In the early hours of June 24, 1948, an order from Joseph Stalin halted all road and rail traffic into and out of the Allied sector of Berlin. Stalin also cut off all electricity to the city. Western Berlin was now comparable to an island surrounded by a sea of red, which was the Russian-occupied zone of Germany. The only route into Berlin was by means of three twenty-mile-wide air corridors across the Soviet zone of Germany. Thus the wartime allies of Britain, France, and the USA realized that the only option open to them was to supply the beleaguered West Berlin by air transport and so started one of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century.
The airlift started immediately. At the beginning there were three loading airfields: Rhein Main and Wiesbaden in the American zone and Weinstorf in the British zone. By September of 1948, the airlift was transporting a massive tonnage of supplies into Berlin, including coal, food, medical supplies, and all the other necessities of life. A mixed fleet of aircraft plodded their endless path to and from the city. DC-3s, Avro Yorks, and many ex-World War II bombers were dragged out of retirement to save the city--as were the pilots who flew them.
In November 1948, the Russian military authorities threatened to force down western aircraft if they flew out-side the twenty-mile-wide corridors, but by March 1949, a total of 45,683 tons of supplies per week were being flown into Berlin. The following month Russia finally announced her intention to end the blockade after 328 days. A massive total of 2,325,509 tons of vital supplies had saved what became known as West Berlin.
Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell have written extensively on military history and warfare. Their previous works have focused on both World War I and World War II. Their other books include The RAF Air Sea Rescue Service 1918-1986, Battle of Britain 1917, and The Battle of Jutland.show more