Berlin Airlift: A Lifeline for a City

C-47 Skytrains unloading at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift. (U.S. Air Force photo via Wikimedia Commons)
C-47 Skytrains unloading at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift. (U.S. Air Force photo via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1949, the Berlin Airlift ended.

Here are some things you may not have known about the effort to keep West Berlin supplied during a blockade by the Soviets.

Following World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones, one each for the Americans, British, French and Soviets.

The city of Berlin, 100 miles deep into the Soviet zone, was also divided into four zones.

Between the end of the war and March 1948, West Berlin was supplied by regular rail service which ran through the Soviet-controlled eastern area.

In March 1948, the Soviets decided to apply pressure to the Western allies by restricting the access of these trains. Each train would be searched by Soviet authorities before it was allowed to enter Soviet-controlled territory.

They relented a month later, but still occasionally stopped shipments bound for West Berlin.

The Soviets, thinking a weak German economy would make the citizens of Germany more receptive to communism, sought to keep the German currency depressed.

The Americans, British and French decided to introduce a new currency, the Deutsche mark, in an effort to rebuild the German economy.

The day after the introduction of the Deutsche mark, the Soviets halted all passenger trains, and all automobile traffic to Berlin.

Six days after that, they cut off all ground and water transport routes to the city.

At the time, West Berlin had 36 days worth of food and 45 days worth of coal.

The only way to resupply the city was via three air corridors over East Germany.

It was calculated that it would take about 1,500 tons of food and almost 3,500 tons of coal and gasoline to supply West Berlin each day.

On the first day of the airlift, 32 American C-47s brought about 80 tons of cargo into the blockaded city. Well short of the 5,000 tons required.

The British began their airlift four days later.

By the second week, with more American planes arriving in Europe, the total surpassed 1,000 tons of cargo per day.

After a month, the system was plagued by crowded skies, runways and airports. General William Tunner made changes that resulted in safer and more efficient missions.

After two months, the system was delivering more than 4,500 tons of cargo.

However, with winter approaching, the demand for coal was increasing. This required the construction of new runways at the three Berlin airports used by the Allies.

The weather did not cooperate, however, as fog blanketed Europe for weeks. On one day in November only one plane managed to land in Berlin, Leaving the city with only a week’s worth of supplies. The fog eventually lifted and the amount of cargo brought in continued to increase.

By April, the airlift was averaging more than 7,800 tons of supplies per day, exceeding the amount that was being brought into the city by rail before the blockade.

With the blockade essentially defeated, the Soviets settled on Western terms to end the action.

The flights continued as part of an effort to build up supplies. Eventually night and weekend flights were discontinued.

In total, the British and Americans delivered 2.3 million tons on 278,228 flights. The total mileage flown was almost equivalent to the distance between the Earth and the Sun. At the height of the airlift, one plane was touching down in West Berlin every 30 seconds.

692 aircraft were involved in the airlift, 100 of which were owned by civilians.

Our question: One airlift pilot became famous for dropping what to the children of Berlin?


Today is Botswana Day and Boys Day in Poland.

It’s unofficially International Translation Day, Hug a Vegetarian Day, and Chewing Gum Day.

It’s the birthday of writer Truman Capote, who was born in 1924; singer Johnny Mathis, who is 81; and actress Marion Cotillard, who is 41.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1985, the top song in the U.S. was “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits.

The No. 1 movie was “Back to the Future,” while the novel “Lake Wobegon Days” by Garrison Keillor topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.



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