BERLIN AIRLIFT Essay

This essay has a total of 2831 words and 12 pages.


BERLIN AIRLIFT




“But there was always the risk that Russian reaction might lead to war. We had to face
the possibility that Russia might deliberately choose to make Berlin the pretext for war.
. .”- Harry S. Truman.

The Berlin airlift was one of the most brilliant American achievements during the post
World War II era. President Truman’s decision to leave American soldiers in Berlin, could
quite possibly be called the proudest decision of his political career (McCollough 630).

The original conflict that led to the Berlin blockade arose after World War II. As early
as 1947, growing problems between western democracy (United States, Britain et al.) and
communism (the Soviet Union), started to take definite shape as the beginnings of the Cold
War. Germany had been split into four zones, each occupied by one ally: the United States,
Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Each also had a part of the capital city, Berlin.

On March 17, 1948, Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the 50
year Treaty of Mutual Assistance. United States Senator Arthur Vandenberg worked with
Truman to find a way to include the United States in the new treaty (Walton 55). The
proposal passed 64 to 4 by the senate, and within three months, the United States had
joined the newly founded North Atlantic Treaty Organization, otherwise known as NATO. The
twelve state organization included the United States, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark,
France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal when it became
official on April 4, 1949 (Pimlott 13).

The road toward the blockade became shorter in February of 1948 when the London Conference
occurred. France, Britain, and the United States attended the conference. Its purpose was
to try and plan a future course of action to the German problem. The conference had taken
place without the Russian's consent, participation, or clear knowledge of its agenda.
During the next meeting of the Allied Control Council for Germany on March 20, 1948 the
Soviet delegation demanded to know the results of the London Conference.

The Soviets felt their request justified as they knew that the conference had dealt with
issues concerning the whole of Germany, although they were unaware of the specifics;
nevertheless, the Potsdam agreement stated that such issues had to be dealt with by all
four nations occupying Germany. The Western Allies refused to disclose what occurred,
which the Russians saw as a clear breach of four-power control as agreed to at Potsdam. In
protest the Soviet delegation walked out, never to return, marking the end of the
cooperation of the four-power control of Germany (Marshal 37).

The West had previously announced in a March 6 London conference, that the West German
economy would become integrated with Western Europe, therefore combining the three
sectors. The Allies wanted Germany to be united so its economy might have a chance of
recovering. A new form of currency was to be introduced (Heater 16).

The Soviet Union was becoming increasingly more and more worried about the influence of
the West in Germany. It was convinced that Germany’s neutrality was vastly important to
the security of Russia. In response to the talks on March 6, the Soviets temporarily
restricted the movement of Western military supplies into Berlin.

The Soviets began to tighten their grip on Berlin by announcing that all persons, civilian
or military, would have to present identification upon entering the Soviet zone. The
Allies felt that the Russians had no right to make such a request of military personal so
a small airlift of supplies to military installations was started by the United States.

The West told West Germany in early June, to begin the constitutional process to establish
the Federal Republic of Germany. Within two weeks, the new currency, called the
Deutschmark, was being issued into the three western zones, excluding West Berlin (Pimlott
12).

To the Russians, this was the final straw. The Soviet Union was irate because first
they had not agreed to any such plan, and second, this was against Potsdam, which stated
that Germany would be treated as a single economic unit. This introduction of a new
western Deutschmark would split Germany economically.

The Soviet Union protested the change of currency because it would drive valueless coins
into their territory, so in turn the Soviet government developed a new currency. Stalin
was unwilling to allow Germany to join the West (Walton 55). All of these disagreements
made it obvious to the Soviets that the Allies wanted to end the cooperative control of
Germany and create a separate German state. The Soviets wanted to avoid this because they
felt an independent West Germany would eventually re-arm and then pose a threat to the
USSR's Eastern Empire. Stalin decided to push the West by installing a blockade in order
to show that the Soviets did not plan on giving up, and also to try and force new
discussions on the German problem in hopes of stopping the formation of West Germany. The
Soviet Union then made a drastic decision. On June 24, 1948 West Berlin was blockaded.

Access to the city consisted of a single motorway, a railway, a few canals and an air
corridor (Pimlott 12). While arranging the joint occupation no one thought to bother with
such details like who had the right to use access routes. The occupying authority in
Germany was called the Kommandatura. It was made up of the United States, Britain, and
France (once the Soviets withdrew of course) and initiated policies of recovery and aid.
The West was then told by the Soviet Union that the roadway was “closed”. The goal of the
blockade was to force the Allies out of Berlin. Any food that entered Berlin was to be
distributed only in the Soviet sector (Walton 55).

Being that there was no formal announcement, the blockade came as a surprise to the West.
Soviet newspapers led Germans to believe that electricity in the Western sectors was to be
limited because of “technical difficulties”. The same excuse was given to passengers and
freight traveling on the Berlin-Helmstedt railroad (Walton 55).

Western authorities in the three sectors began storing food, and to prevent panic, they
announced that there was enough food for 30 days as well as powdered milk for children.
West Berlin was still fearful that the troops would have to leave because of lack of
supplies.

The Allies were significantly outnumbered having only 6,500 troops in Berlin compared to
the 18,000 Soviet troops in Berlin, and the 300,000 Soviet troops in the east zone of
Germany (McCollough 647). The West was left with three choices, to pull out of Berlin at
the right time to avoid war, to defend the Western position at all costs, or to stay in
Berlin for the time begin without an ultimate decision. The possibility of war lay within
the West’s determination to defeat the Soviet Union (Walton 56).

American General Lucius Clay was convinced that the Soviets were being too careful with
its actions to have war in mind. He suggested that the United States break through the
blockade by sending an armed caravan across Germany and into West Berlin, or close United
States ports and the Panama Canal to Soviet ships. Truman did not approve either of these
options. He believed it would be too much of a “challenge” for the Soviet army. Instead,
Truman announced that the West would stay in Berlin without any further discussion. Other
White House staff members were never consulted on the decision (McCollough 630).

At the time, Truman’s decision to stay in Berlin was disagreed with by many Americans.
Newspaper headlines stated that the West was ready to pull out. Many people did not see
the point of going to war (or almost war) on behalf of a country that had brought
destruction to all of Europe and caused millions of deaths. Despite this, Truman stood
firm on his decision. The possibility of war grew greater daily, especially after three
groups of strategic American atomic bombers were flown into Berlin bases. Clay stated,
“Only by war could the Russians get the West to leave Berlin,” (Walton 56).

The idea of supplying Berlin by air came to Clay and a number of other people at the same
time. The British had already airlifted six and one half tons of supplies into Berlin,
and were considering an airlift of the civilian population when the United States entered
the picture. But the supplies Britain brought would not last long. Two and a half
million people were on the brink of starvation. The food that was there would last no
longer than a month, and the coal that was brought in would only last six weeks
(McCollough 630).

On June 26, 1948, Americans and the British began airlifting supplies as a team. When the
United States was finally granted permission to help from the other Allies, West Berlin
had been isolated from the rest of the world for almost two months. When the idea of the
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