May 12th in German History: The Berlin Blockade Ends

Berlin blockade | Overview, Significance, History, & Facts ...
Berliners watch a transport plane, a C-54, land with its cargo of food and fuel. Image credit: Encyclopedia Britannica.

On May 12th, 1949, the Soviet Union lifted its blockade on West Berlin. The lifting of the blockade ended the “Berlin Airlift”, the operation in which the British and Americans used planes to fly massive amounts of supplies to Berlin. The blockade had been instituted in June of 1948 by Joseph Stalin, who thought that cutting off and starving out Berlin would force the Western powers to give it up to the Soviet Union. The stated purpose was to force the Allies to withdraw the new German currency, the Deutschmark, from West Berlin. Aircrews from the US, Britain, and the Commonwealth flew 200,000 sorties in a year providing coal and food to the city’s population. In the end, the airlift was actually able to deliver more supplies than would have reached the city by rail in an equivalent amount of time. The Soviets were unwilling to provoke open conflict, especially since they did not yet have the Atomic Bomb, and so did not fire on the transport planes. Nevertheless, accidents did result in 101 fatalities during the operation. The Berlin Airlift heightened tensions between the West and the East. The US and the Soviet Union, two nations once closely aligned, now sparred over spheres of influence. The operation also had importance for the German people. It ensured that West Berlin would remain under the control of democratic West Germany, and helped restore German national spirit. It also increased German faith in democratic powers and democracy in general, and ensured that the people of West Germany would support joining NATO. Perhaps the most iconic consequence of the blockade was the Berlin Wall, which was constructed once the Soviet Union lost hope that they would be able to take full control of Berlin.

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