Free Walking Tour Berlin

When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
Where: The meeting point is in front of the ehemaliges Kaiserliches Postfuhramt Berlin, Oranienburger Straße, 10117 Berlin, Germany, next to the entrance.
Price: Free

The Berlin Airlift: Rescuing a City, Defying the Odds

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Original Berlin

Introduction

The Berlin Airlift was a monumental event that unfolded in the aftermath of World War II, capturing the imagination and resilience of a war-ravaged city. It refers to the massive effort undertaken by the Allied forces to provide food, fuel, and supplies to the blockaded West Berlin when it found itself isolated amidst the political divisions of the Cold War. Let’s explore the context, key players, challenges, and ultimate success of this awe-inspiring humanitarian mission.

The Context – A Divided City

In the aftermath of World War II, Berlin, the capital of Germany, was divided amongst the four victorious Allied powers: the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, and France. The city itself was also divided into four sectors, each controlled by one of these powers. Tensions continued to escalate as ideological differences between the powers deepened, culminating in the division of Germany into two separate countries – East Germany (controlled by the Soviet Union) and West Germany (controlled by the Allies).

Amidst these divisions, the heart of Berlin was faced with a unique challenge. West Berlin, a part of the Allied-controlled West Germany, was geographically located deep within Soviet-controlled East Germany. In an attempt to force the Allies out and gain control over the entire city, the Soviet Union initiated a blockade of West Berlin, severing all land and rail connections in June 1948.

The Response – Airlift Begins

The response from the Allies was swift and determined. Knowing the strategic importance of maintaining a presence in West Berlin, General Lucius D. Clay, the American military governor in Germany, proposed an audacious solution – supplying West Berlin with essential provisions by air. On June 26, 1948, the Berlin Airlift officially began.

The Key Players

The Berlin Airlift was a collaborative effort involving several nations, but predominantly led by the United States and Britain. Under the leadership of General Clay, the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force (RAF) coordinated their resources to carry out this ambitious operation. Other participating nations included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, among others.

The Logistics and Challenges

The logistical feat of sustaining an entire city through an airborne operation was no small task. The air corridors to West Berlin had limited capacity, and the aircraft had to fly low, which increased the risk of accidents and encounters with Soviet fighter planes. Creating a seamless operation required careful planning, coordination, and the establishment of multiple air bases in West Berlin itself.

To support such a massive undertaking, an air bridge was established, with planes flying in a continuous loop, 24 hours a day. The Allies utilized a wide range of aircraft, including the C-47 Dakota, C-54 Skymaster, and the British Avro York. These planes were capable of carrying up to 10 tons of supplies per flight.

Success Against the Odds

The determination of the Allied forces, the resilience of the people of West Berlin, and the unwavering commitment to upholding the principles of freedom fueled the success of the Berlin Airlift. Despite constant surveillance and attempts by the Soviet Union to disrupt the operation, the airlift continued without interruption for nearly a year.

Operation Vittles and Little Vittles

On September 30, 1948, the operation was officially named “Operation Vittles” by General Clay, emphasizing the vital role of food supplies in sustaining the city. The success of the airlift and the gratitude of the people of West Berlin were further amplified when Gail Halvorsen, an American pilot, started dropping candy from his plane’s cargo area for the children of West Berlin. This heartfelt act earned him the nickname “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and became known as “Operation Little Vittles.”

The End of the Blockade

The relentless efforts of the Allied forces eventually forced the Soviet Union to realize that the blockade was ineffective and counterproductive. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets lifted the blockade, marking the triumph of the Berlin Airlift.

The Legacy of the Berlin Airlift

The Berlin Airlift left an indelible mark on world history, highlighting the power of humanitarian cooperation in the face of adversity. It demonstrated the commitment of the Allies to the values of democracy, freedom, and human rights. The successful airlift also played a significant role in shaping the subsequent geopolitical landscape, deepening the divide between East and West, ultimately leading to the formation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Conclusion

The Berlin Airlift stands as a testament to the triumph of humanity when faced with formidable challenges. It exemplifies the resilience and determination of those involved, both on the ground and in the air. The memory of the Berlin Airlift continues to serve as a reminder of the power of unity, perseverance, and compassion in the pursuit of freedom and justice.

Thank you for reading. If you're inspired by the stories of Berlin and want to delve deeper, why not join us on our Free Berlin Walking Tour? It's a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the city's rich history and vibrant culture. We look forward to welcoming you soon.

WHAT TO EXPECT

  • 3.5 hours walking tour
  • Berlin’s major highlights
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Reichstag and Berlin Wall
  • Historical sites

Free Walking Tour Berlin

When: Every day 10am & 12pm every day
Where: The meeting point is in front of the ehemaliges Kaiserliches Postfuhramt Berlin, Oranienburger Straße, 10117 Berlin, Germany, next to the entrance.
Price: Free