The Berlin Airlift 1948 – 1949, Part One 27th May 2018. This is dedicated to a man, the son of a Yorkshire miner, who served his country in Iraq 1936 – 1941, Egypt 1941 – 1943, Canada 1944, Air Bomber Lancaster No 153 Squadron 1944 – 1945, No 12 Squadron post WW2, No 18 Squadron Berlin Airlift and a teacher for 40 years. A much missed warrior and father. Post War Tensions After the final surrender of Nazi Germany, the Allies signed the Potsdam Agreement, which was a natural progression from the highly unsatisfactory Yalta Conference of February 1945. The aim of the conference was to shape a post-war peace that represented not just a collective security of the major powers, but a plan to give self-determination to the liberated peoples of post-Nazi Europe. During the Moscow Conference of 1944 from which President Roosevelt was absent, Stalin and Churchill carved up a post-war Europe into zones of influence. During the Yalta conference held in the Crimea, Stalin’s home territory, Churchill was side-lined and Roosevelt was a sick and dying man. Within months of Yalta, Roosevelt was dead and Churchill had been turfed out of office. But Stalin was still there and like all successful dictators, he was playing the long game. The defeated Germany was divided into four, supposedly temporary occupation zones, roughly corresponding to the areas the armies of the major powers occupied. The city of Berlin, which was 100 miles inside Soviet controlled East Germany, was also divided into occupation zones: The United States, United Kingdom, and France controlled western portions of the city, while Soviet troops controlled the eastern sector. Berlin zones of occupation. No Berlin Wall existed at this time The Soviet occupied zone of Germany was forcibly unified under the Communist Party of Germany and the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The SED leaders then called for the “establishment of an anti-fascist, democratic regime, a parliamentary democratic republic” while the Soviet Military Administration suppressed all other political activities. Factories, equipment, technicians, managers and skilled personnel were removed to the Soviet Union at gunpoint when protests were attempted. In 1945 Stalin met with German Communist leaders and he informed them that he expected them to undermine the British position within their occupied zone and that the Americans would withdraw after a year or so. Then nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of a reunified Germany under communist tenet, within the sphere of Soviet control. A major factor that complicated the Allies’ position was that no formal agreement had ever been made, regarding guaranteeing access to the city by road or railways through the Soviet zone. After the war the Allies had come to rely on Soviet goodwill, but access to the city from the west was limited to a single railway line running ten trains per day, a two-lane Autobahn and three air corridors, which the Soviets refused to allow any expansion of. In 1946 the Soviets stopped shipments of agricultural goods and food from their zone of occupation into the Allied controlled areas of the city. To put it brutally, Stalin was attempting to undermine the Allied occupation of the city with slow starvation. The United States responded to the asset stripping of German industry by the Soviets by stopping any exports from West Germany to the Soviet Union. In parallel to these manoeuvres, Stalin entered a concerted public relations campaign to undermine Allied policy regarding Berlin and continued to obstruct all administrative activity in the four zones of the city, including their own. The US hadn’t even made a commitment to remain in Berlin following the establishment of a West German government planned for 1949. Berlin was pivotal to the US and Soviets who were attempting to realign Europe into their versions for the future. As Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov noted, “What happens to Berlin, happens to Germany; what happens to Germany, happens to Europe. The war had wrecked Berlin and its pre-war population of 4.3 million had been reduced to 2.8 million. The treatment of the German people by the Soviets in their occupation zones, caused a backlash in the local elections of 1946. Berliners overwhelmingly elected non-Communist members to the city council. The Allies coordinated the economies of their occupied zones and in the London Agreement on German External Debt Agreement would see the German debt halved to fifteen billion marks, stretched out over 30 years and these debts had minimal impact given fast-growing German economy. Meanwhile, the population of Britain was still under rationing. In January 1948 the Soviets began stopping trains to Berlin to check passenger identities and cargo manifests. Stalin met with his military advisors and a secret memo was sent to Molotov in March 1948 outlining a plan to force Western policy into line with the Soviet plan by “regulating” access to Berlin. On 25th March 1948 the Soviets issued orders restricting passenger traffic between West Germany to Berlin and between the Allied occupation zones in the city. Additionally, no cargo could leave Berlin by train without the permission of the Soviet commander. All trucks and trains were searched by Soviet authorities. On 2nd April General Clay the US commander halted all military trains and instructed that the military garrison was to be supplied by air. This action was known as “The Little Lift.” The Air Corridors into Berlin While the Soviets eased their restrictions on traffic into the city on 10th April 1948, for the next seventy-five days they sporadically stopped traffic. At this time the US forces were operating twenty flights a day into the city, to not only supply the garrison, but build up stockpiles against future Soviet aggression. Soviet military aircraft began to violate West Berlin airspace and “buzz” Allied flights into and out of the city. On 5th April a Soviet Yak-3 collided with a British European Airways Vickers Viking 1B near Gatow airfield killing all on board the two aircraft. However the Soviets had misread Allied intentions and stated: “Our control and restrictive measures have dealt a strong blow to the prestige of the Americans and British in Germany” and that the Americans have “admitted” that the idea of an airlift would be too expensive. On 9 April, Soviet officials demanded that American military personnel maintaining communication equipment in the Eastern zone must withdraw, thus preventing the use of navigation beacons to mark air routes. On 20 April, the Soviets demanded that all barges on the waterways into the city obtain clearance before entering the Soviet zone. On 19th June 1948 Soviet guards halted all trains and closed the Autobahn into Berlin. That same day, a Soviet representative told the other three occupying powers that “We are warning both you and the population of Berlin that we shall apply economic and administrative sanctions that will lead to the circulation in Berlin exclusively of the currency of the Soviet occupation zone. The Soviets conducted military manoeuvres outside the city and German Communists spread rumours that the Soviets were about to occupy all of Berlin. West Berlin had thirty-six days of food and forty-five days’ worth of coal and the British and US forces were severely outnumbered because of the indecent haste to scale back their post-war military. The entire US Army was 552,000 in 1948 and there were 8,973 US troops, 7,606 British and 6,100 French to garrison the city. US war plans relied on their nuclear capability, but they possessed only fifty atomic bombs and thirty-five “Silverplate” B29 delivery aircraft with pitifully few trained assembly personnel and aircrew. While three B29 bomber groups arrived in August 1948, the Soviets knew that they weren’t “Silverplate” capable. Stalin was never so foolish as to believe in a “peace dividend” and had maintained a huge army in Europe. There were 1.5 million Soviet troops surrounding Berlin alone. Despite the little resistance the two US and two British Divisions could have put up, General Clay summed up the reasons for not retreating from the city as follows: “There is no practicability in maintaining our position in Berlin and it must not be evaluated on that basis…. We are convinced that our remaining in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for good or bad, it has become a symbol of the American intent.” It can be surmised that this was British position as well. The French units remained an unknown quantity as their best troops were in Indo China and North Africa. And let’s not forget that the nice Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee had in 1948 agreed to supplying Russia with British jet engine technology. To Stalin’s amazement, the British Labour government and its Minister of Trade, Sir Stafford Cripps, were perfectly willing to provide technical information and a license to manufacture the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engines. Sample engines were purchased and delivered with blueprints. Following evaluation and adaptation to Russian conditions, the windfall technology was tooled for mass-production as the Klimov RD-45 to be incorporated into the MiG-15. How the American, Australian and British pilots over Korea must have cheered such an altruistic gesture of generosity. It was completely bizarre decisions such as Attlee’s made in the post war that had emboldened Stalin. He believed that the US and Britain had little option other than acquiescing to Soviet demands, but General Clay believed that the Soviets were bluffing and trying to force diplomatic and trade concessions from the West. The commander of US Air Forces in Europe, General Curtiss LeMay wanted a bellicose response to Soviet aggression. He presented a plan where B29s with fighter escorts would bomb Soviet air bases, while a ground offensive forced its way east into Berlin. Washington vetoed the plan. Meanwhile, food and coal supplies were beginning to run short in West Berlin. Blown Periphery Going Postal blog UK.