Articles, Blog

Berlin Airlift 1948-1949 – COLD WAR DOCUMENTARY

November 8, 2019


If there was one location you might point
to as THE physical representation of the Cold War, you could do worse than Berlin. For decades,
this city was divided west from the east in a geopolitical stalemate between two Germanys.
In the west, was the Federal Republic of Germany, a capitalist state with its western allies.
In the east, there was the German Democratic Republic a communist state aligned to the
Soviet Union. For the majority of this channel, you’ll likely hear me call them West and East
Germany. I’m your host David and today we will be talking about one of the major catalysts
in the creation of a formally divided Germany, The Berlin Airlift. This is…The Cold War.
Deep inside East Germany, you had Berlin. A city itself divided between west and east,
with a thin pathway to get people and goods in and out of the western half. Moreover,
between those two halves of Berlin was a big, concrete wall. The collapse of the Berlin
wall was one of the symbols of the collapse of the communist world order. Spoiler alert.
But how did a tiny pocket of West Germany inside east Germany survive for so many decades?
What strange confluence of geopolitical forces resulted in this unusual situation? It all
traces back to a tense moment in the winter of 1948, and a feat of airborne logistics
which saved a city. This is Germany in the 1940s, so you can guess
the start of this story. Like many stories on this channel, the roots stem from the Second
World War. When the allies finally defeated the Nazi Germany, they split Germany up into
four occupation zones. The Americans, French, and British each had a section in the western
half of Germany, while the Soviet Union occupied the sizeable eastern part. It gets a bit more
complicated though when you realize Berlin, the capital, was deep in the Soviet occupation
zone, more than a hundred miles in. Berlin itself was split four ways in much the same
way as Germany. So if relations were to break down between the Soviets and other allies,
these west Berliners were vulnerable. Now, the Soviets and western allies had different
ideas of how to deal with Germany after the war, as we hinted at our episodes on the Potsdam
Conference and the Marshall Plan. The Soviets, who suffered heavily in the fight against
the Germans, wanted to strip Germany of its industrial capacity. They wanted not only
to nerf Germany’s OP industrial base, but haul a bunch of it back to the Soviet Union
to help rebuild their own shattered economy. Gotta give it to the Soviets, their plans
are always at least direct. The west favoured a much more gentle approach. At the Potsdam
conference, they did agree with Stalin that Germany would need to pay for starting two
world wars in 3 decades, but they wanted to remake a successful, but denazified German
state. This was both to stabilize Europe, but as we also learned in the Marshall Plan
video, there was an ulterior motive to stop the spread of communism on Europe. Something
Stalin was clearly aware of. The Soviets thought the west had violated
the Potsdam agreement when they decided to economically join the British and American
occupied areas of Germany by reintroducing a common currency. They called it the Deutsche
Mark and it replaced the unstable Reichsmark. This attempt to secure West Germany’s economy
was a direct response to the Soviets staging a coup in Czechoslovakia. These exchanges
were among the first political rifts at the dawn of the Cold War.
The British and Americans offered some of this currency to the Soviets in East Germany.
But the Soviets preferred to print their own. By this point of the occupation, the Soviets
had a reputation of printing whatever money they needed to do what they needed. So, the
western allies did not like the idea. Nonetheless, the Soviets banned the Deutsche Mark in Berlin.
Despite that, Deutsche Marks were already there and accepted as the de facto currency.
The Soviets saw this as a plot to sneak in capitalist Marshall Plan influence. Stalin
decided to make a bold action to force the issue in their favour.
So, the Soviets shut down all the trains going into West Berlin. With the winter of 1948
coming, it would result in a winter of mass starvation. No food, no coal for home fires.
It could get bad. For humanitarian reasons, the western allies might have had to give
in to Soviet demands. So, the western allies tried something that
was thought to be impossible. They would try something never done before, at a scale never
tried. Without any other route to get supplies to Berlin, the allies decided to supply a
city entirely through air convoys known as an airlift. The Soviets couldn’t break an
agreement by shooting down planes full of humanitarian aid. There was no way for them
to make the excuse these planes were sneaking munitions into Berlin. In preparation for
the lift, they calculated the amount of food needed to supply all 2,000,000 Berliners with
the roughly 2,000 calories they needed each day. They also needed fuel to power and heat
their homes. This totalled to a little more than 5,000 tons of cargo flown into Berlin.
Daily. For some perspective, keep in mind that the cargo capacity of the C-47 Skytrain,
one of the most widely used aircraft in the Airlift had an approximate cargo capacity
of 6,000 pounds, or about 3 tons. The operation is widely accepted as the first large-scale
humanitarian project to ensure the survival of a city’s population in history.
Now, the US military was not the full World War Two Machine, but post-war, and had demobilized
many troops. Furthermore, many of the pilots stationed in Germany had flying experience.
But they had little training in flying supplies into a beleaguered city. They flew in planes
from across the US, UK, and France to commit this effort. At its greatest extent, a plane
landed in Berlin with supplies about every 30 seconds.
The fields reeked of fuel as every plane the US, UK, and France could muster was either
flying, fueling, or getting repairs. Mechanics worked around the clock to keep the aircraft
airworthy. The various makes, and builds of planes as well as coordinating with airports
and airspace required a timetable which was a feat in and of itself.
No one was sure it could even work. On the east side of Berlin, communist papers mocked
the attempt. Nonetheless, the amount of tonnage delivered began to increase and stabilize.
A remarkable machine of aeroplane logistics fed and fuelled a whole city. Wendover productions
would be impressed. It was far from perfect. Getting this operation
off the ground, pun fully intended, took quite a bit of time to work efficiently. Food was
still hard to come by in Berlin that winter. Many of the meals delivered were lacking in
nutritional value. This necessitated the delivery of artificial sources of nutrients like vitamin
C to prevent scurvy. This was also the 1940s and the state of aeroplane
technology meant during periods of bad weather these flights could be treacherous. There
were several crashes as a result, including two on one day nicknamed black Friday. But,
they adapted, they developed methods of safety, and things got better. They pulled off the
impossible. Even Soviet commanders in East Berlin wrote complaining about the noise of
this many planes coming and going. The Soviets decided to lift the blockade,
but this wasn’t some ultimate breakthrough. The political standoff in Europe was not over,
and the fate of Germany was still very much in the balance. The Soviet zone of Berlin
was told to stock up on supplies. This move made the west concerned the lifting of the
blockade might be a ploy to stall for time until the east German economy was ready to
resume it. The trains carrying supplies that were allowed into Berlin were still harassed
and over-inspected. The trains themselves had to use Soviet-supplied engines and crews.
The Soviets would change time tables without any forewarning. The Soviets banned 90% of
manufactured goods coming out of Berlin. The railway crews even went on strike over being
paid in East German currency. With all those factors combined, only about 31% of trains
went through in the months following the end of the blockade. Military trains, as you might
expect, were the most held up. The lack of supplies meant the airlift had to continue
in a diminished form for quite a while. The city was vulnerable. With hindsight, historians
are a little confused the western allies trusted the Soviets so much. Keep in mind, this trust
is what put them in such a vulnerable situation in the first place.
Through the tension, however, the western allies began to put the parts of Germany they
had control over back together. They reintegrated their economies and gave the country more
and more political autonomy. The Soviets did much the same, installing
a communist government as a Soviet client state. The western Germans would not accept
a unified Germany on Soviet terms, and vice versa. The two sides would increase the militarization
of the border between the zones of occupation. From there, the story becomes more familiar.
Germany would be split into two different countries for another forty years.
The division would receive an ominous icon in 1961 when East Germany built a concrete
wall through the Berlin Partition. A wall which would stand as the spot where these
two incompatible worlds clashed. The wall was a physical symbol of Churchill’s iron
curtain over Europe. In some ways, the crisis which sparked the Berlin airlift wouldn’t
end until 1989. I’m sure you have many questions about how the wall got built, and how it went
down and we here at the Cold War will discuss that and more in our future videos, so make
sure you are subscribed to our channel and have pressed the bell button. We rely on our
patrons to create these videos, so consider supporting us via www.patreon.com/thecoldwar.
This the Cold War channel and we will catch you on the next one.

You Might Also Like

58 Comments

  • Reply The Cold War July 19, 2019 at 10:10 pm

    Consider supporting us on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/thecoldwar

  • Reply Adi doki July 20, 2019 at 12:29 am

    The great war vibe in this vid

  • Reply haridge July 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    The Berlin air luft

  • Reply Culpable Injustice July 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    First

    Letter of the alphabet is a

  • Reply Benjamin Gibson July 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Take that Stalin.

  • Reply Francisco MM July 20, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Great video. Extra credits also did a good video about the Berlin airlift. Check it out

  • Reply Schmidty July 20, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    That wendover productions mention though. Sneaky!

  • Reply Schmidty July 20, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    So what happened after the airlift? Did they drive materials and food in by truck through Soviet territory? How was Berlin supplied after the airlift?

  • Reply Oslo MGTOW July 20, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks for taking the recommendations of the subscribers into consideration. …. Don't know if his wife has said this, but the energy and output has improved a lot in recent videos. 😉

  • Reply dzejrid July 20, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    What are your sources? Why do you not put those in the description?

  • Reply 朱雀桥上 July 20, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    This video is very good,
    can you allow me to reprint the video of your channel to the Chinese video website BiliBili?
    Because the Chinese can't watch videos on Youtube.

  • Reply Esteban Castellino July 20, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    yes, I'd like to order one of those black&white tvs. Also a vinil player, a battery radio and a phone cabin. Also a walkman. Also an ATARI. Pack everything and send it to my mail box. Do not glue the stamps, I collect them xD

  • Reply Adam Latosiński July 20, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Germans started two World Wars? I thought it was the Austrians…

  • Reply Henrique Maximo July 20, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    That Wendover Productions reference did put a smile on my face!

  • Reply Warrcoww July 20, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Well, with that Wendover Productions shoutout, I’d just like to add that the airlift carried the equivalent of 1,642,857 Toyota Corollas in to West Berlin.

  • Reply Zadrigo July 20, 2019 at 2:17 pm

    So instead of having several beautiful German states (at least 4) competing against each other, stupid Allies had to combine them into a single state that today poses danger to the entire European continent and became dominant through currency and market manipulation, thus making another war quite possible.

  • Reply peeravich chirakunakorn July 20, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    10:19 the first troll

  • Reply oldiron1223 July 20, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    The Berlin Airlift was also the first major "real world" operation conducted by the newly created United States Air Force. Having only been spun off the U.S. Army a few months before and still in the initial organizational phases win no developed logistics, training, personnel infrastructure it was amazing that the brand new service was able to mount such an operation without more losses of aircraft.

  • Reply Roger López July 20, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    Do a "Latin America in the cold war"

  • Reply Julien Berndt July 20, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    love the wendover shout out for logistics!

  • Reply John Rolf July 20, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Another unsourced video. Yeah I'm going to keep commenting that until you post some sources.

  • Reply Lucas Johnson July 20, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    How could you not even mention the Candy Bomber?! No Berlin Airlift documentary is complete without it!! Disliked!

  • Reply FloatWave July 20, 2019 at 4:33 pm

    7:12 Laughing so hard rn! :DD Wendover is great and he sure loves planes

  • Reply Leonor Bolek July 20, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    1. You didn't mention economic crisis of the Eastern Berlin after the introduction of new currency.
    2. You didn't mention the order of general Kotikov that had allowed around 100.000 of western berliners to receive food from the soviet occupation zone until prohibitions were imposed by commandants of Western Berlin.

    UPD: This documentary was only dedicated to the airlift, not to the blockade in general. Sorry.

  • Reply PIYUSH BANERJEE July 20, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    Hope you'll cover the Checkpoint Charlie incident…

  • Reply CreatorUser July 20, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Stalin was mad the U.S. and British merged their zones? Did he really think they would just keep Germany divided into four separate places forever?

  • Reply Random Person July 20, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    lol wendover productions would be impressed

  • Reply Trần Thanh Trung July 20, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    Stalin: Ok, you won!

  • Reply براہمداغ July 20, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Whoever wrote this episode, is a true nerd confirmed.

  • Reply omer ashraf July 20, 2019 at 6:18 pm

    do the clashes between soviet and american pilot clashes over korea !!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reply SgtAlex Green July 20, 2019 at 7:16 pm

    10:18 Churchill's iron curtain?

  • Reply jason4275 July 21, 2019 at 1:40 am

    The Berlin Airlift is something that people in Berlin should celebrate every year, because the vast majority of the people alive today living in that city are the decedents and they would not be alive to day without the Airlift.

  • Reply Isaac Vincent July 21, 2019 at 11:09 am

    Informative, but lacks any of the human moments that really make the story interesting.

  • Reply Wojszach July 21, 2019 at 11:33 am

    as far as I know Austro-Hungary started first

  • Reply Hélicon Gremory July 21, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    NERF GERMANY, OP !!!

  • Reply Haris Ahmed July 21, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Can you do vids on South Asia

  • Reply blacktea65 July 21, 2019 at 7:22 pm

    Race to the Moon next!

  • Reply Rob K July 22, 2019 at 12:20 am

    10:19 Stalin's Iron Curtain over Europe.

  • Reply bpcgos July 22, 2019 at 5:38 am

    I wish you would talk about independence of Indonesia, Sukarno, aggression by NiCA after that and of course Non-Block Movement that didnt side either Communist (eastern bloc) or Liberal (western bloc), which one of the inisiator is Indonesia (You have been mentioned a bit of it when talking Yugoslavia a few weeks back). As an Indonesian ,I am curious about outside opinion on how we get our independence from Japan, and when Netherland want to take over our country as a part of their prize after Allies win on WW II.

  • Reply Pascal Johnson July 22, 2019 at 6:34 am

    "… nerf Germany's overpowered industrial base…" haha. You grinned a little as you said that.

  • Reply Dewey Dezimal July 22, 2019 at 8:27 am

    "Start two world wars in less than three decades." Wait, there were three world wars?

  • Reply BeWater July 22, 2019 at 5:21 pm

    You forgot to mention one of the most important effects of the Berlin Airlift: winning over the West-German population!
    The efford was a huge PR-success and changed the perception of the Allies from being occupant to friends for many people. Remember that from the perspective of everyday Germans the Allied soldiers were the people who bombed their houses and killed their families. The "Rosinenbomber" helped change that image.

  • Reply Carl Vanderlip July 23, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    So let me get this straight, after being sanctioned, capitalist Berlin started to fail, and to save it the capitalists enacted a planned economy.

  • Reply John Yuill July 26, 2019 at 11:35 am

    Love your format! Reminds me of the Great War series!

  • Reply japeking1 July 26, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    My dad was a Dakota test pilot in 1946. Demobbed, he went back to his 'tiffy job at the factory. They asked him to come back for the airlift but I was being born, he had had enough of being away from home and there seemed no future in flying. How different things could have been.

  • Reply MegaBinn August 1, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    I love the subject but I would prefer these videos with the voice of all the other Battle videos

  • Reply Green Andy August 2, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    Man i love this channel.

  • Reply Ben Sagal-Morris August 3, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    Why was the Berlin Wall even mentioned yet? It wasn’t put up until 1961.

  • Reply Spyros Vassilakis August 3, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    Stalin is willing to starve out civilians for political gain… Nothing new here…

  • Reply azkrouz reimertz August 4, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    so does this channel have a cooperation with The Great War channel and World War Two channel? because you seem to be copying their format. also links to the materials your are using for the videos would be awesome.

    besides that though i appreciate your videos, great content!

  • Reply FatMax1492 - August 6, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Is this like a ripoff channel of the Timeghost channels TheGreatWar, BetweenTwoWars and WorldWarTwo?

  • Reply KibaONE87 August 8, 2019 at 10:01 am

    The gdr wasn't communist they considered themselves socialist. Huge difference

  • Reply WhyName WhyName August 13, 2019 at 1:04 am

    Put your chin down. Don't look down your nose at people you autist. Most folks don't like that. It's primordial in case you're wondering. It's instinctively trying to eat someone.

  • Reply Daniel Duckmeister September 19, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    Remember to keep your 3ops cards to discard for Berlin Airlift… Ah twilight struggle and the Cold War

  • Reply rockyblacksmith October 9, 2019 at 1:21 pm

    Fun fact on the currency reform:
    As the soviets had to introduce their own new "Deutsche Mark" in their zone of occupation, they intitially didn't have the banknotes to do so, they hadn't been printed yet.
    So at first, they simply used the old Reichsmark banknotes, and stuck postage stamp-sized ahdesive coupons onto them.
    These were known colloquially as "Klebemark" – "sticker mark"

  • Reply rockyblacksmith November 5, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Fun fact; The allies had a bit of trouble transporting salt into Berlin, as saltdust is highly corrosive and would have damaged the planes.
    Their solution was to use flying boats, which landed on the river Havel. As they were built for use in seawater, they were resistant to corrosion.

  • Reply Spectrum Studios November 6, 2019 at 1:21 am

    Umm just so you know Germany didn’t start WW1. AusroHungarian empire did.

  • Reply arafdi November 7, 2019 at 12:38 am

    "… Germany would need to pay… for starting two world warsin three decades."

    Austria be like: "*looks away*"

  • Leave a Reply