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This Day in History: 06/26/1948 - Berlin Airlift begins

This Day in History: 06/26/1948 - Berlin Airlift begins

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In this clip from the show This Day In History, we get to take a look at interesting things that have happened on June 26th. From the first Oceanside boardwalk to the genetic code in humans, you won't be sorry when you view this video. Learn many more fun facts about this day in history right here.

Berlin Airlift Begins

After World War II, control over Germany was divided among the victors: United States, Great Britain, France, and the USSR. The capitol Berlin was also divided. Because Berlin was deep inside the Soviet zone, it was difficult to keep the western side supplied.

In 1948, the USSR cut off all roads and train supply routes in an effort to gain total control over the city. Starting on June 26, 1948, the three allied countries airlifted in food and supplies to keep the city supplied. After more than a year, 2.3 million tons of supplies, and airplanes landing nearly every 30 seconds, the Soviets backed down and opened up the traditional supply routes.

The Berlin Airlift was the first of many tense conflicts between the USSR and the west during the Cold War.

The Berlin Airlift

On June 26, 1948, the first supply-filled planes departed bases in England and Western Germany as part of the Berlin Airlift.

After Germany was defeated in World War II, the country was divided into four zones and occupied by the Soviet Union, the US, France, and the UK. Berlin, the capital, was located 100 miles inside the Soviet-controlled section. At the time of the partitioning of Germany, no formal agreements were reached assuring rail, road, and canal access to Berlin from the democratic west.

US #3211 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover.

In 1948, the Soviets took advantage of this and began inspecting all cargo entering and leaving Berlin. By June, they stopped all traffic. The goal was to drive the other countries out of Berlin, then Germany, and claim it for the Soviet Union.

US #3211 – Mystic First Day Cover.

Though all routes by land and water were blocked, there was still the possibility of relief through the air. The four powers had previously agreed on three air corridors, each 20 miles wide, from the western zones to Berlin. The decision was made to begin an airlift to provide food and fuel for the citizens of the city.

US #3211 – Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

The airlift began within a week of the decision – on June 26, 1948 – and was expected to last less than a month. With the aircraft available, the US and Britain were able to deliver only about 90 tons per day. The need was for about 5,000 tons.

US #1136 – Reuter was Berlin’s mayor at the time and appealed the world not to abandon Berlin.

In July, General William Turner arrived to command the operations. He had reorganized a massive airlift into China during World War II. His experience paid off. By the end of August, about 4,500 tons of cargo were delivered each day.

Berlin #9N346 honors the 25th anniversary of the airlift

The citizens of Berlin provided manpower at the airports where the supplies were delivered. Crews formed to unload the cargo and could unload a 10-ton shipment of coal in less than six minutes. Former members of Germany’s air force ground crews serviced the planes as well. As winter came, the runways needed to be upgraded. Berliners once again pitched in to build new asphalt runways and an airport.

Berlin #9N575 was issued for the 40th anniversary.

On April 15, 1949, the Soviets reported they were willing to lift the blockade. It ended on May 12. Trucks and trains immediately began to supply Berlin. The flights continued so a surplus could be built up in the event of another blockade. The airlift officially ended on September 30. Over the course of 15 months, more than two million tons of food and coal was flown into the city, preventing a communist takeover.

Germany #2038 was issued for the 50th anniversary.

About the time the blockade ended, the Federal Republic of Germany was formed from the three democratically controlled zones. It would remain separated from East Germany for the next four decades.

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1948 The Berlin Blockade begins

In reaction to the currency reform in West Germany, the Soviet Union blocked all access to West Berlin. It was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. Western Allies launched the Berlin airlift to transport supplies to the blocked area. In Germany, the planes became known as “raisin bombers” or “candy bombers”.

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25 June 1948

In response to the Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin, the United States begins a massive airlift of food, water, and medicine to the citizens of the besieged city. For nearly a year, supplies from American planes sustained the over 2 million people in West Berlin.

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all road and rail travel to and from West Berlin, which was located within the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany. The Soviet action was in response to the refusal of American and British officials to allow Russia more say in the economic future of Germany. The U.S. government was shocked by the provocative Soviet move, and some in President Harry S. Truman’s administration called for a direct military response. Truman, however, did not want to cause World War III. Instead, he ordered a massive airlift of supplies into West Berlin. On June 26, 1948, the first planes took off from bases in England and western Germany and landed in West Berlin. It was a daunting logistical task to provide food, clothing, water, medicine, and other necessities of life for the over 2 million fearful citizens of the city. For nearly a year, American planes landed around the clock. Over 200,000 planes carried in more than one-and-a-half million tons of supplies.

The Soviets persisted with the blockade until May 1949. By then, however, it was apparent to everyone concerned that the blockade had been a diplomatic fiasco for the Russians. Around the world, the Soviets were portrayed as international bullies, holding men, women, and children hostage in West Berlin and threatening them with starvation. The unbelievably successful American airlift also backfired against the Russians by highlighting the technological superiority of the United States. By the time the Soviets ended the blockade, West Germany had become a separate and independent nation and the Russian failure was complete.

The Berlin Airlift – 1948 to 1949

At the end of the Second World War, sectors of Germany had been allocated to the three main Allied armies of occupation, with a fourth, French, sector formed out of the British and US areas in the West. Berlin, deep inside the Russian sector, was similarly divided into four.

Post-war relations between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union deteriorated rapidly to the extent that, on 24th June 1948, the Russians blocked all road, rail and water access to Berlin from the West. Some wondered whether Berlin would be abandoned to the Soviets. Instead, the UK and US decided to airlift supplies to West Berlin with the support of the French, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African air-forces. Operating from airbases in western Germany, the Allied effort resulted in some 278,000 flights in the course of the following year, delivering almost 400,00 tons of supplies (up to 8,893 tons per day).

The crisis would end on 12th May 1949, nearly a year later. But in that time, the combined efforts of the British and US Air Forces kept West Berlin supplied, using the three, 20-mile wide air-corridors that had previously been agreed with the Soviet Union in 1945. To begin with, there was concern that, even if the corridors were used, the Soviets would respond with force. However, the US assumed that they would be reluctant to risk another conflict so soon after the end of the war by committing an act of aggression against a humanitarian mission. They were correct and the flights were never threatened.

The RAF contribution to the airlift started just two days after the blockade was imposed. The British had more aircraft than the US in western Germany at the time so were initially able to provide greater capacity than their Allied partners. To begin with, RAF Dakotas flew from Wunstorf to Gatow – which was in the British sector of Berlin. By July 1948, Avro Yorks joined the British effort, each carrying nearly 10 tons of payload, compared with the Dakota’s 3.

On 4th July, the RAF added two squadrons of Short Sutherland flying boats to the operation. Their crews were based in the old Blohm and Voss works on the Elbe, near Hamburg. The Sunderlands were loaded up with supplies taken out to them in small boats, with each aircraft doing up to three round-trips a day. They continued until December, at which point ice on the Havel in Berlin became a problem and the flights ceased.

After all the available UK military aircraft had been assigned to the operation, the British government turned to civilian airlines for extra capacity. One major requirement in Berlin was for liquid fuels such as petrol. This was initially transported in 55-gallon drums which was not only wasteful in terms of space and payload, but also extremely dangerous. Commercial aviation pioneer Sir Alan Cobham, for example, had already addressed this problem and his Flight Refuelling Ltd fleet of 12 aircraft flew sorties throughout the airlift. Together with 24 other civil contractors, they delivered almost seven million gallons by the end of the operation.

With the growing numbers of civilian and military planes involved, and the international scope of the operation, it became very apparent that a proper system of management was needed. In August 1948, a single coordinating authority was formed called ‘Combined Airlift Task Force (CALTF) by October it had assumed control of all humanitarian flights in and out of Berlin. One of CALTF’s first tasks was to improve safety by re-reorganising the corridors used by each nation. The British were assigned the northern air corridor to fly into Berlin, the US would use the southern corridor and both would fly back out using the central corridor.

The Soviet Union lifted the blockade on 12th May 1949, but tensions between the former WWII partners remained. The Western Allies soon set up NATO and declared their area of occupied territory to be the new Federal Republic of Germany – or West Germany as it became known. The Soviets replied in kind, declaring the establishment of the German Democratic Republic – or DDR. And so the stage was set for the start of the Cold War which would last for some three decades and which still dogs international relations to this day.

Some facts and figures of the Berlin lift – courtesy of the Royal Airforce Museum

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1949 Berlin airlift ends

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To Save a City : The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949

Following World War II, the Soviet Union drew an Iron Curtain across Europe, crowning its efforts with a blockade of West Berlin in a desperate effort to prevent the creation of an independent, democratic West Germany. The United States and Great Britain, aided by France, responded with a daring air logistical operation that in fifteen months delivered almost three million tons of coal, food, and other necessities to the people of Berlin. Now, drawing on rare U.S. Air Force files, recently declassified documents from the National Archives, records released since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the memories of airlift veterans themselves, Roger G. Miller provides an original study of the Berlin Airlift.

The Berlin Airlift was an enterprise of epic proportions that demonstrated the power of air logistics as a political instrument. What began as a hastily organized operation by a small number of warweary cargo airplanes evolved into an intricate bridge of aircraft that flowed in and out of Berlin through narrow air corridors. Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, a stream of airplanes delivered everything from food and medicine to coal and candy in defiance of breakdowns, inclement weather, and Soviet hostility. And beyond the airlift itself, a complex system of transportation, maintenance, and supply stretching around the world sustained operations.

Historians, veterans, and general readers will welcome this history of the first Western victory of the Cold War. Maps, diagrams, and more than forty photographs illustrate the mechanical inner workings and the human faces that made that triumph possible.

Tegel Airport was the French contribution to the Airlift. In the autumn of 1948, the French Allies built what was then the longest runway in Europe, covering 2.5 km (1.5 miles), in just three months. They were supported by 19,000 Berliners, half of them women. Berlin's third airlift airport went into operation on November 5, 1948.

The Berlin Airlift ended 70 years ago


Three years after Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 and the resulting occupation by the four victorious powers, Berlin experienced a crisis that from today’s perspective appears as the first great conflict of the Cold War. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin confronted the Western powers with virtually insoluble problems. While the causes of the blockade were varied, the immediate occasion was currency reform.

One city – two currencies

The victorious powers had been forced to tackle the currency situation in Germany since the end of the war in 1945. A drastic glut of money, a lack of acceptance for the currency, and a flourishing black market made reform a matter of urgency. The withdrawal of the Soviet representative from the Allied Control Council in March 1948, however, rendered a joint approach by the four victorious powers unthinkable. The Western powers announced the currency reform on June 18 and it was implemented two days later. As an immediate response, the Soviet military administration interrupted passenger traffic to and from Berlin on June 19 in order to protect itself from the expected flood of now worthless reichsmarks. A currency reform for the Soviet occupation zone was decreed on June 23. In Berlin the Western powers refused to recognize this “East currency.” Instead they adopted the currency reforms enacted in the Western zones, so that beginning on June 25 the German mark of the Bank of the German States (West DM) also became legal tender in West Berlin. Berlin was now divided not only into four occupation zones, but also into two currency zones.

Supplies from the skies

Apart from the mentioned blockades of street traffic on June 19, between June 19 and 29, 1948 the Soviets also successively blocked all routes by land, rail, and water between West Berlin and the three Western zones. Only the air corridors on which the four victorious powers had agreed in the Air Agreement of 1945/46 were unaffected. For that reason the three Western powers began an Airlift to Berlin to supply the city and its approximately two million inhabitants with the necessities. It was an ambitious plan never before attempted on this scale and it was unclear whether it would work.

On June 28, 1948 the first American and British aircraft landed at Tempelhof and Gatow airfields with goods for the people of Berlin. Many other flights followed, but nobody could predict how long the blockade would last. For that reason, the Western powers initially planned to supply the city into the winter. The aim in the first weeks of the Airlift was to fly 4,500 tons of goods into the city every day. This was raised to 5,000 tons a day in the autumn of 1948. Coal to meet the city’s energy needs made up a large proportion of this tonnage.

In October U.S. General William H. Tunner was appointed to head the Combined Airlift Taskforce (CALTF), which had its headquarters in Wiesbaden. He perfected the Airlift. The American military governor of Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, ensured the necessary political support of U.S. President Harry S. Truman. Clay continually requested more and larger aircraft to use in the Airlift, and Truman approved them.

In the first months of the Airlift, the French occupying power participated with six airplanes. The urgently needed third airport in Tegel in the French sector was completed in November 1948. Some 19,000 workers built it in record time, taking just three months. The British mobilized their Royal Air Force and contracted with an additional 25 charter companies to fly mainly oil and gasoline into the city. Aside from their circa 23 percent share of the total Airlift tonnage for freight, the British were also responsible for the lion’s share of passenger transport during the blockade. With their C-54-transport planes, the U.S. forces provided the largest air fleet for “Operation Vittles,” as the Americans called the mission. In spring 1949 the operation to supply Berlin was working so well that on some days more goods were flown into the city than had arrived before the blockade by road, water, and rail.

The Western powers used the media very effectively to publicize this outstanding efficiency. The continuing positive reporting on Allied tonnage and the growing reputation of the Western powers were certainly part of the reason for the lifting of the Soviet blockade on May 12, 1949. Despite the end of the blockade, the Airlift continued for another four months into late summer 1949. The historical events known as the “Berlin Blockade” and the “Berlin Airlift” are thus chronologically not wholly identical.

The lifting of the blockade and the end of the Airlift solved the first crisis of the Cold War by logistical means – without military force. This does not, however, mean that there were no casualties of the Airlift. At least 78 people died in airplane accidents. Their names are engraved on the base of the Airlift Memorial in the Berlin district of Tempelhof.

Occupiers become protectors

The Berlin Airlift palpably changed the relationship between the Western powers and West Berlin. Just a few years after World War II, the one-time enemies had mastered a severe political crisis by intensive cooperation. The population of Berlin now experienced the occupying powers as protecting powers.

Watch the video: History Brief: The Berlin Airlift (July 2022).


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