During World War II, there was an uneasy alliance consisting of the United States, Soviet Union, Great Britain and France. The only reason that the Soviet Union was part of the Allied forces was because of the common enemy – Germany.
On May, 8, 1945, the war in Europe ended along with the alliance with the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin wanted control of all of Germany but was forced into accepting the terms that divided Germany into East (Soviet) and West (US, GB and France).
On July 1, 1945, the Inner-Border was established between East and West Germany. In West Germany, Great Britain controlled the areas to the northern section, France along the French border and the United States controlled the southern section of the country. Likewise, Berlin, located deep in the Soviet controlled East Germany, was also divided amongst the four occupying nations, with the Soviet Union controlling the eastern section of the then capital city. The division of Berlin was a thorn in Stalin’s side and he was determined to gain control of the entire city.
On January 1, 1947, US and UK combined their occupation zones in West Germany and referred to it as Bizonia. News of the merge intensified the growing tensions between the Allies and the Soviet Union.
In March, 1947, relations between the Soviet Union and western Allies were strained when the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers broke down. The declaration of the Truman Doctrine also strained Soviet and US relations.
In June, 1947, Secretary of State George Marshall publicly announced his plan for the economic rebuilding of western Europe. The European Recovery Plan, more popularly known as the Marshall Plan, not only established means to help for the recovery of western Europe, but it also set into motion a number of means to prevent the further spread of communism into western Europe. To say that the Marshall Plan really irritated Stalin is an understatement.
In March 1948, Stalin’s patience finally broke when he learned of the plans being formulated by the US, UK and France to combine all of their occupation zones to create a new Germany. The Soviets withdrew from the Allied Control Council, which was established to jointly rule over all of Germany.
In early June 1948, the US and UK introduced the new Deutschmark in Bizonia and West Berlin without the knowledge of the Soviet Union. The Soviets had been working to control the economy of West Berlin in hopes of gaining total control of the city, but the introduction of the new Deutschmark was intended to thwart the Soviet plans, help establish the Marshall Plan and to slow down the spread of the Soviet backed black market. The Soviets responded by issuing the Ostmarck, their new currency into East Berlin. Additionally, the Soviets began building up their military forces around West Berlin.
On June 13, 1948, US General Lucius Clay, Western Allied leader of occupied Germany sent word to the Truman administration, saying:
“There is no practicability in maintaining our position in Berlin and it must not be evaluated on that basis…. We are convinced that our remaining in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for good or bad, it has become a symbol of the American intent.”
On June 24, 1948, Soviet forces blockaded West Berlin. They completely closed all roads, railroads and canals leading into and out of West Berlin. They also stopped all electricity, coal and food supplies into West Berlin. The people of West Berlin were literally held captive by the Soviet Union.
On this day, June 26, 1948, Operation Vittles, more popularly known as the Berlin Airlift, was launched. American planes began delivering vital supplies to the West Berliners.
On June 28, 1948, British planes joined the airlift of supplies into West Berlin.
On May 11, 1949, the Soviets realized that their blockade of West Berlin had backfired and became a political embarrassment, so they decided to end it.
On May, 23, 1949, the western occupation zones of West Germany became the new nation of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). The eastern city of Bonn was designated as the capital city of the new free Germany. The move to create the new free Germany added more political embarrassment to the Soviet’s failure of the blockade.
On October 7, 1949, the Soviets reciprocated by converting East Germany into the German Democratic Republic (GDR), with East Berlin as the capital.
In the course of the 11 months of the Berlin Airlift, over 200,000 planes had delivered over one and half million tons of supplies to the more than 2 million people of West Berlin. Not only did the airlift thwart Soviet plans to gain control over West Berlin, but it also saved countless lives, proving the massive aerial operation was a huge success.
Sources for the above includes: The Berlin Airlift, 1948–1949; The Berlin Airlift; Berlin Airlift Begins; The Berlin Airlift; The Berlin Airlift and NATO; Berlin Airlift: Operation Vittles; Today, June 12, 1987: “Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!”.