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Berlin Blockade

The Berlin Blockade was the firing pistol that began the Cold War. The Second World War allies occupying a divided Germany, and a divided Berlin, were no longer able to bridge the ideological divide of the democratic and capitalist West and the totalitarian and communist East. This divide was to have far reaching consequences both for the people of West Berlin and for the rest of Europe.

In June 1948 Britain, France and the USA announced they would unite western Germany, creating a new free and democratic country, with a new currency, the Deutschemark. The Soviet Union fearing a united democratic western Germany announced that the joint administration of Berlin would end and on 24 June began a blockade of West Berlin, cutting off all land routes and waterways in and out of the city. 

To break the blockade and to deter future Soviet aggression on 26 June Britain, the US and France began flying in supplies to the over 2,000,000 citizens of West Berlin. It was to be the largest airlift in history and the first recognisable humanitarian operation carried out by the Armed Forces. 

A queue of Avro Yorks of Royal Air Force Transport Command at an airfield in West Germany, awaiting their turn to taxi to the end of the runway and take off on their journey to Berlin.

Lined up and ready to fly

A queue of Avro Yorks of Royal Air Force Transport Command at an airfield in West Germany, awaiting their turn to taxi to the end of the runway and take off on their journey to Berlin. ©IWM (MH 30688)

Lined up and ready to fly

A queue of Avro Yorks of Royal Air Force Transport Command at an airfield in West Germany, awaiting their turn to taxi to the end of the runway and take off on their journey to Berlin. ©IWM (MH 30688)

The Blockade would last 321 days, during which Allied air forces would make 277,500 flights into Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin, delivering over 2,300,000 tons of coal, food, and other essential supplies. The RAF flew over 65,000 missions supported by crews from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. British mission including civilian companies totalled 87,000.

By January 1949, the Allies were flying in 5,000 tons of supplies into West Berlin every day. At its busiest, one flight landed in or took off from Berlin every minute. To keep West Berlin supplied with grain, Britain diverted grain ships bound for Britain to German ports. This resulted in the introduction of bread rationing in Britain, which had not been rationed even during the height of the Second World War.

British and American air force officers consult an operations plan giving routes and heights of all aircraft in and out of the Berlin area during the Airlift.

British and American air force officers consult

Squadron Leader F B Moss of Operations Control, Royal Air Force with Captain J R Markey of the United States Air Force at Luneburg in the British Sector of Germany. ©IWM (TR 3841)

British and American air force officers consult

Squadron Leader F B Moss of Operations Control, Royal Air Force with Captain J R Markey of the United States Air Force at Luneburg in the British Sector of Germany. ©IWM (TR 3841)

At one minute after midnight on 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union accepted the blockade had failed and ended it. Later that month Western Germany was united and became the new Federal Republic of Germany. The Allied airlift saved thousands of lives and ushered in an era of renewed collaboration amongst western democracies, cemented by the creation of NATO in April 1949.

These are the stories of those who played their part.

The Stories of the Berlin Blockade

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