Berlin Airlift Facts: History, Significance, And Other Details

Sridevi Tolety
Dec 02, 2022 By Sridevi Tolety
Originally Published on Apr 28, 2022
Edited by Erin Murton
Fact-checked by Spandana Kantam
Luftbruckendenkmal (Berlin Airlift Memorial) at the former Airport Tempelhof

The Berlin Airlift was considered to the major air blockade in the Cold War history.

After the USSR army blocked Berlin airlines, the Americans, British, French, and other allies immediately started other ways of supplying goods. Besides food supplies, the cargo also airlifted clothes and other living essentials for the Germans.

After World War II, the Soviet Union restricted all supplies to Berlin. The Soviets agreed to lift the blockade if the western powers withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche Mark from west Berlin.


The Soviet Union started the blockade in the city of Berlin because they thought the western half of Germany was becoming too competent. A new currency had recently been introduced throughout the entire western half of Germany, the Deutsche Mark. The Soviets were worried that a single currency would help the economy of Western Germany recover quickly.

Landing a plane from occupied Germany to Berlin every three minutes, the Berlin Airlift efficiently delivered all the essentials for survival. After World War II, the country of Germany was divided up, and it even affected the capital city of Berlin.

Millions of people in Berlin lived in a devastated and divided city. Along with the scarcity of food and other necessities, peace was hard to find amidst the chaos.

The alias divided Germany between the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union to reassemble. Berlin was also divided into partitions, the Soviets occupied the eastern portion of Germany while the United States, United Kingdom, and France took over Western Germany.

After the war, the Soviet Union often used to meet Britain, the U.S., and France to incorporate the peace policy between the scattered zones. But it was discontinued by early 1948 when relations between the Soviet Union and the Allied countries in the west broke down.

In 1948, the Americans and British launched Deutschmark as a new currency to all their controlled areas, including part of Berlin. They kept it a secret from the Soviets because they wanted to recapture the crown that they lost in the Soviet Union, by applying the strategy using the Marshall plan to reconstruct the European empire.

But the only difficulty was that Berlin was situated within the limits of East Germany, so the Soviets took it as a chance to lead the first extremity war of Berlin.

In 1948 there was a massive Allied airlift in an attempt to foil a plan by the Soviets to blockaded West Berlin, following this time, East Germany became more tightly controlled by the Soviet Union and isolated from the rest of the country and Europe.

The airlift task first seemed to be impossible. Later, with the support of more than two million Berliners counting on help for food, energy, and medicines, it was made possible.

It became more effective, and the number of airdrops kept increasing gradually. At one point, it reached the peak and Air Force and Navy forces landed in Tempelhof airport every 30 seconds.

In 1949, the steady working of transport managed to deliver huge tons of supplements, including road transport to transit coal one day. Despite all these efforts, things seemed to not be going smoothly.

It had been 10 months since the airlift operations began and the commanders proved that they can continue the same until necessary, undoubtedly. The blockade started causing hunger and deaths in the Soviet sectors, leading to fears of a revolution.

Gradually, the airlift operations were ever more effective, and the number of aircraft participating also increased. At the peaks of the airlift, one plane landed every 45 seconds at Tempelhof airport.

By spring 1949, the Berlin Airlift proved to be a success. The Soviet Union accepted defeat and withdrew the condition of the blockade on May 11, 1949. Even then, the airlift did not end until September 30, in case the Soviets changed their minds.

After the end of the airlift blockade, the air and ground crews of the U.S. Navy at Rhein-Main celebrated the end of the Berlin Airlift on May 12, 1949.

Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union, thought that all of Berlin should be controlled by the east communists, so he began pressuring the western powers to hand the western part of the city over. This was the beginning of the Berlin blockade.

Meanwhile, the US, British, and other allies started supplying facilities outside of Berlin, which created pressure on the western half.

During the blockade, the western powers airlifted a total of 2,000 tons of food to west Germany.


When Germany surrendered in May 1945, towards the end of World War II, the Cold War between the U.K., U.S., and the Allies had begun to rise. By 1948, the Soviet Union installed left-wing commanders in areas of eastern Europe that the Red Army had liberated.

The Americans and the British worried about expediting Soviet domination in eastern Europe. There was a threat of the Soviet zone influenced communist parties coming to power in the democracies of western Europe.

The Berlin Airlift took place after Germany was split into two separate countries, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. Berlin was also split in half, with East Germany eventually constructing the Berlin Wall to keep people from traveling between the two halves of the city.

At the time, many people in East Germany were attempting to migrate to West Germany.

The Soviets, on the other hand, were gaining control of eastern Europe to safeguard any possible threat from Germany, and they were hellbent on spreading communism worldwide, largely for ideological reasons. Meanwhile, Joseph Stalin, the conqueror of East Germany, insisted that the communist leaders pressure the Americans and British to leave West Germany soon.

In 1948, the Cold War reached its peak. In this period, the Soviet Union failed to blockade the air corridors of West Berlin in 1949. The United States and its European aids formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an organization holding military power to withstand the Soviet authorities in Europe in 1949.

Causes That Led To The Airlift

On June 24, 1948, Soviet forces blocked all road, rail, and water transits into Berlin's Allied-controlled areas, restricting the vital flow of food, coal, and other needs. Soviet troop numbers were more than those of the Allies, whose troops were drawn down after the war.

So the Allies could do little about it militarily. But the Soviets couldn't block the Allied air force, so the U.S. and U.K. forces chose air routes to get supplies to West Berlin.

Although the Soviet Union did not have nuclear weapons during the Berlin blockade, it had the largest army that threatened to take over western Europe. On June 26, the U.S. introduced Operation Vittles, which the U.K. later joined. It was the biggest air force mission ever commenced. The Allies also imposed their counter-blockade, restricting East Germany and Berlin trade.


How long did the Berlin Airlift last?

The Berlin Airlift lasted for 11 months, from June 24, 1948, to May 12, 1949.

How often did planes land in the Berlin Airlift?

Every 30 seconds, a cargo plane landed in West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. Around 300,000 flights were taken to supply more than two million Berlin residence of West Germany.

Who started the Berlin Airlift?

Joseph Stalin, the communist, started the Berlin blockade that went on from June 24, 1948, to May 12, 1949, restricting all essential supplies by land and river transit between West Berlin and West Germany. The United States started the Berlin Airlift in response to this blockade.

Why was the airlift necessary?

The Berlin Airlift was necessary to prevent millions of German citizens from starving and freezing to death due to the Berlin blockade. Soldiers served essentials, such as food, water, clothing, and coal, from airplanes to help the people of isolated West Berlin survive. This was the biggest nonviolent victory for the U.S and the Allied forces.

How many pilots died during the Berlin Airlift?

There were 101 martyrs recorded during the airlift. The deaths included 40 British and 31 American soldiers, and the majority died due to accidents resulting from hazardous weather conditions and mechanical failures.

What were the effects of the Berlin Airlift?

Despite the airlift, people living in West Berlin went through tough times, especially during winter. There were frequent power cuts, little food, and fresh vegetables were scarce. It had seen little changes since the war, but the Berlin Airlift brought about historical change.

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Written by Sridevi Tolety

Bachelor of Science specializing in Botany, Master of Science specializing in Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

Sridevi Tolety picture

Sridevi ToletyBachelor of Science specializing in Botany, Master of Science specializing in Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs

With a Master's degree in clinical research from Manipal University and a PG Diploma in journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Sridevi has cultivated her passion for writing across various domains. She has authored a wide range of articles, blogs, travelogues, creative content, and short stories that have been published in leading magazines, newspapers, and websites. Sridevi is fluent in four languages and enjoys spending her spare time with loved ones. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, cooking, painting, and listening to music.

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Fact-checked by Spandana Kantam

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Political Science and Sociology

Spandana Kantam picture

Spandana KantamBachelor of Arts specializing in Political Science and Sociology

Spandana holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Acharya Nagarjuna University. She has a passion for writing and enjoys reading crime and thriller novels while listening to RnB music in her free time.

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