On June 24, 1948, one of the most dramatic standoffs in the history of the Cold War began when the Soviet Union established the Berlin Blockade. For a few tense days, the world waited to see whether the United States and Soviet Union would come to blows.  How was the standoff resolved?

the Berlin Blockade

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 Berlin.  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.

West-Berliner Jungen, die auf einem Trümmerberg stehen, begrüßen winkend ein US-amerikanisches Transportflugzeug, das Versorgungsgüter nach West-Berlin bringt (Archivfoto von 1948). Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg landeten hier von Juni 1948 bis Mai 1949 die "Rosinenbomber", die unter anderem Lebensmittel nach Berlin brachten. Der Name Tempelhof, der Flughafen der Luftbrücke, ging um die ganze Welt. Trotz aller Historie: Berlins Regierender Bürgermeister Wowereit hatte angekündigt, Tempelhof werde zum 1. November 2004 geschlossen. Das sei notwendig, um den Erfolg des geplanten Großflughafens Berlin-Schönefeld zu gewährleisten. Foto: Bernd Settnik dpa/lbn (zu dpa-Korr.: "Schließung von Tempelhof 2004 - Airlines wollen Wowereit abmahnen" vom 11.11.2003 - nur s/w)

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.

3a

German children in Berlin playing “Airlift”.

For great content to cover the Cold War in your classroom, check out our Cold War workbook on Amazon!

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