Thursday, June 26, 2008

Berlin Airlift

Yeserday was the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift.

In June of 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all ground and water access to the Allied controlled portions of Berlin. The US and Royal Air Forces responded with the largest humanitarian airlift ever attempted. For over 300 days all food, medical supplies and fuel needed for over 2 million people were flown into the city. At the high point, a plane was landing every 90 seconds, 24 hours a day. Berliners worked at unloading the planes. Their efficiency was such that one 10 ton load was unloaded in under six minutes. Each flight crew flew multiple round trips per day. By late April 1949, the Airlift was bringing over 8000 tons of material, per day into the city. This was more that had been brought into city by rail prior to the blockade. On April 25, 1949, realizing that the airlift had reached a point where it could be carried on indefinitely, the Soviet Union called off the blockade. The airlift continued for another three months so as to create a stockpile of supplies within the city in case the airlift needed to restarted. In total 2,326,406 tons of supplies were airlifted. There were 278,228 total flights into Berlin. There were 101 people including 31 Americans who lost their lives in the operations, mostly from crashes.

One US pilot, Gail Halvorsen started dropping candy from his plane to the children waiting outside of the runway. His example was expanded and the flight became known as "Candy Bombers". Over three tons of candy were eventually dropped.

The Berlin Airlift was one the pivotal moments of the 20th century. Without it, the Western Alliance might not have formed, and the Cold War would have started with a Soviet victory.

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