The Berlin Airlift

The Berlin Airlift is regarded as the beginning of the Cold War, which was a period of tension between the US and the Soviet Union without a physical war.

After Germany’s surrender in World War II, the Allied countries divided and occupied Germany and its capital, Berlin. The US occupied the southeastern piece of Germany, Great Britain the northwestern, France the southwestern, and the Soviet Union the northeastern. The US, Great Britain, and France also occupied West Berlin, while the Soviet Union occupied East Berlin.

There had been tensions growing between the democratic Western countries (US, Great Britain, and France) and the communist Soviet Union. The US prioritized providing economic aid to rebuild Germany, but the Soviet Union wanted Germany to pay for postwar Soviet recovery. The Western countries also wanted to stop the spread of communism. In early 1948, the Western countries met secretly to plan the unification of their occupied zones into “Bizonia,” which would be a single West German state with its own currency, the Deutschmark. When the Soviet Union found out about these plans, they began issuing their own currency, the Ostmark, into their occupation zones and blocked access to West Berlin.

The Berlin Airlift refers to the period of time between June 1948 and May 1949 when the Soviet Union blocked all rail and road travel to West Berlin to cripple the city and force the Allies to give up on their plan of creating a unified West German state. To avoid giving up West Berlin or going to war with the Soviet Union, the US and Great Britain delivered supplies, such as food and coal, into West Berlin by airlift. The airlift became increasingly efficient, flying a total of about 277,000 flights and over 2.3 million tons of supplies into West Berlin during this 11 month period.

Finally, on May 12, 1949, realizing that their plan wasn’t working, the Soviet Union lifted the blockade on West Berlin.


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