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Berlin Blockade and Airlift

Europe [1948–1949]

By Ayesh Perera, Last Updated: Sept 16, 2021

The Berlin Blockade which lasted from the 24th of June 1948 until the 12th of May 1949 was a major crisis of the Cold War, wherein the Soviets denied the Western Allies access via road, canal and railway to the parts of Berlin under Western rule. Instigated primarily by the introduction of the Deutsche Mark, the Soviets offered to lift the blockade if the Western Allies would withdraw the currency. The Allies however, responded with the historic Berlin Airlift whereby they supplied Berliners with more than 2 million tons of supplies ranging from food to fuel for more than 15 months.

Photograph of cargo planes dropping relief supplies in the Berlin Airlift

Photograph of cargo planes dropping relief supplies in the Berlin Airlift

FAST FACTS  2-Min Summary
  • The Berlin Blockade (June 1948-May 1949) was a Cold War crisis, wherein the Soviets blocked all ground access to West Berlin for the Western Allies (the US, the UK and France).
  • Following WWII, the Allies divided Germany into 4 occupation zones; located nearly 100 miles inside the Soviet zone, the western sectors of Berlin were governed by the UK, the US and France, while the eastern part was ruled by the Soviets.
  • The Soviets refused to expand ground access to West Berlin for the Western Allies who initially relied on Soviet goodwill to travel to Berlin; the 3 formally granted air corridors however, remained open.
  • The suppression of dissent in the Soviet sector, the exclusion of the USSR in the economic planning for Germany, the Soviet-backed coup d’état in Czechoslovakia, and the Soviets’ exit from the Allied Control Council would raise further tension between the Soviets and the Western Allies.
  • The excessive printing of the Reichsmark by the Soviets was undermining the German economy, and on the 21st of June 1948, the Western Allies introduced the Deutsche Mark in West Germany as well as West Berlin to aid Germany’s economic recovery.
  • On the 24th of June, the Soviets retaliated by stopping all ground access to and out of Berlin.
  • Imposed ostensibly to protest against the introduction of the Deutsche Mark, the Soviets offered to lift the blockade if the Western Allies would withdraw the currency.
  • The Western Allies responded with the historic Berlin Airlift whereby they supplied Berliners with more than 2 million tons of supplies ranging from food to fuel for more than 15 months.
  • Despite manifold challenges such as logistical problems, inclement weather and Soviet harassment, the airlift enjoyed great success under Lieutenant General Tunner’s leadership.
  • The Soviets finally decided to lift the blockade in May 1949. However, the possibility of further Soviet aggression would help expand the NATO and unify the West against communism.

Post-World War II Division of Germany

Following the fall of Nazi Germany in WW II, the Allies agreed to divide Germany into 4 temporary occupation zones, roughly corresponding to the locations of the allied forces at the time.

Berlin, located nearly 100 miles inside the Soviet-occupied zone, too, was divided into several occupation zones. Consequently, while the United Kingdom, France and the United States governed the western sectors of Berlin, the Soviets ruled the eastern parts.

After WW II the allies divided Berlin into occupation zones; the Soviets controlled the eastern portion while the west went to the U.S., UK and France.


The Berlin Airlift Ends


The decision by the Western Allies to indefinitely supply West Berlin, and the continuance of the airlift operation even amidst inclement circumstances seem to account for the failure of the Soviet blockade.

Stalin’s attempt to push the Western powers out of Berlin and eventually bring Germany within the Soviet orbit seemed to have inspired the blockade. It is likely that the decision of the Western Allies to introduce the Deutsche Mark merely provided an ostensible grievance to achieve this end.

The blockade convinced many western countries that the Soviet Union constituted a formidable threat to their existence and that military cooperation with other Western nations was essential to protect themselves against this threat. The founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the 4th of April 1949 was probably a direct consequence of this realization.

On the 25th of June, the Soviets halted the supply of food to civilians in the non-Soviet zones of Berlin. On the 26th of June, 32 flights left for Berlin carrying 80 tons of provisions including flour, milk and medicine. By the 1st of July, a proper system was gradually under way. To save time many flights airdropped material into airfields, instead of landing in Berlin.

In the Soviet-occupied zone, the Soviets created the Socialist Unity Party and suppressed all other political activity. Additionally, equipment factories, managers and technicians were taken to the Soviet Union.

Moreover, Stalin sought to undermine the Western positions and eventually unify Germany under Soviet control.

Early Tension

Despite the use of road and rail access to Berlin by the Western Allies via the Soviet zone, there had not been a formal agreement concerning these. Initially, the Western Allies had relied on Soviet goodwill, and they were able to use one rail line with 10 trains per day.

However, soon, the Soviets would refuse proposals to expand these routes. The 3 air corridors which the Soviets had granted however, would continue to provide the Western Allies access to Berlin from Frankfurt, Bückeburg and Hamburg.

Map of occupation zones and air corridors during Berlin Airlift
Map of occupation zones and air corridors during Berlin Airlift.


In 1946, the Soviets decided to stop the delivery of agricultural goods from East Germany to the Allied occupied West Germany. While West Germany was generally dependent upon the East for agricultural products, the East was reliant upon the West for industrial goods.

Consequently, the American commander, General Lucius Clay, retaliated by halting the shipments of industrial products. The Soviets in return, launched an anti-American public relations campaign to obstruct the work of the Western Allies.

Meanwhile however, due to forced emigration, harsh treatment and political repression, Germans under Soviet control became increasingly hostile toward Soviet efforts, and in the 1946 local elections, the citizens of Berlin overwhelmingly voted in non-Communist members to the Greater Berlin City Council.

Further Divisions

The United States had long been convinced that a strong Germany was necessary for the restoration of the western European economy.

To coordinate the economies of the zones under the Western Allies, the United States and the United Kingdom would combine their regions and create the Bizone in 1947. By June 1948, this would further expand to include the French zone and become the Trizone.

Representatives of these three Western powers would also meet with officials from the Benelux nations (Belgium, the Netherlands & Luxembourg) in London in 1948 to discuss Germany’s future. The USSR was not invited, and the Soviets, consequently, threatened to ignore any decisions reached at the conference.

The Soviets also started stopping American and British trains heading to Berlin in order to check passenger identities. Moreover, the Soviet-backed coup d’état in Czechoslovakia, in the February of 1948, raised many concerns.

This played no insignificant role in making the creation of a democratic West Germany a high-priority. The Western Allies, along with the Benelux countries, agreed to the eventual establishment of a free and democratic state as well as various restrictions upon Germany’s military capabilities.

The USSR, in response, on the 20th of March 1948, left the Allied Control Council which had been the joint governing body of the Allied-occupied Germany. While this outcome was expected, for Berlin, it meant an impending crisis.

Crisis in April 1948

On the 25th of March 1948, the Soviets decided to further restrict Western passenger and military traffic. The 1st of April onwards, no cargo could depart Berlin via rail without the Soviet commander’s permission.

Moreover, each truck and train would be searched by the Soviets. On the 2nd of April, General Clay responded by transporting supplies to the military garrison by air. This was called the “Little Lift.”

Around the same time, the Soviets began violating West Berlin airspace and harassing the flights of the Western Allies. This would, on the 5th of April, result in a collision between a Soviet Yakovlev Yak-3 fighter and a British Vickers Viking 1B plane near the British Royal Airforce station in Gatow, south-western Berlin.

The incident killed everyone aboard both the aircraft and sparked a diplomatic standoff between the USSR on one side, and the UK and US on the other. On the 10th of April, the Soviets relaxed their restrictions. However, they would periodically interrupt road and rail traffic.

The United States, in the meantime, continued to utilize air cargo to supply the American military. About 20 flights would fly daily through June, stockpiling food to prepare for potential Soviet measures in the future. This would prove to be a prudent decision in retrospect; thanks to “Little Lift” more than two weeks’ supplies were readily available once the blockade began.

Conflict over Currency

Economic stability in West Germany required the reformation of the unsteady Reichsmark. It had been introduced following the hyperinflation of the 1920s, it had been in circulation for some time.

However, the Soviets were debasing it via excessive printing. Consequently, many Germans resorted to bartering or the use of cigarettes as a de facto currency. Moreover, the Soviets opposed plans by the West for reform.

However, expecting the introduction by of a new currency in West Germany by the Western powers, in May 1948, the Soviet authorities directed their military to issue its own currency if the Western Allies were to issue their own currency.

The Soviet authorities also held that only the currency they themselves had issued should be permitted to circulate in their part of Berlin. Finally, as anticipated on the 18th of June 1948, Britain, France and the United States announced plans to issue the Deutsche Mark. On the 21st of June, the Western Allies introduced the new currency.

The Soviets refused to allow the use of the Deutsche Mark in Berlin. However, the Western Allies had already brought in 250,000,000 Deutsche Marks to Berlin, and the currency soon began to circulate in the city.

The new currency, against the wishes of the USSR, seemed capable of turning Germany into a free market economy, and Stalin responded by endeavoring to force the Western Allies out of Berlin with a blockade.

The Blockade Begins

On the 19th of June, following the announcement of the Western Allies, the Soviets stopped all passenger traffic and trains heading toward Berlin, delayed freight shipments, and demanded that water transport procure special permission from the Soviet authorities. Stalin believed that the West Berliners would be starved into submission.

On the 22nd of June, the day after the introduction of the Deutsche Mark, the Soviets announced their plans to introduce their currency in the Soviet zone. On the same day, the Western Allies were informed that the Soviet authorities would be imposing administrative and economic sanctions to ensure the exclusive circulation of the Soviet currency in Berlin.

The Soviets also launched a huge propaganda campaign via newspaper, loudspeaker and radio to undermine the Americans, the British and the French, while German communists rioted, and assaulted pro-Western Germans involved in municipal government affairs in the Soviet zone.

On the 24th of June, the Soviets stopped all barge and rail traffic access to, and out of Berlin. On the same day, they also severed water and land connections between Berlin and the non-Soviet zones.

The Western Allies responded with a counterblockade, halting all railway traffic from the US and British zones to East Germany. This counterblockade which would withhold the much needed steel and coal supplies from the Soviet zone would significantly hinder industrial development in East Germany.

On the 25th of June, the Soviets halted the supply of food to civilians in the non-Soviet zones of Berlin. The Soviets also cut off electricity through their control of the generating plants located in the Soviet sector. Soon, they had blockaded all surface traffic to Berlin from non-Soviet zones, leaving merely the air corridors open.

What did the Berlin Blockade mean for West Berlin?

At the beginning of the blockade, West Berlin had coal for 45 days and food for 36 days, and a lack of basic goods like fuel and medicines. The British and the Americans were militarily vastly outnumbered.

Following WWII, most western countries had scaled back their militaries and disbanded most of their troops. By February 1948, the entire US Army comprised merely 552,000 men. Moreover, of the 98,000 US troops in West Germany, combat forces comprised only 31,000.

The forces of the Western Allies in the Western zones of Berlin amounted to only 8,973 US troops, 7,606 British forces, and 6,100 French troops, whereas the Soviet troops in the Soviet sector surrounding Berlin amounted to 1.5 million troops.

The Soviet military celebrated the launching of the blockade, expecting that the United States, France and Britain would acquiesce. General Clay, however, was adamant that the Americans should not retreat. Staying in Berlin, he believed, would be necessary to preserve America’s prestige.

Due to the manifest imbalance between the Soviet and Western troops, America’s war plans for a possible engagement relied heavily on dropping atomic bombs. While General Curtis LeMay, the Commander of the US Air Forces in Europe was prepared for an aggressive response, General Clay believed that the Soviets did not want to be seen as instigating a Third World War.

Evaluating an Airlift

Unlike ground access to Berlin, for which the Western Allies had to depend upon Soviet goodwill, the air corridors allocated to the Western Allies had been formally granted in writing.

On the 30th of November 1945, 3 corridors, each with the width of about 20 miles, had been agreed to in writing, in order to provide the Western powers with free access to Berlin.

If an airlift were to be chosen, it would have to be both swift and effective. While the Americans were still evaluating the feasibility of such a project, the British Royal Air Force (RAF) seemed more confidant. They were already engaged in an airlift to assist Berlin’s British troops. Air Commodore Reginald Newham Waite had also calculated the requisite resources to sustain the entire city, and General Sir Brian Robertson, General Clay’s British counterpart, seemed prepared for the operation.

Following some computation, an estimate for daily supplies was produced. A daily ration of 1,990 kilocalories would require 646 tons of wheat and flour, 109 tons of fish and meat, 64 tons of fat, 125 tons of cereal, 180 tons of sugar, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 19 tons of powered milk, 11 tons of coffee, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 38 tons of salt, 10 tons of cheese and 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables.

This amounted to 1,534 tons to feed over 2 million Berliners. Furthermore, 3,475 tons of diesel, coal and petrol were also required for power and heat. The Western Allies would have to airlift nearly 5,000 tons per day to sustain Berlin.

Rising to the Challenge

Due to postwar demobilization, the air transport capabilities of the United States had been vastly reduced, and it seemed as though the US would be able to carry only a meager 300 tons per day.

The British on the other hand, however, could haul about 750 tons per day. A long-term operation would necessitate additional US aircraft. These planes would have to be both large and capable of flying into Berlin’s airports.

Only the 4-engined Douglas C-54 Skymaster and the R5D, of which the US military possessed nearly 565, seemed capable of the task. British assessments eventually demonstrated the feasibility of an airlift, which emerged as the best solution.

General Clay however, wanted to ensure that the campaign would have the backing of Berlin’s population. West Berlin’s mayor elect, Ernst Reuter, assured Clay that the Berliners were prepared to support the campaign.

Additionally, the endorsement of the airlift by General Albert Wedemeyer, who had overseen America’s WWII airlift from India to China over the Himalayas, provided a significant boost to the airlift option.

Without further delay, the Americans and the British decided to launch a joint airlift. The British called it “Operation Plainfare,” while the US named it “Operation Vittles.” The Australians who would join later, would call it “Operation Pelican.”

The Berlin Airlift Begins

On the 24th of June 1948, General Joseph Smith was appointed the Task Force Commander of the operation, and the next day, General Clay ordered the launching of Operation Vittles.

On the 26th of June, 32 flights left for Berlin carrying 80 tons of provisions including flour, milk and medicine. By the 1st of July, a proper system was gradually under way. To save time many flights airdropped material into airfields, instead of landing in Berlin.

Around the clock maintenance of planes during the Berlin Airlift
The Berlin Airlift Begins


Moreover, on the 6th of June, flying boats too were brought in to fly to the Havel River near Gatow to deliver provisions to Berlin. Accommodating a vast number of dissimilar aircraft with different characteristics demanded effective co-ordination.

General Smith and his team would consequently develop a complex flight schedule known as the “block system.” Aircraft would take off every 4 minutes, and fly 1,000ft higher than the plane in front. This pattern would begin at 5,000ft, and repeat five times.

Serious Difficulties

Despite the best efforts, a meager 90 tons would be transported per day during the first week, and by the second week it would amount to an improved yet insufficient 1,000 tons per day.

The project soon elicited the ridicule of East Berlin’s Communist press which mocked the Western efforts to defend Berlin. Even though the daily tonnage levels were increasing, the improvement was barely enough.

Moreover, the crews remained inefficient, the maintenance inadequate, and the requisite record-keeping scant. While an airlift of a couple of weeks could have coped with such conditions, a long-term campaign required major adjustments.

It soon became evident that the blockade was not about to end, and the command of the operation was handed over to Lieutenant General William Tunner, who would have to reorganize the airlift and sustain West Berlin.

Tunner to the Rescue

“Tonnage” Tunner had proven himself by doubling the flight hours and the tonnage flown during the famous Hump airlift in WWII. Now, the United States was looking to Tunner again for a breakthrough.

On the 28th of July 1948, he arrived in Wiesbaden and revamped the entire project. The American and British efforts were merged and the Combined Air Lift Task Force (CALTF) was formed.

Additionally, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) deployed 8 squadrons of aircraft to Rhein-Main Air Base and Wiesbaden to reinforce the 54 planes already in service. During his first inspection trip, Tunner had noticed long delays in the return of the flight crews to their aircraft from the terminal after getting snacks.

Therefore, he prohibited aircrew members from leaving their aircraft, and had jeeps sent as mobile snack bars to hand out refreshments to the aircrew while the aircraft were being unloaded. Moreover, the unloading would begin as soon as the flight engines were shut down, and the pilots received their clearance papers while eating. These measures decreased the turnaround time for aircraft to 30 minutes.

Black Friday

Though Tunner’s wits would have an immediate effect, not everything was within his control. On the 13th of August, as Tunner was flying to Berlin, torrents of rain significantly deteriorated radar visibility, and cloud cover fell to the height of Berlin’s buildings.

One C-54 aircraft crashed on the runway and burned, while another landing just behind sought to avoid the former, and ended up bursting the tires. A third aircraft mistakenly landed on a runway which was under construction and ground looped. T

he standard procedures were soon effected, and the incoming aircraft which were arriving every 3 minutes, were piled above Berlin from 3,000ft to 12,000ft. Amidst the bad weather, the risk of a mid-air collision mounted, and the unloaded aircraft were prohibited from taking off to avoid further risks. Fortunately, nobody got killed in the incidents.

However, Tunner was exceedingly embarrassed, and sent back all the stacked up planes except his. Following this setback, also known as “Black Friday,” Tunner placed some new rules. Instrument flight rules would remain in effect regardless of visibility, and each deployment would be given only one opportunity for landing in Berlin. If it failed, the flight would have to return to its base and be slotted back again into the queue.

Stacking was removed altogether, and consequently, 30 aircraft with 300 tons could land in the same time only 9 had been able to land when stacking was in place. Accidents as well as delays experienced a dramatic decrease.

Furthermore, Tunner decided to replace the smaller C-47s with C-54s or larger planes. It took the same time to unload a C-47 carrying 3.5 tons as a C-54 with 10 tons. Moreover, the tricycle geared cargo decks of the C-54s made the larger aircraft easier for unloading than the smaller C-47s with sloping cargo floors.

Thanks to Tunner’s manifold measures to increase the efficiency of the operation, soon, more than 1,500 flights were delivering more than 4,500 tons of cargo to West Berlin. Following several months of further adjustments, the deliveries would reach the target of 5,000 tons per day.

Raisin Bombers

When US Air Force pilot Gail Halvorsen arrived on the 17th of July 1948, on a C-54 aircraft at the Berlin Tempelhof Airport, he decided to chat with the little children who had gathered nearby to watch the plane.

He introduced himself, and the children asked him various questions about the flights. As a gesture of kindness, he gave the two sticks of gum he had. The children were so grateful that they divided up the pieces as best as possible and even passed around the wrapper so others could smell it.

Their show of gratitude impressed Halvorsen so much that he promised to drop off more the next time he returned. When a child asked how they might know whether it was him flying, Halvorsen said that he would wiggle his wings. Sure enough, the following day, while flying over Berlin, he wiggled his wings and dropped off some chocolate bars fixed to a handkerchief parachute.

As the days passed, Halvorsen’s chocolate drops steadily increased, and so did the number of children waiting below. Soon there was mail from the children addressed to “the Chocolate Uncle” or “Uncle Wiggly Wings.”

When Tunner heard the news, he approved of Halvorsen’s candy drop, and soon launched “Operation Little Vittles.” Many other pilots joined Halvorsen and began dropping candy. When the news of “Operation Little Vittles” reached the United States, American children started sending their own candy, and major candy producers joined in as well.

Throughout the blockade, more than 3 tons of candy would be dropped over Berlin via aircraft which the German children would call “raisin bombers.”

Soviet Reaction

As the airlift continued, the Soviets began to see that the Western Allies might actually be able to do what had seemed impossible, and indefinitely supply Berlin by air.

Thus, on the 1st of August 1948, the Soviets offered to give free food to those who would register in East Berlin. While some West Berliners rejected the Soviet overture, thousands would receive Soviet supplies in East Berlin.

On the 20th of August 1948, the British would block Potsdamer Platz using barbed wire in order to stop West Berliners from accessing Soviet supplies. The Americans followed suit by purging the West Berlin police of those receiving Soviet food.

Moreover, during the initial stages of the airlift, the Soviets utilized various means to harass the Western aircraft. They would shine searchlights at the pilots, engage in obstructive parachute jumps and buzz the Western aircraft with Soviet planes.

Additionally, the Soviets were engaged in intense psychological warfare. Communist broadcasts on radio, for instance, proclaimed the imminent fall of Berlin to the USSR. These measures, however, could not significantly hinder the airlift.

Coup Attempted

Greater Berlin’s parliament had been elected two years earlier under Berlin’s provisional constitution. However, overtime it became almost impossible for the non-Communist members of the parliament to attend sessions.

These members, who constituted the majority, were physically menaced repeatedly by Communist-led mobs invading the provisional city hall located in the Soviet sector of Berlin while the communist-controlled police officers looked on passively.

Finally, on the 6th of September 1948, the Kremlin-backed members of the Socialist Unity Party attempted a putsch to rule all of Berlin by taking over the city hall.

Berlin’s Plea

Three days later, on the 9th of September, a crowd of nearly 500,000 assembled near the Brandenburg Gate in the British zone to protest against the communists.

While the West Berliners were grateful for the airlift, they still feared that the Western Allies might discontinue the campaign. Then city councilor Ernst Reuter pleaded via the microphone with the United States, England and France not to abandon the people of Berlin.

One of the protestors climbed up the Brandenburg Gate which was on the Soviet sector, and ripped off the Soviet flag atop the gate. A tense situation ensued following the immediate response of the Soviet Military Police, and one of the protestors was killed.

Fortunately, however, a British deputy provost soon intervened and diffused the situation. The protests, nonetheless, had a far-reaching impact. A strong sense of solidarity with the Berliners, along with a commitment not to abandon them, began pervading the United States.


A decision was soon made to convene the Berlin Parliament henceforth at the Technical College of Berlin-Charlottenburg which was inside the British zone.

The Socialist Unity Party responded with a boycott, and held an “extraordinary city assembly” in East Berlin’s Metropol Theater on the 30th of November. They declared the democratically elected city councilors deposed and replaced them with a communist-only government led by the communist official Friedrich Ebert Jr.

Though this arbitrary act was devoid of any legal effect in West Berlin, it did prevent the democratically elected government from conducting further affairs in East Berlin. The communists’ seize of power in the Soviet zone was soon followed by a decision via a vote by the democratically elected city parliament to hold its re-election amidst the airlift on the 5th of December 1948.

This election, boycotted by the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party, enjoyed a turnout exceeding 85% in the western electorate.

Reuter was subsequently reelected as West Berlin’s mayor, and Berlin was divided into two separate governing sections with the democratically elected councilors governing the West and the Soviet-backed communists running the East.


As the airlift was dragged into the fall, new concerns arose. While the food requirements remained the same, more coal was needed to heat the city. Consequently, an additional 6,000 tons were needed daily to sustain West Berlin.

The British soon responded to the need for more aircraft, and Tunner hired former Luftwaffe crews on the ground. Additional runways were constructed, and within 90 days, French engineers built a new and larger airport on the shores of Lake Tegel.

Moreover, in order to enhance air traffic control, ground-controlled approach radar systems were installed at Tempelhof and Fassberg. The weather however, posed a significant problem, and November and December became the worst period of the airlift.

A long fog covered the European continent for weeks, and on multiple occasions aircraft would fail to land after making the entire flight to Berlin. The salutary amendment of the weather eventually, fortunately, was accompanied by an increase in the deliveries.

The Easter Parade

By the spring of 1949, the airlift was operating smoothly. However, Tunner sought to propel his subordinates to greater efforts, and announced that Easter Sunday should mark the breaking of all previous records on daily deliveries.

To maximize efficiency, a decision was made to focus only on coal on the special day. Schedules were changed to permit the maximum number of aircraft available for operation and stockpiles of coal were built up for transport.

Then, from noon on the 15th of April to noon on the 16th of April, the crews worked round the clock delivering a record 12,941 tons of coal in 1,383 flights. All this was accomplished without a single accident. The record provided a much welcome boost to the overall operation.

The daily tonnage rose from 6,729 to 8,893, and the total tonnage for April amounted to 234,476. On the 21st of April, the airlift delivered more supplies to Berlin than the rail had done prior to the blockade.

The Blockade Ends

Amidst the improved operations, the futility of the blockade was becoming increasingly evident. In April itself, the Soviets showed some willingness to end the blockade.

The US State Department immediately responded, and the four powers started negotiations. On the 4th of May 1949, an agreement was reached, and the Soviets lifted the blockade soon after midnight on the 12th of May.

The flights, nonetheless, continued to fly in order to pile a comfortable surplus. By the 24th of July 1949, supplies for three months had been amassed, assuring ample time should another airlift campaign be needed.

The Berlin Airlift Ends
Air and ground crews of the U.S. Navy Squadron VR-6 at Rhein-Main celebrate the end of the Berlin Airlift, May 12, 1949.


Finally, the airlift ended officially on the 30th of September 1949, having delivered 2,326,406 tons of supplies on 278,228 flights over 15 months.

The airlift operation which comprised pilots from the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa recorded 101 fatalities including 31 Americans and 40 Britons.


While the former wartime animosities between the Western Allies and the Germans significantly declined, a unified effort was made to recognize shared values and common interests such as free enterprise and liberty.

Soviet aggression also helped garner more support for the establishment of a democratic West German state. The sense of solidarity that arose especially between West Berlin and the United States would last for decades to come.

As the NATO alliance expanded in the face of Soviet threats, the Western powers consistently demonstrated their commitment to defend West Berlin. Their resolve would be tested multiple times, such as in 1958/1959 and 1961. Berlin would continue to be a theater for Cold War tensions, and remain the center of attention until the eventual collapse of the USSR.

Cite this Article (Chicago Style)

Perera, A.. "Berlin Blockade and Airlift." World History Blog, Sept 16, 2021.

About the Author

Ayesh Perera recently graduated from Harvard University, where he studied politics, ethics and religion. He is presently conducting research in neuroscience and peak performance as an intern for the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, while also working on a book of his own on constitutional law and legal interpretation.

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