The Berlin Blockade/Airlift

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In July of 1945 at Potsdam, it was decided among the Big 3 (Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Josef Stalin) that Germany would be split along the Elbe River, with the Western powers getting control of the West, and the Soviet Union the East. The border between the two "countries" was lined with barbed-wire and communist-friendly guards. Berlin was also split in this way. It was also at this meeting that the Four-Power Agreement was signed, giving air access to West Berlin from West Germany; a highway route along with a canal into West Berlin were also allowed.

The Blockade

Western Europe was growing strong quite rapidly from the Marshall Plan, which made Stalin very nervous; he feared that he may become overpowered. In order to maintain his safety, and to push the Western powers out of Berlin, Stalin set up a blockade around Berlin on June 24 1948, preventing any food, coal, or supplies to be sent into Berlin via land; the Western half of Berlin was also shut off from the East-based power grid.

The first response of many West Berlin leaders was to just leave, just as Stalin had hoped; but the United States argued that if Stalin was allowed to take West Berlin, he would try to take West Germany as well. Seeing as they didn't want to leave, the West had to make sure that their people did not starve, or freeze, so the great Berlin Airlift began.

The Airlift

The program was spearheaded by the General in charge of the American sector of West Berlin, General Clay; his idea was to use the air routes granted to the West by Stalin to fly in all of the food and other necceciaties that the city would need.

ED Toon

This educational comic strip brilliantly shows the course of the Berlin Airlift. This event did increase tension between the superpowers. (Image courtesy of Bentley Boyd at [Daliy Press Solutions]

There was only one problem: the city used an average of 12,000 tonnes of goods every day. In order to make things possible, the people of West Berlin had to sacrifice an enourmous amount of food; they would have to live on dehydrated food and milk, biscuits, and vitamin supliments, which was still 1,500 tonnes each day. Transporting the coal required to run the city was another problem at 2,500 tonnes each day. Since flying in this much coal was near impossible, trees inside the city had to be cut down to keep Berlin going.

In getting these huge amounts of supplies into the city, the pilots of the cargo planes also had Soviet fighter jets to contend with; they wouldn't shoot down the planes, but they would shoot in front, or whiz by in attempts to scare the cargo pilots into crashing, which some did. The United States dealt with these plane problems by stating that they had B-29 Bombers stationed in Britain, just waiting to be deployed; brandishing their nuclear monopoly against the Soviets.

The Lifting of the Blockade

By the Spring of 1949, Stalin realized that he wasn't getting the results that he had hoped for, infact, it was very expensive for both sides to keep the blockade going, so on May 12, he lifted the blockade into Berlin. The airlift, though, did not stop until September of that year, for that West feared that Stalin may attempt another blockade, and wanted to be prepared.

To top it all off, on May 23, West Germany declares itself the Federal Republic of Germany, formalizing the division; the East will later declare itself the German Democratic Republic, a democracy only in name.

This event increased the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

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