History Brief: The Berlin Airlift


One of the first major incidents during the
Cold War became known as the Berlin Airlift. What was the Berlin Airlift, and why was
it carried out? At the conclusion of World War II, Germany
was divided into four portions. The United States, Great Britain, France,
and the Soviet Union each controlled one segment. The city of Berlin, which was located in the
Soviet sector, was also split into four similar segments. The American, British, and French portions
joined together to create West Berlin, while the Soviet region was known as East Berlin. In 1948, the American, British, and French
regions of Germany announced that they would be creating, and using, a new currency called
the Deutsche Mark. This would replace the old German currency
known as the Reich Mark. In response to this decision, the Soviet Union
halted all traffic between East Berlin and West Berlin. They also severed all communications with
the non-Soviet sectors of the city. Supply trains were turned around and even
the electricity was cut from West Berlin. Since Berlin was located 100 miles inside
the Soviet sector of Germany, this meant that the non-Soviet region of Berlin was completely
isolated in a hostile territory. At the time, this region of Berlin had enough
food to last about 36 days and nearly 45 days’ worth of coal. By June 24th, 1948, West Berlin was completely
cut off from the rest of the world and surrounded by 2.5 million Soviet troops. On June 25th, the US, Great Britain and other
allied nations decided on a response. It would become known as the Berlin Airlift. The Allies began flying planes into West Berlin,
each one carrying loads of supplies, including food, coal and other necessities. At first, progress was slow, but before long,
fresh supplies were flowing into West Berlin by the minute. The Soviets were helpless to stop the flights. If they had opened fire on the planes, it
would have been considered an act of war. So, the planes were allowed to land, supplying
West Berliners with the items and food they needed. By April of 1949, the Soviets realized that
their blockade effort was futile, and finally, on May 12, 1949, the Soviet blockade of Berlin
came to an end. Even after the blockade was lifted, the Berlin
Airlift continued for several more months, lasting a total of fifteen, with countless
planes landing in Berlin. At the Airlift’s conclusion, the American
and British air forces had combined to supply Berlin with over two million tons of supplies. There were 101 deaths caused by crashes during
the airlift (these became the first casualties of the Cold War). The cost of the airlift was $224 million,
however most believed it was a small price to pay to secure the lives and freedom of
those in West Berlin.

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