Berlin Blockade: Cold War Starts: June 1948

Milk for Berliners by air

The WW2 honeymoon between the Soviet Union and America ended in June 1948 with the Berlin Blockade. Berlin had been conquered by the Russians alone but as the US had been an wartime ally Berlin was broken up into four zones; Russian, American, British and French. The Western allies reached West Berlin by a narrow corridor with a road and a railway line. In June 1948 the Russians stopped the corridor. The idea was push out the West from Berlin. If the US had sent in the army it would have been war. Truman decided on the best available option; feed west Berlin through the air.

The Germans loved him. The most famous pilot, who was part of the Berlin Airlift, is Gail Halvorsen, who dropped candy attached to little parachutes shortly before landing in Tempelhof - he received the Bundesverdienstorden in 1974 and is connected with the German Olympic history, due he carried the placard for Germany during the Salt Lake City opening ceremony in 2002


  • The blockade lasted 318 days (11 months).
  • In the winter of 1948–49 Berliners lived on dried potatoes, powdered eggs and cans of meat. They had 4 hours of electricity a day.
  • 275,000 flights carried in 1½ million tons of supplies. A plane landed every 3 mins.
  • On 16 April 1949, 1400 flights brought in 13,000 tons of supplies in one day – Berlin only needed 6,000 tons a day to survive.
  • Some pilots dropped chocolate and sweets.
  • The USA stationed B-29 bombers (which could carry an atomic bomb) in Britain.
  • The American airmen were regarded as heroes.

The Russian troops by their rape and pillaging when they entered Berlin did not endear themselves to the German people. To them America and Britain with their democracy and their comparatively less brutal methods were a better option. In the picture German children cheer US planes that took part in the airlift.

The Berlin Blockade
[SHS St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Cartoon Collection, May 5, 1949]
Unless otherwise noted, © The State Historical Society of Missouri


Due to horrible conditions in East Germany, its citizens had begun to cross over to West Germany and were allowed to proclaim themselves refugees. 2.6 million out of 17.5 million residents of East Germany had crossed over by 1961. This caused labor shortages in East Germany and also the further degradation of an already failing East German economy. As East Germany got worse and worse, Russia became willing to take offensive measures to reclaim West Berlin.

In December of 1947, Russia and the United States finally parted ways and the Western Powers began to meet about German business without the Russian ambassador present. On March 20, 1948, Russia declared that the Allied Control Council of Berlin no longer existed and voluntarily withdrew from all of their meetings. As a result, there were no government relations existing between Russia and the other Allies.

The problems worsened when the Russians decided that they wanted all of Berlin under their control. There had been no previous treaties giving the Allies free access to West Berlin through Russian territory, so Russia exploited this situation and isolated Berlin from American soldiers and supplies. The Berlin Blockade began in mid 1948 as Russian forces surrounded West Berlin in an effort to make Allied soldiers there surrender from starvation. The Soviets sealed off railroads and highways to the Western sector of Berlin, effectively cutting it off from the Western Allied sector of Germany. In response to this, the Allies instituted the Berlin Airlift on June 21, 1948, in order to provide West Berlin with food and fuel. Cargo planes dropped food, fuel, and other supplies into West Germany 24 hours a day.

Russia rationalized the blockade by saying that they were doing extensive roadwork (this didn't fool anyone). Russia then went on to claim that Berlin was rightfully theirs and that the Western powers had control only of West Berlin because they had more votes when the partition was being made. Marshall answered this by declaring to the Russian government that all Allies had a right to be in Berlin and that the United States intended to stay. He then went on to cut off all passage of trains between East and West Germany.

The conflict intensified when America secretly moved 60 long-range bombers into the British Isles. Russia saw that the Allies did not intend to surrender so they offered the citizens of West Berlin food on the condition that they came over to the Russian side. The West Berliners decided that they would rather starve than be under Russian authority. In May, 1949, Russia called off the failed blockade. They lost this confrontation for two reasons. First, the Russians had not yet acquired nuclear capabilities and therefore could not stage a larger offensive. Second, the Russians were in an extremely bad position in regard to foreign relations; "...before the eyes of the world, it appeared to be trying to starve over 2 million men, women, and children in West Berlin. While the Berlin Airlift continuing month after month provided a tangible demonstration of western determination and competence."2 So basically, through this whole conflict, Russia was making themselves look like murderers and the Allies looked like saviors. The Western powers' unflinching support of Berlin gave other parts of Germany more confidence in their commitment to Germany's well-being

The route of the Berlin airlift

In this British cartoon from 1948, Stalin watches as the storks fly coal and food into Berlin, but he dares not shoot them down.

Western propaganda? Britain and America tried to restore German prosperity in their sectors, but the Russians systematically looted their zone. This cartoon of 1946 shows Britain and America trying to get the 'lorry' (representing the German economy) going, while the Russian sits smugly on his motorbike, having stolen the wheels.

US airplanes lined up at Berlin Tempelhof Airport

After about 278,000 flights, the Berlin blockade ended on 12. May 1949.

41 British troops, 31 American troops and 6 Germans lose their lives in accidents.

US Air Force Lieutenant Gail Halverson throws chocolate and chewing gum with mini parachutes he made himself out of his aircraft in October 1948

On 25 June 1948 General Lucius D. Clay, the US Military Governor, announced the launch of the Berlin Airlift

On 24 June 1948 the Soviet Union severed all passenger and goods traffic between West Berlin and West Germany

On 26 June 1948 the first US aircraft flew into Tempelhof Airport

(Image by Fritz Eschen)
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Points To Ponder


It is difficult to distinguish between the quality of both the German and Russian soldiers. Both were motivated by their love for their motherland. But there were others factors that drove the two sides to such desperate fighting.

One, both sides knew that this was a no-holds bar war. Not fighting was thus not an option.

Second, both Hitler and Stalin had squads that killed any deserter. Turning away from fighting was just not possible.

Thus was seen some of the most bitter, brutal and desperate fighting on the WW2 eastern (Russian) Front.
"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
-- George Santayana


"Be polite; write diplomatically; even in a declaration of war one observes the rules of politeness."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When the enemy advances, withdraw; when he stops, harass; when he tires, strike; when he retreats, pursue.'
--Mao Zedong


"The main thing is to make history, not to write it."
--Otto von Bismarck

"When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite."
--Winston Churchill


"In time of war the loudest patriots are the greatest profiteers."
--August Bebel

"God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best."

Quotes about War....

"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war."
---Otto von Bismarck


"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
--Hermann Goering


"To conquer the enemy without resorting to war is the most desirable. The highest form of generalship is to conquer the enemy by strategy."
--Tzu Sun

"All men are brothers, like the seas throughout the world; So why do winds and waves clash so fiercely everywhere?"
--Emperor Hirohito