Berlin Blockade – Timeline, Significance & Facts
The Berlin blockade was an attempt by the Soviet Union in 1948 to limit the ability of the United States, Great Britain, and France to travel to their areas of Berlin, which were in East Germany. occupied by Russia.
In June 1948, the latent tensions between the Soviet Union and its former allies during the Second World War exploded into a veritable crisis in the city of Berlin. Alarmed by the new American policy of providing economic aid to Germany and other troubled European countries, as well as by the efforts of the Western Allies to introduce a single currency in the areas they occupied in Germany and Berlin, the Soviets blocked all rails, roads and canals from accessing western areas of Berlin. Suddenly, some 2.5 million civilians lacked access to food, medicine, fuel, electricity and other basic necessities.
In the end, the Western powers established an air bridge that lasted nearly a year and provided vital supplies and relief to West Berlin. The Berlin Blockade and the Allied Response in the Form of the The Berlin airlift represented the first major conflict of the Cold War.
Division of post-war Germany
At the end of the Second World War, the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union divided defeated Germany into four zones of occupation, as indicated during the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and formalized in Potsdam later that same year. Berlin, although located in the Soviet occupation zone, was also divided, the western part of the city in the hands of the Allies and the east under Soviet control.
But if the agendas of the Soviet Union and its Western allies had aligned during wartime, they soon began to diverge, especially over the future of Germany. Directed by Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union wanted to punish Germany economically, forcing the country to pay war reparations and to bring its industrial technology to help the post-war Soviet recovery. On the other hand, the Allies considered that the economic recovery of Germany was crucial to preserve it as a democratic buffer against the spread of communism from Eastern Europe, on which Stalin had consolidated the Soviet influence.
The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan
In March 1947, after the outbreak of communist rebellions in Greece and Turkey, US President Harry S. Truman announced in a speech to Congress that the United States “will now support free peoples who resist the attempted subjugation of armed minorities or to external pressures ”, by giving them military aid. This policy, known as the Truman Doctrine, ushered in a new era of global engagement for the United States and helped to bridge the growing gap between Western democracies and the Soviet Union.
In June, US Secretary of State George C. Marshall announced the European stimulus package, known as the Marshall Plan. This economic extension of the Truman Doctrine aimed to help Germany and other European nations to rebuild after the ravages of war, to retain participating states in the United States and to make them less vulnerable to the pull of communism . Implemented in April 1948, the Marshall Plan directly opposed Stalin’s vision of the post-war world: he had hoped that the United States would withdraw entirely from Europe, leaving the USSR as the dominant influence In the region.
Soviet decision to block Berlin
In the first half of 1948, representatives of the United States, Great Britain, and France met in London to discuss the future of Germany. As a result, the United States and Britain agreed to combine their occupied areas to create Bizonia, with the ultimate goal of being a single, unified state of West Germany incorporating the areas occupied by the states. – United, Great Britain, and France from Germany and Berlin, with a single, stable currency.
When the Soviets learned of these plans in March 1948, they withdrew from the Allied Control Council, which had met since the end of the war to coordinate occupation policy between the zones. In June, American and British authorities introduced the new currency, the Deutschmark, in Bizonia and West Berlin, without informing their Soviet counterparts. Seeing this as a violation of their post-war agreements, the Soviets immediately issued their own currency, the Ostmark, in Berlin and East Germany. On the same day, June 24, 1948, they blocked all road, rail, and canal access to the areas of Berlin occupied by the Allies, announcing the end of the quadripartite administration of the city.
The lasting impact of the blockade and the Allied response
With their blockade, the Soviets cut some 2.5 million civilians in the three western areas of Berlin from access to electricity, as well as food, coal, and other essential supplies. Although the Red Army outnumbered the Allied military forces in and around Berlin, the United States and Great Britain retained control of three 20-mile-wide air corridors between Germany’s West and West Berlin, according to written agreements with the Soviet Union of 1945.
Starting June 26, 1948, two days after the blockade was announced, American and British planes carried out the largest air rescue operation in history, transporting some 2.3 million tons of supplies to West Berlin on more than 270,000 flights in 11 months.
While Stalin had hoped that the Berlin blockade would force the Allies to abandon their efforts to create a West German state, the success of the Berlin airlift confirmed that such hopes were in vain. By May 1949, when the Soviets lifted the blockade, the Berlin crisis had hardened the East / West division of Germany and all of Europe, ushering in the Cold War for good.
The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949, U.S. Department of State: Historian’s Office
The Berlin Blockade and Airlift, BBC Bitesize Guide
Berlin Blockade, PBS: American experience
Benn Steil, The Marshall Plan: the dawn of the Cold War (Simon and Schuster, 2018)
Barry Turner, The Berlin airlift: the relief operation that defined the Cold War (Icon Books, 2017)