What Was The Berlin Airlift?

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saintfester | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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The Berlin Airlift was a pivotal event early on in the Cold War. It refers to an event in which the United States and it’s western European allies attempted to supply aide to the residents of West Berlin who were cut off by the Soviet Union forces occupying them.

In an attempt to remove the allies from Berlin without starting a shooting war, Stalin and the Soviet Union closed off all access to Allied West Berlin, which lied within the Soviet occupied zone of postwar Germany. All traffic was halted, along with all transportation by rail and water routes.

The Allies considered all options, including a ground invasion plan, which might have started World War II, but in the end, they decided on a plan to supply the city with badly needed supplies by air.  

Beginning in July, American C-54’s along with other aircraft began airdropping supplies inside the cut-off allied zone of Berlin. At first the Soviets and many western powers viewed the idea of supplying an entire city as impossible, but within a few short weeks they had refined the system and were successfully dropping nearly 300 tons of supplies a day. These supplies included food, water, medical supplies, baby formula and even bubble gum and candy.

Eventually, in 1949, the Soviets realized they were losing support in their own zones in Germany and decided to relent and lift the blockade. This was seen as a major victory for the west as it discouraged future soviet aggression in Germany and Berlin.     

The final price tag of the airlift in today’s dollars was around 2.29 billion dollars!

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fact-finder | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The Berlin airlift, which took place during 1948 and 1949, was the response to the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in Germany. After World War II (1939–45), the German city had been divided into four occupation zones—American, British, French, and Soviet. By 1947 the Western powers (the United States, Great Britain, and France) were engaged in the cold war (1947–89; an unarmed political conflict over the spread of communism) with the Soviet Union. When the Americans, British, and French agreed to combine their three areas of Berlin into a single economic region, the Soviets responded by imposing a blockade, which involved cutting the area off from supply routes. In June 1948 all roads, railways, and water routes into West Berlin were blocked by Soviet troops. Since Berlin was surrounded by the Soviet occupation zone, the Soviets believed the blockade would be an effective way to force the Western powers to leave Berlin. The Soviet tactic failed, however, when the Americans, British, and French organized a massive airlift. For the next eleven months the Western countries used airplanes to supply food and fuel to West Berlin. As a result of the airlift, the Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949, and the West ended the airlift the following September. Nevertheless, the cold war between the West and the Soviet Union lasted for forty-two years, until 1989.

Further Information: Chirnside, Jean. The Berlin Airlift. [Online] Available http://www.whistlestop.org/jc/coverpge.htm, October 25, 2000; Tusa, Ann. The Berlin Airlift. New York: Atheneum, 1988; USAFE. Berlin Airlift Site. [Online] Available http://www.usafe.af.mil/berlin/berlin.htm, October 25, 2000.

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