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Known as Operation 'Plainfare' by the British and Operation 'Vittles' by the Americans, the Berlin Airlift was the first major confrontation between the East and the West.
The divided city of Berlin lay deep in Soviet territory, connected to West Germany by formally agreed road, rail, waterway and air 'corridors'. Anxious to oust their former American, British and French Allies, the Soviets embarked on a progressive strangulation of the city, beginning in January 1948. Currency reforms, opposed by the Russians, introduced in the West of the country in June 1948 were to be the catalyst that sparked the Berlin Blockade in earnest. Access between West Berlin and West Germany was prohibited on the ground.
Two and a half million Berliners, as well as the Allied garrisons, needed to be supplied with food, fuel and the means to continue production and export. The only way to supply the city was by the three air corridors into Berlin from Hamburg (95 miles), Hanover (117 miles) and Frankfurt (216 miles). The aircraft flew to Tempelhof, Gatow and Tegal (built in November 1948). Initially the situation was improvised and uncoordinated, but soon developed into an efficient operation that at its peak was landing aircraft at three-minute intervals. Realising that the Western half of the city was coping well the Russians lifted the Blockade on 12 May 1949.
In 1951 a memorial was unveiled in Berlin commemorating the 76 casualties of the Airlift, both aircrew and civilians.
Cover of Der Alt...Task Force Times, 1948. This American publication was distributed to those involved in the Berlin Airlift. Its humour provided a great morale boost to often exhausted personnel. This shows the three corridors, the American base of Rhein-Main can be seen on this front cover. Wunstorf, Fassberg and Celle were the principal RAF bases.
British and American air force officers consulting an operations plan during the Berlin Airlift. The photograph shows Squadron Leader F B Moss of Operations Control Royal Air Force, with Captain J R Markey of the United States Air Force, at Luneburg in the British Zone of Germany.
British and American military personnel confer while unloading the cargo of a Royal Air Force York transport aircraft at RAF Gatow, 1949. It was important to get a plane unloaded and away in the shortest possible time. The military and civilian personnel loading and unloading the cargoes played a vital role in the Berlin Airlift.
Aircrew relaxing on board a Short Sunderland Mark 5 of No. 201 Squadron, Royal Air Force, moored on Lake Havel in Berlin, Germany, 1948. For the first few months of the Berlin Airlift, Short Sunderlands flew and landed on Lake Havel in Berlin. The ice and snow of a Berlin winter stopped them flying. The air crew had only a short period before they would have to fly out again while their cargo was unloaded.
Flight Lieutenant P M Parsons, Commanding Officer, WRAF contingent at Gatow holding mascot dog 'Dakota', 1948. This dachshund dog was given as a gift by Berlin civilians in recognition of the contingent's contribution to the Airlift. Named after one of the main aircraft employed on the Airlift, he became its mascot.
The Royal Air Force evacuates sick children from Berlin, 1948. The British ran a scheme by which undernourished German children were evacuated from Berlin to the British Zone of West Germany. Some 16,000 children were evacuated in this way.
Photographs showing German children being evacuated from Berlin to the British zone of West Germany, February 1949. The British ran a scheme by which undernourished German children were evacuated from Berlin to the British Zone of West Germany. Some 16,000 children were evacuated in this way.
Flight arriving during the Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949. A Douglas C-54 Skymaster of the Military Air Transport Service, US Air Force coming in to land at Templehof Airport, Berlin, watched by a crowd of German civilians.