided into four occupation zones as had been discussed at the Yalta Conference. The Soviet zone was in eastern Germany while the Americans were in the south, the British the northwest, and the French the southwest. Administration of these zones was to be conducted through the Four Power Allied Control Council (ACC).

The German capital, located deep in the Soviet zone, was similarly divided between the four victors. In the immediate period following the war, there was great debate regarding to what extent Germany should be allowed to rebuild.

During this time, Joseph Stalin actively worked to create and place in power the Socialist Unity Party in the Soviet zone. It was his intention that all of Germany should be communist and part of the Soviet sphere of influence. To this end, the Western Allies were only given limited access to Berlin along road and ground routes. While the Allies initially believed this to be short-term, trusting to Stalin's good will, all subsequent requests for additional routes were denied by the Soviets. Only in the air was a formal agreement in place which guaranteed three twenty-mile wide air corridors to the city.

Berlin Airlift - Tensions Increase:

In 1946, the Soviets cut off food shipments from their zone into western Germany. This was problematic as eastern Germany produced the majority of the nation's food while western Germany contained its industry.

In reply, General Lucius Clay, commander of the American zone, ended shipments of industrial equipment to the Soviets. Angered, the Soviets launched an anti-American campaign and began to disrupt the work of the ACC. In Berlin, the citizens, who had been brutally treated by the Soviets in the closing months of the war, voiced their disapproval by electing a staunchly anti-communist city-wide government.

With this turn of events, American policy makers came to the conclusion that a strong Germany was necessary to protect Europe from Soviet aggression. In 1947, President Harry Truman appointed General George C. Marshall as Secretary of State. Developing his "Marshall Plan" for European recovery, he intended to provide $13 billion in aid money. Opposed by the Soviets, the plan led to meetings in London regarding reconstruction of Europe and the rebuilding of the German economy. Angered by these developments, the Soviets began stopping British and American trains to check the identities of the passengers.


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