The Berlin Airlift & The Berlin Wall

by: Jess Bylund

Background Information

After World War II, the four Allied powers (France, Soviet Union, U.S., and Great Britain) divided Germany into four sections for each of them to rule in order to prevent Germany from gaining too much power. They did the same thing for the country's capital, Berlin. The Eastern part of Germany was ruled by the Soviet Union which completely surrounded Berlin. In 1948, the Western Powers (U.S., England, and France) decided to unite their parts of Germany into West Germany and their parts of Berlin into West Berlin. East Germany and East Berlin were communistic and West Germany and West Berlin were democratic. In June of 1948, the Western Powers issued a new currency called the deutsche in order to combat inflation. This angered the Soviet Union and they rejected the new currency. In response to the currency reform, the Soviet Union began the Berlin Blockade. By the time the blockade was put in place, East Germany was already experiencing shortages and on June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union announced that they would not supply food to Berlin ("Germany and Berlin," 55-78).


The Berlin Airlift

The Berlin Airlift was a mission to supply Berlin in order to survive the Berlin Blockade. The airlift was known as Operation Vittles in the U.S. and Plain Fare in Britain. At the start of the airlift, the U.S. Air Force was only nine months old and Berlin had a population of two million people. The city of Berlin began with only two airfields at the start of the airlift, but built two more within five months. The airlift began two days after the blockade began, on June 25, 1948. In the first month of the airlift, 4,500 tons of supplies were delivered daily (Tine). By the fall of that same year, it had increased to 5,620 tons of supplies daily. Since France and Great Britain were still dealing with post WWII shortages, most of the supplies came from the U.S. The supplies would be flown across the Atlantic, then shipped to a base in West Germany, before making it's final flight to Berlin. In order to ensure maximum safety, there were constant revisions of safety and operational procedures including ground radar (Lerner, 99-101)

Candy Bomber
The Candy Bomber was an American pilot who tied candy to makeshift parachutes and dropped them where Berlin children were playing.

Impact & Significance
The Berlin Airlift was the first large scale, modern humanitarian effort that used airplanes as the primary mean of delivery. By the end of the airlift, on September 30, 1949, there had been 300,000 missions and a total of 2.4 million tons of food had been delivered. In the four months the airlift was occurring there were only 79 casualties. The Berlin Airlift changed the way modern warfare was waged (Lerner, 99-101.


The Berlin Wall

After the Berlin Blockade was lifted, people traveled from the West to the East parts of the city. East Berliners worked in West Berlin to make more money while the West Berliners shopped in the East to get cheaper goods. Relatives visited each other on the opposite side, students cross attended schools. Many East Germans just left. all of this angered the Soviets (Tulloch, 103-6). On the night of August 12, 1961 the Soviets closed down all the borders between the East and West. Construction of a barbed wire fence began at 1 a.m. the following morning which separate the East and the West. That morning, since the Berlin Wall was only a fence, people made last minute escapes. On August 16, 1961, the barbed wire fence evolved into a concrete wall. There was an extra fence on the Eastern side which prevented the Easterners from going up to the wall. The place between these two walls was called No Man's Land. It was used for patrolling and was 30 to 100 yards wide. There were 116 watchtowers and it took 10,000 guards to maintain the watch at a single time. There were a total of eight gates in the wall.

Westerners could pass through, but Easterners couldn't. At some spots on the wall, apartment buildings made up the wall. The Soviets blocked all the exits to the Western side. It is estimated that 100 people were killed trying to escape the East, but the exact number is unknown. The first person killed was Gunter Litwin who was shot by Eastern patrols trying to escape. The worst death was in 1962 when Peter Fechter who was shot and left to die in broad sunlight. Even pregnant people were shot trying to escape.


Even though West Berlin was confined inside the wall, the city was flourishing economically with theaters, zoos, shops, and nightclubs. Checkpoint Charlie was a gate in the Berlin Wall used by NATO. A standoff occurred here involving an American official resulting with Soviet and American tanks facing each other on either side of the border with weapons loaded.

In 1987, President Reagan gave a speech at Brandenburg Gate in which he demanded that the Soviets remove the wall.
Following the speech, the Berlin Wall suffered three blows which led to it's fall. The first was the Sinatra Doctrine, which allowed the Eastern governments to make their own decisions to a certain extent. Second, in 1989, Hungary allowed people free passage into Austria and many East Germans took advantage of that which angered the Soviets. Third, protests grew against the Soviets.

On November 9, 1989, an East German official announced that Germans would be allowed permanent departure and travel abroad. When everyone rushed to the wall, the guards had no idea what to do because no formal announcement had been made. A two day party ensued in which people took hammers and chisels to the wall, tearing it down, bit by bit (Grabianowski,
Significance of the Wall
The Berlin Wall was nicknamed the Wall of Shame by West Berlin, but was just the Wall to the rest of the world. The wall stood for 28 years before it was torn down by the people of Berlin. President Kennedy once said that no one in the world had wanted the wall, but it was better than a war (Hanes and Hanes, 76-77). In his speech on June 26, 1963, President Kennedy said, "There are many people in the world who really don't understand or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin." The Berlin Wall symbolized the division between democracy and communism as inferred by President Kennedy in his speech
(Hanes and Hanes, 228-229). Not only was the wall a symbol of the division between communism and democracy, it was also a symbol for the iron curtain for the 28 years it stood (Staff).

Important Dates

June 24, 1948
Berlin Blockade Begins
June 25, 1948
Berlin Airlift Begins
May 12, 1949
Berlin Blockade Ends
September 30, 1949
Berlin Airlift Ends
August 13, 1961
Berlin Border between the East and West is closed and construction of the Berlin Wall begins at 1 a.m. the following morning
August 16, 1961
The barbed wire is replaced with concrete blocks
June 1962
A second wall is built to prevent Easterners from escaping
A new wall generation emerges made of concrete slabs laid between H-shaped steel supports
A new wall begins (Stutzwandelement UL 12.11) is built and penetrates East Germany deeper and includes a touch sensitive, self firing fence
June 12, 1987
President Reagan gives his speech to tear down the wall
November 9, 1989
The Berlin Wall starts coming down ("Cold War Museum")

Works Cited

"Berlin Time Line: 1945 - 1990 Berlin Wall Time Line Starts August 1961." Cold War Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr 2012. <>.

"Germany and Berlin." Cold War Reference Library. Ed. Richard C. Hanes, Sharon M. Hanes, and Lawrence W. Baker. Vol. 1: Almanac Volume 1. Detroit: UXL, 2004. 55-78. Gale World History In Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.

Grabianowski, Ed. "How the Berlin Wall Worked" 12 May 2008. <> 25 April 2012.

Hanes, Sharon, and Richard Hanes. Cold War Almanac. 1. Detroit: Thomson and Gale, 2004. 76-77. Print.

Hanes, Sharon, and Richard Hanes. Cold War: Primary Sources. Detroit: Thomson and Gale, 2004. 228-229. Print.

LERNER, ADRIENNE WILMOTH. "Berlin Airlift." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 99-101. Gale World History In Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.

Staff, findingDulcinea. "On This Day: The Berlin Wall Comes Down." finding Dulcinea. Dulcinea Media, Inc., 09 09 2010. Web. 26 Apr 2012. <>.

Tine, Gregory. "Berlin Airlift: Logistics, Humanitarian Aid, and Strategic Success." Army Logistician . 08 2005: n. page. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <>.

TULLOCH, DAVID. "Berlin Wall." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 103-106. Gale World History In Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.