The Berlin Blockade
The Cold War was a major outcome of World War II and stemmed from the competing ideologies of Capitalism and Communism. Communism is an ideology where the community owns all property and resources, and everyone works to their maximum ability for the community. Whereas capitalism is a system where private owners control the country’s trade instead of the state and work life depends on where you can get a job and how hard you work to raise yourself up the ladder. The Cold War began because Soviet Russia (USSR), being communist, and the United States of America (US), being capitalist, did not agree with each other at all, purely as a result of their opposing views. The Presidents of the United States of America despised the leaders of Soviet Russia because they believed that “Soviet efforts were negative and destructive” (George Kennan, 1946 (textbook, pg 161)).
Two plans were formed by the US against Soviet Russia to stop them from spreading their ideology. Then President, Harry Truman, formed the Truman Doctrine which was a generous aid policy for any country willing to resist communism. The Doctrine promised every country financial aid if they helped halt the spread of communism. General George Marshall then devised the Marshall Plan which promised to help rebuild Western Europe and create a barrier to stop the expansion of communist Russia.
The differences the United States and Soviet Russia held led to tensions rising between the two superpowers and an increase in problems they shared. At the end of World War II, the Allies and the Soviets held peace conferences at Yalta (1) and Potsdam (2) to discuss the division of Germany and its territories. At the Yalta Conference, in February 1945, the leaders of Soviet Russia, the United States and England, agreed that Germany be divided up into Allied zones. Yet it was not until the Potsdam Conference in May 1945, after Germany’s unconditional surrender, that Germany was distributed to each of the Allied nations (the United States, Britain and France) along with Soviet Russia (3). The Allied nations then divided and distributed Berlin, which was located deep within the Soviet east just over 160km from the border of West Germany, also into four parts (3). At the conference, when the Allies split the city of Berlin, they overlooked the need for arrangements of access to the capital city.
In 1946, the American and English sectors joined to make a single “Bizone” (two zones joined to become one) and in 1948, France joined their sector to the Bizone to create the Trizone. This newly formed zone was renamed to the “Federal Republic of Germany” and followed a capitalist ideology. The west side of Berlin also joined to form one capitalist sector in the middle of the east communist sector of Germany. Along with the connection, the Federal Republic of Germany also acquired a new currency called the Deutsche Mark. This new currency devalued the already hyperinflated Reich mark of the east and increased concern throughout the leaders of Soviet Russia. These changes in the west alienated the Soviet east and worried Joseph Stalin (USSR Leader) that East Berlin would collapse under the strength and determination of the capitalist West.
Stalin, afraid that the West were trying to create a unified Germany, devised the plan of the Berlin Blockade to drive back the Allies and change their thoughts of reunifying Germany. On June 15, 1948, the Soviets began the blockade secretly by announcing the highway connecting West Germany and Berlin would be closed indefinitely “for repairs”. On June 28, 1948, the Berlin Blockade officially began with remaining railways, highways and water communications blocking all travel from West Germany to Berlin. Stalin hoped that the blockade would starve the Western powers out of Berlin, but the response from the west was major. The western Allies knew that withdrawal from Berlin was not an option, and if they did then “Communism would run rampant”.
The conditions of the blockade were only specified to travellers on land and on water, so the response of the Allies was to supply West Berlin by air. The Allies organised large cargo planes to deliver food, fuel, and other much needed necessities to their people within Berlin.
A study was carried out to determine the amount of food West Berlin’s two million people would need over the many months of the blockade. The results showed that West Berlin would need approximately 646 tons of flour and wheat, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of real milk for children, 144 tons of vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. This totalled to approximately 1,540 tons of food every day. Along with the large amount of food, West Berlin would also need coal and gasoline, and some more unusual items such as rolls of newsprint for newspapers and seedlings to replace trees lost during the war. This meant that a plane was needed to take off or land every 30 seconds (4), so over the course of the airlift more than 277,000 flights were made.
The airlift proved to be a challenge for both the pilots and aircrew involved. Not only did they battle fatigue by flying several planes a day, but the conditions they had to fly in were difficult. Berlin was prone to fog and low cloud, and the approach to certain airports required planes to fly between high-rise buildings. Adding to that, each cargo plane was filled up to or over their weight limit. Due to this, many planes were difficult to take off and move around, which ultimately led to 25 Allied planes crashing and killing 70 pilots and aircrew.
Despite shortages of fuel and electricity, the airlift took food and various necessities to Berlin for over a year. On May 12, 1949, the Soviet Union lifted the blockade after realising that the Allied powers would not give up on West Berlin, yet the Allied airlifts continued until September 30, 1949. Overall the airlift costed the Allies approximately $224,000,000 and they delivered 2,323,738 tons of food, fuel, machinery and other necessary supplies.
The Berlin Blockade