The Berlin Airlift. Competing Influences. Germany s Postwar Division. Knowledge Article: World Geography

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1 Knowledge Article: World Geography The Berlin Airlift Competing Influences Although allies during World War II, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had different visions of how the world should be shaped following the end of hostilities. Simply put, the Soviet Union wanted to extend its influence, through communism, as far around the world as possible. The United States, backed by Great Britain and France, wished to contain this spread while promoting a capitalist and democratic ideology. This global struggle for influence became known as the Cold War because it lacked any direct military conflicts between the major players. The first clash of this "war" occurred over influence in Germany, located in the center of Europe. Germany s Postwar Division The reason Germany became the first battleground of the Cold War was largely due to its location and the final outcomes of World War II. Because Germany was the most dangerous enemy of the Allies (the U.S., the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France), an unprecedented number of resources went into defeating the country. Waves of bombings and a fiercely fought invasion resulted in the almost complete destruction of Germany s industries and even some of its cities. In short, by 1945, Germany lay in ruins. With Germany both economically and physically devastated, each of the four main World War II Allies decided to take over daily governance of a portion of the country. The Soviet Union administered an eastern quadrant. The U.S., Great Britain, and France each received a section as well. Berlin, the former capital of the country, was also divided into four different zones, even though it was located deep within the Soviet section of Germany EDMENTUM, INC.

2 This map shows the postwar division of Germany among the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and the United States. At first, the Allies agreed that they wanted to limit the economic growth of Germany. After all, this was the country they had battled in two world wars within three decades. After a couple of years, however, the U.S., Great Britain, and France all realized that an economically healthy Germany was in their best interests. It was a militarily strong and aggressive Germany that they wished to avoid. As a result, a series of economic reforms and aid packages were instituted in the portions of Germany under Allied control. The most famous of these reforms was known as the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan loaned billions of U.S. dollars not just to Germany, but to any European country that requested it. The Soviet Union viewed these Western-backed economic programs with great suspicion. They feared that the U.S. and its new allies were trying to spread democratic and market reforms across Europe at the expense of communism. As a result, no area under Soviet influence or control was allowed to take part in the Marshall Plan, or any other Western aid program. That included the Soviet areas in Germany and Berlin. 2

3 The Berlin Standoff Soviet Blockade Tension between the Soviet Union and its former allies became even worse in February At that time, a new currency, the deutsche mark, was introduced to the Western sections of Germany and Berlin. The Soviets refused to accept this currency within their German territory. Around the same time, the Western sections of Germany began the process of unification, which would eventually lead to an independent country free from official occupation. It would be known as the Federal Republic of Germany, or simply West Germany. Threatened by both the economic reforms and unification of West Germany, the Soviets decided to respond. They began to block all western land access to Berlin starting in June They shut down the major highway and railroad link between West Germany and West Berlin. To add even more pressure, the Soviets at first refused to supply the 2.5 million people of West Berlin with any food. Through these actions, the Soviets hoped to starve the city of supplies. Without supplies, the people of West Berlin would become quite angry and desperate. As a result, the U.S., Great Britain, and France might be forced to abandon the city. In the context of the Cold War, this shutdown was extremely significant. If the U.S. and its new postwar allies were to lose influence over Berlin, it would be a major blow to their efforts in containing communism. It would embarrass them throughout the world, and possibly lead to other areas falling under Soviet or communist influences. Initial Problems With only about a month s worth of supplies on hand, Berlin would indeed starve and surrender to communist influences if something was not done quickly. Faced with this dilemma, the U.S. and Great Britain were determined not to lose the city. Although they could not supply it by land, Berlin was still accessible by air. However, no city the size of West Berlin had ever been completely dependent on aircraft to feed its citizens and power its factories. Just prior to the blockade, West Berlin imported at least 12,000 tons of supplies per day. Even with rations in place, the city would still need to import at least 4,500 tons daily. To make the situation even more difficult, West Berlin had only two relatively small airports. Despite these tremendous odds, the U.S. and Great Britain decided to try to supply the city by air. On June 26, the first day of airlift operations, U.S. planes made only 32 flights carrying just 80 tons of supplies. This was less than 2 percent of the daily tonnage needed. Most of the initial problems concerned the fleet of aircraft. Most of the planes in operation were relatively old, small, and inefficient. Additionally, there were not nearly 3

4 enough of these planes to meet West Berlin s demands. Even if more aircraft were brought into Europe, however, Berlin lacked enough runways for them to land on. Think about it Think about all of the food you eat each day. Each meal requires a host of basic food supplies. Take pizza for example. To make a pizza, you need flour, water, cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, and other ingredients for toppings. What types of food products do you normally eat? What basic types of food are needed to make one of your typical meals? Chances are you came up with many different types of food needed just to make one meal for yourself. Now think about the amount of food you eat in a single day and multiply it by 2.5 million (the population of West Berlin in 1948). If you can imagine how much food that is, then you re close to understanding part of the massive operation that the U.S. and British governments undertook during the Berlin Airlift. Review the food items that the British government deemed necessary to sustain West Berlin's population during the Berlin Airlift. The figures contained in the chart were a crucial part of planning the operation. (Note: Even with all the items combined, food was only the second largest provision brought into West Berlin during the Airlift. The largest was coal.) Delivering the Goods Realizing the initial problems, U.S. and British officials called for new and larger aircraft to be brought into the area. These new aircraft could carry roughly 10 tons per trip as opposed to 3 tons in the older aircraft. They also began improving the airports in West Berlin by adding more runways. As more and more planes began landing in Berlin, workers had to devise more efficient landing, unloading, and takeoff procedures. They reduced the amount of time planes were on the ground, which allowed aircraft to make return trips that much quicker. With more trips, more supplies were brought into the city. 4

5 Berliners watch a C-54 aircraft land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport in These efforts soon began to produce results. On July 20, less than a month into operations, 2,250 tons of supplies were transported into the city. Just more than three weeks later, on August 12, U.S. and British aircraft combined for 707 flights and just over 4,500 tons delivered. With this milestone, the minimum daily amount of supplies had been achieved for the first time. The daily tonnage of supplies flown kept increasing as the airlift continued and more procedures were refined. Additionally, a new airport in the French sector of West Berlin was added in November, which increased the number of daily flights. Although the delivery of supplies was sometimes slowed by dense fog during the winter of , the city was consistently supplied with more than 4,500 tons of goods per day. By early 1949, it was no longer a question if West Berlin could be sustained by air. Instead, the U.S. and Great Britain wondered exactly how much more than the minimum amount they could provide. Almost every month, a new record was set. With each new record, the Soviet government began to realize that its tactics had failed. On May 11, 1949, the Soviet Union ended the blockade and allowed the Western powers land access to the city once again. 5

6 Berlin after the Airlift After the airlift, Berlin remained split politically between East and West until the collapse of the Soviet Union in Before the Soviet collapse, leaders from both the U.S. and Soviet Union frequently visited Berlin. They often gave speeches condemning the other side. Among the most famous speeches were those by U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. In the years after the airlift, perhaps the most significant development in Berlin occurred in In August of that year, Soviet workers erected a wall dividing the city between East and West. No civilians could cross this line. In fact, armed members of the Soviet military stood watch at all times along its border. They would often shoot at, and kill, East Berliners who tried to escape into West Berlin. This wall would remain intact until crowds of angry Berliners tore it down in After the Soviet Union fell apart, West and East Berlin finally reunited as a single city. This event was part of a series of events that led to the reunification of West and East Germany as a whole. Although the process has not always been easy, today Germany is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. However, its history might have looked very different if the airlift had never succeeded and West Berlin had fallen under Soviet control. Sources Parrish, Thomas. Berlin in the Balance: The Blockade, the Airlift, the First Major Battle of the Cold War. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, Tusa, Ann and John. The Berlin Airlift. New York: Atheneum,

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