In June 1948, Joseph Stalin halted all road and rail traffic in to and out of the Allied sector of Berlin and cut off all electricity to the city. The only route into Berlin was by means of three twenty-mile-wide air corridors across the Soviet zone of Germany. Thus the wartime allies of Britain, France and the USA realized that the only option open to them was to supply the beleaguered West Berlin by air transport and so started one of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century. The airlift started in ...
In June 1948, Joseph Stalin halted all road and rail traffic in to and out of the Allied sector of Berlin and cut off all electricity to the city. The only route into Berlin was by means of three twenty-mile-wide air corridors across the Soviet zone of Germany. Thus the wartime allies of Britain, France and the USA realized that the only option open to them was to supply the beleaguered West Berlin by air transport and so started one of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century. The airlift started in June, 1948. At the beginning there were three loading airfields: Rhein Main and Wiesbaden in the American zone, and Weinstorf in the British zone. By September of 1948 the airlift was transporting a massive tonnage of supplies into Berlin, including coal, food, medical supplies and all the other necessities of life. A mixed fleet of aircraft plodded their endless path to and from the city. Both Ex-planes and pilots were dragged out of retirement. In September 1948 the Russian military threatened to force down western aircraft if they flew outside the 20-mile wide corridors but by March 1949 a total of 45,683 tons of supplies per week were being flown into Berlin. In April Russia finally announced her intention to end the blockade.
Detailed, nuts-and-bolts exploration of the 1948-9 Berlin airlift, first major crisis of the new Cold War. British military historians Sutherland and Canwell begin at the close of World War II, when the Red Army occupied the decimated, starved city. Germany was divided into four zones after its surrender in May 1945, and the Soviets jealously guarded access to Berlin, which lay within their zone but was divided among all four Allies. Food and fuel were urgently needed for the city's nearly three million residents, but the Russians did not allow supplies to move through their zone into West Berlin. As Soviet-sponsored communist parties seized power in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Czechoslovakia, the Truman Doctrine guaranteed U.S. support for democracies that resisted. When the Marshall Plan for the economic reconstruction of Europe was set forth in July 1947, the Iron Curtain had already fallen, and divided, vulnerable Berlin came under increasingly restrictive Soviet measures. The crisis was precipitated by the introduction on June 21, 1948, of the Deutsche Mark in Berlin's three Western sectors. In response, the Soviets declared they would no longer supply food to the German civilian population in those sectors. The authors credit British Air Commodore Rex Waite (rather than American General Lucius D. Clay) with drafting the plan for an airlift (dubbed Operation Vittles) to sustain the population and the garrisons. Using three airfields from June 1948 to June 1949, the Western powers airlifted nearly two million tons of food and supplies, effectively undermining the Soviets and keeping West Berliners from starving. The authors make a good use of primary documents to portraythe broad political machinations of the time, yet neglect to offer voices from the civilian eyewitnesses. A final chapter, "Legacy of the Airlift," covers such subsequent events as the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and its dismantling in 1989. A proficient overview, though skewed by its British orientation.
Jonathan Sutherland and Diane Canwell have written widely on historical subjects, in particular on military and aviation history, and they have long been fascinated by the history of Norfolk and its military heritage. Among their many books are The RAF Air Sea Rescue Service 1918-1986, The Battle of Jutland and Air War Malta.
Prelude to the Blockade 5
Meagre Beginnings 31
Black Friday 56
Berliners and Volunteers 69
Flying the Corridor 94
Airlift Airbases 107
Eastern Parade 119
End of the Airlift 130
Political Settlement 145
Legacy of the Airlift 163
RAF Units used During Operation Plainfare, June 1948 - September 1949 181
The Airlift in Figures (Figures from British Sources) 183
Statistics for the First Year of the Airlift (26 June 1948 - 26 June 1949) 197
Soviet Harassment Incidents during the Airlift Operations 200
Documents Regarding the Partitioning of Germany and Berlin 201