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The Berlin Airlift In 14 Pictures

Today marks the 26th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. But long before the wall was constructed, the first major crises of the Cold War happened. In 1948, a Soviet blockade of Western supplies resulted in the Berlin Airlift. Here's what happened:

1) Beginning June 18, 1948, Soviet guards began stopping and searching all passenger and supply trains, traffic and freight shipments that were required to cross through the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. This included Berlin, which was entirely within the Soviet occupation zone.



2) On June 24th, 1948, Soviets severed land and water connections between the non-Soviet zones and Berlin. They also halted all rail and barge traffic into and out of Berlin.



3) Although ground routes to Berlin were never negotiated after the war, the Allied Powers did negotiate free access through 3 air corridors to Berlin.



4) To combat the Soviet blockade, the United States devised a plan to fly cargo aircraft through the 3 air corridors to supply Berlin's non-Soviet sector of over 2 million people with food and supplies. And because only cargo aircraft were used, the Soviet Union couldn't attack them as a military threat.

Wikipedia


5) An air supply was no small task. Over 1,500 tons of daily supplies would need to be flown in to keep the city fed. In addition, over 3,400 tons of coal and gasoline were needed to keep the city powered. In total, over 5,000 tons of supplies needed to be hauled each day.



6) The US and Great Britain didn't have nearly the air power to ship the 5,000 tons per day initially. But they started anyway, and on June 26th, 1948, they sent 80 tons of food and supplies to Berlin. 32 C-47s were used for the shipment.



7) Because so many airplanes were flying into Berlin, a schedule was developed for aircraft to take off every 4 minutes, and fly 1,000 feet higher than the flight before it. This pattern was repeated 5 times, across three 8-hour shifts.



8) By July 1st, 1948, an average of 1,000 tons of supplies were being shipped each day.



9) At the end of July, Major General William H. Tunner, who had significant experience in airlift operations, took over the operation. Within a month, he had a fleet of C-47s and C-54s delivering more that 4,500 tons of cargo to Berlin every day.



10) On Easter Day, April 15th, 1949, Tunner held a competition among the airlift units to see who could haul the most coal in a 24 hour period. In 1 day, nearly 13,000 tons of coal were delivered to Berlin. And only 1 week later, more food and supplies were being flown into the city each day than were previously being delivered by rail.



11) Because it was clear that the airlift was working, the Soviets lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949. Rail supplies began the same day. However, air supplies continued through September 30th, 1949, to ensure a surplus.



12) The airlift lasted for 15 months, with a total of over 2.3 million tons of supplies delivered to Berlin by air.



13) At the height of the airlift, a plane reached West Berlin every 30 seconds.



14) C-47s and C-54s flew a combined 92 million miles during the airlift - nearly the distance from the Earth to the Sun. It was an incredible feat that prevented Berlin from falling under communist rule - and possibly all of Germany.

Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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