The Berlin Airlift Essay, Research Paper
Scott Lipnick THE BERLIN AIRLIFT The Berlin Airlift, that lasted from June 24, 1948 to October 31,1949, was a direct indication that showed the Solviet Union during the beginning stages of the Cold War would not interfere with Berlin airlift because they were not willing to enter war with the United States and Great Britain. After World War Two, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin sought to expand Russia s territory through the use of communism. The city of Berlin was a key point to eventually unite Germany under complete Soviet power. By taking the city without war, Russia could assume an even greater influence over Western Europe. Because of the actions of General Lucius Dubignon Clay and his passion to peacefully save the two and a half million population of Berlin, Great Britain and the United Sates successfully supplied the people of Western Berlin with 2,326,406 short tons of cargo. This massive effort is known by many to be one of the greatest humanitarian attempts of the 20th century. When Nazi Germany surrendered to the four allied powers of Russia, Britain, the United States, and France, they all controlled the country of Germany during the summer of 1945 (Tusa 1). Little thought had been given to decide what would come after Hitler s forces were defeated. There were many issues to discuss on the topic of European future. Three men, nicknamed the Big Three- Roosevelt, Stalin, and Curchill, were all in discussing this issue. They met a number of times, most of them being greatly unsuccessful. Joseph Stalin, the communist Solviet Generalissimo, was only concerned with the future of his country. He saw a future in which the Solviet Union will add new territory and dominate all of Europe (Jackson 35). Winston Curchill, prime minister of Great Britain, saw Stalin s true motives. He knew that Britian alone was far to weak to be the only nation to check Sloviet expansion (Tusa 15). Franklin Roosevelt, the United States President, basically sought to leave Europe. He strove for Russia s assistance in Japan where the United States were still in conflict (Tusa 6). Their final conference at Yalta with full diplomatic staffs form February 4 to 11 1945 was deemed a triumph for Joseph Stalin and the Solviet Union. They were in prime position to reap benefits of European lands as the strongest power. In the next year, Winston Curchill was elected out of office and Franklin Roosevelt was replaced due to death by Harry Truman (Tusa 15). During the time of the conferences to decided what would become of Germany, no one suffered more than the German people. Germany was split up into many separate zones, some being much more well off than others. The Russian zone in Eastern Germany was traditional the granary of the nation (Jackson 23). It provided food to the industrial West, where the Untied States and Britain were now in control (Tusa 95). This geological division caused dire problems for those Western Germans. From January 1946 to June 20 1948, over 143,000 died from exhaustion and/or malnutrition in the Western Zones (Jackson 25). Russia cared little about these people. Ever since 1945, the Red Army has been expanding onto European soil. They had been concentrated on increasing their size to enlarge their communist regime. There would be no better way to start this than to take over the United States, Great Britain, and Frances holdings in Berlin. Berlin was completely submerged Russia s zone of Germany, and it was key of them to capture it to unite the country under Russia (USAFE 1). At the beginning of 1948, it was becoming apparent that the Stalin was going to step upon the Western Allied holdings of Berlin. On March 20, 1948 a meeting of the Allied Control Conference in Berlin featured Marshal Vassily Sokolovsky, Solviet Military Governor, turned Russia s back to the Western Allies (Tusa 97). This conference featured the last formal meetings between Russia and the United States or Britain. March 26, 1948 the Solviet chief of staff accused the Western powers of aiding and helping bring terrorist elements to their sections of Berlin (Jackson 35). Britain and the Untied States well knew that this was a completely false accusation; Russia was looking for an excuse to take over the city. This charge began a long chain of events that led to the eventual closing of Berlin to the outside world. Over the next few months Russia gradually shut down rail routs to West Berlin and cars on all main roads were susceptible to Russian inspection (Jackson 36). Supply routes were being cut off. Britain and the Untied States became increasing worried. Still, the slight American and British occupation of the city would not leave (Wyden 191). During the early morning hours of June 24, 1948 the Communist Russia dictator Joseph Stalin halted traffic in and out of the Russian sector at Marienborn (www.konnections). The Russian blockade started the crisis in which the two and a half million people in Western Berlin were denied electrical power and left to starve. The American General Clay of the United States phoned his superior General Curtis LeMay and requested if they could begin to fly supplies into Berlin under operation “Knicker” (Tusa 143). This request seemed completely unreasonable at the time. Although General Clay meant well there were only a single squadron of Dakota aircraft available (Jackson 44). These eight Dakotas did not have to ability to carry all the supplies necessary for those in the Western sector of Berlin. Each Dakota could house a maximum of 2.5 tons , but to just feed the city of Berlin required over 12,000 tons of food per day (Tusa 143). This goal of that General Clay strived for to save those in West Berlin was being depleted rather quickly. For the city to survive, it did not need just food. They require a whole range of domestic goods, raw materials, machinery for industry, medical supplies, spare parts, and equipment for public services (Tusa 144). Another large problem for the Berliners to face was electricity. They were surrounded by the Russian zone of Germany, which denied any power access to the city. On June 26 1948, the local power plants within the city limits had to reduce much of their power output due to shortage of coal (Tusa 145). Even though it was extremely doubtful West Berlin could be fed by air, it was even less of a possibility that they would receive any other necessary items. Over the next few days, more Dakota squadrons were being transferred to the British air base at Wunnstorf (Jackson 46). During the first month of the Berlin Airlift the three airfields used to deliver supplies were Wustorf in the British zone of Germany, and Tempelhot and Wiesbaden located in the American zone of Germany (konnections 1). The airfield that was most heavily congested without a doubt was British Wunstorf (Jackson 46). Through July, Wustorf was occupied by 245 Dakotas lifting 610 tons daily (Jackson 46). Still, the people of Western Berlin were receiving much less than their necessary 12,000 ton per day minimum (Tusa 149). General Clay was now looking for more options rather than just an airlift. Clay told the Department of the Army on June 25, “As matters now stand the German population will begin to suffer in a few days and this suffering will become serious in two or three weeks (Tusa 149).” The United States came up with the idea pushing soldiers into Berlin, but the idea was denied. A convoy would be able to accommodate up to 500 tons, but it would not be beneficial for a city that requires 12,000 tons per day (Tusa 149). More of an effort was needed from the United States military. The Americans now realized the urgency of the Berlin situation that was being pressed by Clay. On June 30th, the Untied States began Operation Vittles (BBAA 1). In the American zone, the air base at Tempelhot began to deliver food using C-47 aircraft (Tusa 148). For defense purposes, America set two B-29 Superfortress bombers to Europe; the only United States place capable of transporting the atomic bomb (Wyden 193). This increasing American involvement was overwhelmingly needed by the United Kingdom. The British had such few resources available; a dock strike had begun on June 22 and limited aircraft use was sanctioned by Parliament (Tusa 151). Despite United State s effort with supplies, the big picture could not be ignored. For both countries to continue longer would be extremely difficult. On July 2, 1948 Britain’s Luteniant General Brain K. Robertson demand after conferencing with the United States and French leaders the Soviet blockade come to end (konnections 1). On the 14 of July Russia issued an answer to Robertson. They alleged that West Berlin is in the center of the Soviet zone and is part of that zone and by setting up a Western government in communist territory violates agreements previously made (konnections 1). The Western allies were not going to give into the pressures of Russia anymore. A British man named Ernest Bevin made sure of this about as much as anyone else did (Tusa 151). Bevin saw the airlift as a “cardinal priority” in this cold war against the Russians (Tusa 151). He worked to increase American involvement to make sure that they would be totally committed (Tusa 153). He told Lewis Douglas on June 25, ” the Russians held the cards… but we could bluff them out of their hand by convincing them that we mean business (Tusa 153).” Most officials saw this operation on a higher political level than a humanitarian. If Britain and the United States were able to make the airlift successful, according to Brevin, the Soviet power and influence in Europe would be greatly diminished.
Over the remainder of the summer, more and more planes were being sent to Airlift Bases in the American Zone of Germany to lift supplies to West Berlin. To raise the level of effort during the operation, on July 29 1948 General William H. Turner arrived in Wiesbaden to set up an Airlift Task Force; an independent entitle that helped organize the airlift (Jackson 68). The Airlift Task Force, or the USAFE, was created primarily to further help organize takeoff efforts that would allow a maximum amount of goods to be transported. Although by late July and August more supplies were readily available and more planes were used, the United States desired a optimal presentation to Joseph Stalin and the Russians (USAF 3). Even those residents in Berlin were doubtful of the airlift efforts. A US military opinion poll in August stated that eighty six percent of the people questioned the ability of the airlift to function during the winter and would have to capitulate to the Russians (Tusa 187). People were not optimistic about the future of the city, but they had just cause. Their life in the city was extremely irritant despite receiving adequate supplies. Power was only able to be used during dusk hours, food was still scarce, and the economy system had crumbled (Tusa 189). America heeded warning to this poll and was not prepared to lose the city. President Truman wrote in his diary, “… Berlin is a mess. Forestel, etc. brief me on bases, bombs, Moscow, Leningrad, etc. I have a terrible feeling afterward that we are close to war (Wyden 193). General Clay remained optimistic through Harry Truman s doubts. He stood firm to his belief that the Berlin blockade would lifted when Russia realized America and Britain had a firm control of the cities supplies. On September 18, an all time high of 6,988 tons was flown in one day (Tusa 234). This total was still very far from the target 12,000 tons per day set back in July, but a vast improvement. Bevin reported these staggering numbers to the House of Commons to raise the confidence of the British (Tusa 234). But still the harsh winter condition had not yet arrived which would prove to be a true test of the airlift s capability. The obvious way to raise the airlift s performance was to increase the number of flights. This task required hiring civilian contractors because the British had basically scraped out on their other resources (Tusa 235). Clay realized this and needed an increased American effort. The only thing standing in General Clay s way was those who doubted him. In October of 1948, General Clay requested to the National Security Council to grant him more DC-4 aircraft (konnections 2). His request was ignored by the council members, but Harry Truman made sure Clay got was necessary (konnections 2). The Winter of 1948-1949 proved difficult for those locked inside blockaded Berlin. Still those Berliners preferred blockade conditions to Communist rule at a staggering nine out of ten basis (Tusa 265). To increase efficiency of the airlift the main food that was flown in were dried potatoes (Wyden 194). The next most popular items were dried milk, dried soup, and vitamin supplements (Tusa 240). Not much substance was offered in these items, but Berliners complied and fought throughout the winter. Britain and the United States were prepared for the awful winter that never came. During the previous January of 1947, there had been 360 hours of severe frosting that would have dampened the airlift (Tusa 307). During the January of 1948, there were absolutely no hours of severe frost (Tusa 307). An average of 5,546.4 tons was dropped during January, the highest ever for a month long period (Tusa 307). The February lift achieved almost the same success rate at 5,436.2 tons delivered per day (Tusa 308). Surprisingly during these winter months, the death rate among the plane crews was extremely low. Six United States military plane crashes during November, December, January, and February resulted in twenty American deaths and around 10 civilian deaths (USAFE 3). None of these deaths had been caused by Russian interference; all by bad weather or radar conditions (Tusa 308). The Russians did not give the operators much resistance during the Berlin airlift. At first the Soviet leaders dismissed that the Western Allies could pull off such a difficult and taxing task. Their goal of the blockade was to have the Western Allies in Berlin surrender the city without a physical war. As the winter transpired, they realized how much success Bevin of the United Kingdom and Clay of the United States had going for them. Starting in November of 1948 the Russian military authorities threatened to shoot down an aircraft that flew outside of 20 mile wide corridors regardless of weather conditions (konnections 2). These limits were regretted by the pilots but caused a relatively low number of problems with the fair winter (Tusa 307). The Soviet were upset with the ineffectiveness of the regulations, so they announced they would force down any aircraft operating below 3,000 feet (Tusa 308). The United States and Britain were unable to comply with this regulation. Their planes dropped at a level well below 3,000 feet (Jackson 113). This promoted a gamble of Russian unwillingness to commit an act of war for the US and UK. The Western allies continued the airlift passed this statement, without conflict from the Russians. (Tusa 308). If anything, after this point the British and the Americans had complete control of the airlift that had the potential to continue for many years to come. On March 12, 1949 a true milestone was reached. It only took seven days to deliver 45,683 tons of supplies to Berlin (konnections 3). This was an indication of the end. The mission Stalin said could never work had the steam to continue for a long time. On May 4, after eleven months, 277,728 flights, and 78 accidental deaths, a Washington announcement said the blockade was over (Wyden 194). But still there were uproarious celebrations or rejoicing in Berlin to celebrate this monumental occasion. Although the lift had ended, the airlift had to continue (Wyden 194). The United States knew the Russians all to well and had a great amount of distrust in them. Still any checkpoint was susceptible to be shut down, so the United States and Britain had to take this process very slowly (Tusa 357). After a short period which contained a rail strike and Soviet pressure, the big counties met in Paris to discuss the future for West Berlin (Tusa 368). On May 5, 1949 Clay signed a new constitution for the West Berlin (Tusa 368). The city was nearly ready to function with its own economy. Still the freedom process took a long time. Clothes still had to be rationed, food was not as easy to come by as it was before the war, and the city which was once one is now split into two (Tusa 358). On May 12, 1949 the Soviets announced they would lift the blockade after a grand total of 328 days (USAFE 2). The traffic conditions into Berlin was still being tightly regulated, so the Western Allies announced they would phase out the airlift by October 31 (Konnections 3). In the West the airlift was celebrated as a victory; evidence of American ingenuity and the resolve to commit to the city of Berlin (Wyden 195). But still, nothing had been won. We still turned back the Russians without war, but we were only able do this with great risk. If Clay had actually taken back Berlin by force with a convoy, America would have saved money and resources (Wyden 361). Clay still did successfully complete his mission without any failure and became a conveted hero of the Berliners. Throughout time the Berlin Airlift will resemble a true effort where two countries worked to save a city without a physical war.