The Berlin Wall is a historical symbol of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall is a symbol of the end of the Cold War. At the same time, the Berlin Wall has played an extremely important role in the life of millions of people and defined the fate of German people, which has been separated by the Wall for decades. In fact, it was the most obvious frontier separating two worlds, the totalitarian world of the socialist world totally controlled by the USSR and the democratic world.
It is hardly possible to underestimate the historical value of the fall of the Berlin Wall because this event designated one of the main historical facts of the late 20th century, the ruin of the totalitarian socialist system and the reunification of German people. Briefly speaking the fall of the Berlin Wall has changed the world dramatically, especially the life of German people. On the other hand, it is also obvious that the existence of the Berlin Wall was not less significant for the world community at large and German people in particular.
This is why it is extremely important to discuss the fall of the Berlin Wall and its consequences. However, it is impossible to clearly realise all the affects of the fall of the Berlin Wall without discussion of its historical role and the causes, which actually led to its ruination.
History of the Berlin Wall and the causes of its fall
Obviously, the fall of the Berlin Wall is probably the greatest event in the contemporary history of German and the world at large. Nonetheless, it is also necessary to take into consideration that the creation of the Wall was not less important for the whole world than its fall.
First of all, it should be said that the building of the Berlin Wall is a result of a growing tension between two superpower, the US and the USSR. In this respect, it should be pointed out that the building of the Berlin Wall is a logical result of the occupation of Germany by western allies and the USSR. Such an occupation resulted into the division of the country into several zones of occupation controlled by different countries. Basically, it is possible to strictly define them into two main parts: Western Germany, FRG, controlled by the US and its allies and Eastern Germany, GDR, controlled by the USSR.
At first glance, it seems to be quite a strange why the decision to build the war in the heart of Europe which divided a large city was taken. In this respect, it is necessary to take into consideration the historical circumstances, which led to the creation of the Wall. It is very important to underline that the building of the Berlin Wall was a great historical step which symbolized the separation of Eastern, socialist Germany as well as the rest of socialist Europe from their Western, capitalist neighbours.
Naturally, the tension between the worldâs superpowers grew and the division of the world into socialist and democratic parts were practically inevitable. In such a situation Berlin, being occupied and controlled by four countries, the US, the UK, France and the USSR, could not fail to remain the epicentre of the international tension. In fact, there were a lot of factors which contributed to the decision to build the war in Berlin, such as a currency reform in 1948 and the following ineffective Soviet blockade of the city, but the causes of the building the Wall are not so important in relation to its fall and historical consequences of this event as the numerous inconveniences provoked by the creation of the Berlin Wall, which often resulted in tragedies.
Nonetheless, it is worth to note that the Berlin Wall was built in order to prevent a flow of emigrants from East Berlin to West Berlin. In fact, it was the main function of the Wall, i.e. to stop illegal emigration of people living in socialist GDR to democratic FDR. In such a way, the creation of the Wall in Berlin may be assessed as the âgolden ageâ of the Cold War when the world was divided not only ideologically but physically as well. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the building of the Berlin War was probably the only possible way out for East Germany, which permitted to stop human drain from East to West. For instance, it should be said that before the Berlin Wall was erected nearly 3.5 million people had left the GDR for West Germany that was a very significant number which threatened to desert East Berlin if the trend were continued. In such a situation it is quite natural that the building of the Berlin Wall stopped dramatically the stream of refugees (Gordeeva 1998-2006).
Moreover, it is necessary to underline that such a decision was undertaken uniquely by the Soviet administration without any consultations with Western allies. In such a situation the US, which were actually the only superpower that could really oppose to the USSR preferred to sustain status quo and did not take any efficient steps in response to the Soviet demarche in order to prevent the construction of the Wall. Obviously, it could be perceived as a sort of betray of people inhabiting East Berlin and socialist Germany at large.
Unfortunately, ordinary people suffered the most from such a decision of socialist government of GDR, which was naturally influenced by the USSR. In this respect, it is noteworthy that inhabitants of Berlin were the most affected by the building of the Wall. The construction of the Berlin Wall contributed to the significant decrease of the emigration from East Berlin to West Berlin.
However, the considerable decrease of emigration from East Berlin to West Berlin was not the only consequence of the building of the Wall. The consequences of building of the Wall affected practically the same spheres as its fall though with a different results. To put it more precisely, the Wall not only stopped the flow of refugees but also it cut the economic links between East and West Berlin, and it deprived thousands of East Germans of their livelihoods. Moreover, many East Berliners were cut off from their jobs, many families were split and chances for financial betterment (Buckley 2006, p.63). Obviously, such a situation naturally led to a profound economic crisis that affected many families in East German. In such a situation, it is probably only due to a strong state support and aid from the USSR that prevent East Berlin and the GDR from unpredictable economic, political and social consequences of the construction of the Wall. It is obvious that the totalitarian regime deprived all attempts to protest against the building of the Berlin Wall.
Nonetheless, authoritarian methods that were amply used by the totalitarian government of the GDR could not prevent people from attempts to escape from the âsocialist paradiseâ to the âcapitalist hellâ. There were a lot of examples when people attempted to escape to West Berlin even when it was dangerous for their lives because the government of the GDR and the USSR occupant forces put all their efforts on preventing any attempts of illegal emigration from East Berlin while any legal emigration was practically impossible. It is worthy to note that there was a clear Defence Ministry order 101, according to which âborder violators should be destroyed and all attempts to breach the defences should be preventedâ (Berlin Wall, 2006). Basically, under the communist regime the Wall served its intended purpose to thwart emigration (Berlin Wall, 2006).
In fact, it is possible to say that the Berlin Wall made the life of thousands, if not to say millions of people, practically unbearable. It separated German people, many families and friends were separated and could not communicate with each other. Practically, Eastern German turned to be in a complete isolation from Western Germany. The situation could not be improved even by a certain economic improvement in Eastern Germany in mid-1960s when the GDR âwas enjoying a period of relative prosperityâ (Wikipedia 2006).
Moreover, even a slight economic improvement did not stop the 600-700 of people who tried to escape each year (Childs p.64). These attempts seem to be practically heroic in the situation when several hundreds of people had been killed during such attempts, while others were captured after being wounded with automatic guns or mines along the border, and sentenced to long prison terms. Obviously, the Berlin Wall caused a lot of deaths and tragedies in lives of many people.
However, it would erroneous to think that only Eastern Berliners and Eastern Germans suffered from the Berlin Wall. There were not less tragic cases in Western Germany. For instance, once a West German painter committed a suicide intentionally ramming his head against the concrete wall is the one and only case of someone dying on the western side of the Great Divide (Online Highways 2002-2005) but moral sufferings on the West side of the wall were not less tragic because many of them lost friends, families, and opportunities to visit their native land.
In such a situation, it is obvious that the fall of the Berlin Wall was inevitable because people could not live in isolations and it was practically impossible to stop hundreds and thousands of attempts to escape, regardless the threat of death. At the same time, it is necessary to clearly realise that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the result of the victory of democratic forces in the Cold War. It is evident that the totalitarian regime controlling the GDR and Eastern Europe was about to ruin and the changes started in many socialist countries, including the USSR and naturally the GDR could not fail to lead to democratisation of the country. At the same time, any democratic changes in Eastern Germany were impossible until the symbol of totalitarian regime existed, i.e. the Berlin Wall. Consequently, the peopleâs desire to live in a democratic country provoked the fall of the Berlin Wall.
At the same time, it is necessary to underline that there was another strong desire to unite Germany and German people. Actually, since 1989, before the Wall was physically ruined, German people had got an opportunity to move freely without any restrictions regardless the Wall but people could hardly forget thousands of Germans died and imprisoned, while attempting to trespass the border.
Thus, the fall of the Berlin Wall was as symbolic as its construction since the latter symbolised separation of Germany and German people, while the former was basically caused by the desire of German people live in a united country. However, the consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the following unification of Germany turned to be not so optimistic as millions of people probably hoped.
Consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Obviously the unification of a country is a very complicated process that affects all spheres of life. The case of Germany is particularly problematic because two absolutely different countries were untied. Moreover, it is even possible to estimate that the countries from two opposing worlds were united in one, solid Germany. In fact, it is hardly possible to unite Eastern Germany, where the local totalitarian regime controlled all spheres of life and where plan economy was the only form of economic development of the country, with highly developed capitalist economy of Western Germany, based on the principles of free market economy and high entrepreneurial activity.
In this respect, it is very important to point out that the fall of the Berlin Wall provoked a number of problems. In fact it changed patterns in the city and the fall created chaos. There were a host of problems and crimes connected with the new, uncontrolled borders were almost immediately. Among them were increases in highway accidents, weapons and currency smuggling and robberies. Early in 1990, a rash of bomb threats hit East Germany (Ansteigen, Die Polizei 1990, p.287). However, socio-economic and political consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall are probably the most significant.
A. Economic consequences
Speaking about economic consequences of reunification of Germany, it is necessary to underline that it is a very complicated process since the united Germany has to re-establish economic links broken by the Cold War and division of Germany. In fact the difference between Western and Eastern parts of Germany was so significant that it was possible to speak about economic retardation of Eastern Germany from economically advanced Western Germany. As a result, the fall of the Berlin Wall led to the situation when âEast Berlin being so poor from socialism blended with the richer republic Westâ (Thomas 2003, p.291). Moreover, such a situation was typical for the whole country. In such a situation economic inequality between East and West created a significant socio-economic tension since Western Germans believed that they have to support Eastern Germans, while Eastern Germans blamed Western Germans in the deterioration of socio-economic situation in the country, and especially in the deterioration of their own position and welfare.
In fact the situation in East Germany has changed dramatically. For instance, it should be pointed out that despite 1.5 trillion USD that has flown from west to east since reunification, unemployment in the east is almost twice as high as the 11 percent in the west. Moreover, in some eastern regions it is three times as high (Haider 2004). It means that the fall of Berlin Wall led to the profound economic crisis, which basically affected Eastern Germany and directly involved Western Germany, which, actually, had to support its Eastern regions after the reunification of the country.
The deterioration of economic situation in Germany in the result of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which is actually synonymous to reunification of Germany, may be explained quite simply. First of all, it should be said that the reunification of the country implied primarily economic integration of Western and Eastern regions that was not an easy task to do taking into consideration the difference in economic development of the former GDR and Western Germany.
Furthermore, it was necessary to provide efficient integration of both parts of Germany economically that implies monetary unification, development of common standards of work, such as working hours, payments, conditions of work, etc., and life, such as level of income, access to education, households, quality of life at large. It is obvious that the wages of Eastern Germans were lower, as well as the level of income, the quality of life, their households were poorer compared to Western Germans, even the level of education, being rather high, was quite arguable point in comparison between West and East Germany. As a result, Eastern regions became the main receivers of economic aid and donations of Western regions, which were amply stimulated by the government to invest in the economy of Eastern Germany.
Nonetheless, despite all efforts of the government of the reunified Germany, the Eastern Germany economy continues to be a costly-long term process, which needs modernization and integration. Annually, there is about $70 billion transferred from West to East. In September 2004, a poll by Forsa Institute found that 25 percent of West Germans and 12 percent of East Germans wished that the Berlin Wall again cut off East Germans from West Germany (Reuters 2004). Obviously, to a significant extent, such a desire is a result of numerous economic problems between West and East Germany because West Germans do not want to âsponsorâ East Germans, while East Germans regret about the epoch of economic stability when the state provided citizens with work, money, and financial support.
Moreover, the deterioration of socio-economic development of Germany resulted in the situation when the East or the West does not think that they benefit financially from the reunification. In comparison, East Berliners are least likely to get a professional job than West Berliners, and some West Berliners would rather marry a foreigner than an East Berliner (Reuters 2004).
Anyway, it is obvious that even after sixteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification, the economic differences between East and West Germany remain still very significant.
B. Political consequences
Despite important socio-economic consequences of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this event also affected dramatically political life of the unified Germany, as well as other countries. To put it more precisely, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall Germany had become a âPromised Landâ for refugees from neighbouring socialist countries, where local totalitarian regimes were still rather strong or where economic situation was even worse than in Eastern Germany.
On the other hand, neighbouring more democratised countries became a desirable shelter form East Germans who wanted to escape from the GDR just before the Berlin Wall fell. For instance, the Hungarian government border opened for East German refugees on September 10, 1989, more than 13,000 East Germans escaped. This was a big step for East Germans freedom (Bayne 2005). Naturally, the fall of the Berlin Wall made such escapes not so vitally important for many East Germans because it gave them political and civil freedom. In fact, Eastern Germans had eventually got basic civil rights and opportunities to live in a democratic society.
In other words, the fall of the Berlin Wall made East Germans free. They had got free access of information, the right to open political discussions, the freedom of thoughts and creativity, the right to maintain a plural ideology, a right to descend, the right to travel freely, the right to exert influence over government authority, the right to re-examine their beliefs, the right to voice an opinion in the affairs of state (Bayne 2005).
As a result, after the fall of the Berlin Wall Eastern Germany inevitably joined the cohort of democratic countries and totally rejected its totalitarian past. Thus, people of the country could be really free and independent from the dominant political ideology in the country. Moreover, politically the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolised the fall of the socialist regime and dictatorship of the USSR in the policy of Eastern European countries. Actually, it symbolised the end of the Cold War and the victory of democracy, at least in Europe.
Ethical issues related to the fall of the Berlin Wall
In fact, the fall of the Berlin Wall provoked many problems and opened a lot of opportunities. Naturally, it is quite difficult to properly assess this event from ethical point of view. On the one hand, it is a really great event that has changed the world for better and affected the life of millions of people in Germany uniting the nation. On the other hand, there is still a strong feeling of dissatisfaction that many Germans suffer from. Consequently, the only possible solution of such a dilemma is to attempt to find out whether the fall of the German Wall was positive or negative event in the history of German people, at least.
First of all, it should be said that the Berlin Wall was not simply a symbol of a totalitarian regime in Eastern Germany but it was also a cause of deaths of thousands of people because it separated Eastern Germans from better world, as they believed. Naturally, they desired to trespass and died or were arrested. Consequently, the Berlin Wall was a cause of deaths and sufferings of many people. This is why from ethical point of view it was necessary to ruin this terrible construction.
Furthermore, the Wall separated friends and families that provoked moral sufferings of a great number of people. This is another argument in favour of the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the same time, the fall of the Wall symbolised not only the unification of families or friends but also the unification of whole people that may be viewed as a historical necessity. Actually, it seems to be quite strange when people, which have the common culture, traditions, and moral values, are separated and cannot communicate and share their ideas, beliefs, and cultural achievements freely.
On the other hand, there are some negative consequences of the reunification, i.e. the fall of the Berlin Wall. Notably, it is obvious that the deterioration of socio-economic conditions of life of German people following the fall of the Wall and provoked by the necessity to modernize and integrate Eastern German economy in the economy of the unified Germany led to increase of social tension and negative emotions of Germans in relation to each other. To put it more precisely, the desirable unification turned to be not so good as Germans believed before and they were simply disappointed and dissatisfied with such reunification.
As a result, such a situation creates a number of moral and ethical problems that have to be solved. For instance, it provokes the discrimination, or at least negative attitude of Western Germans to Eastern Germans, the former have much more opportunities to be successfully employed, while the latter suffer from high rates of unemployment. Thus, negative attitude becomes typical for relations between people living in the unified country that is absolutely unacceptable. Moreover, it is even possible to say that, nowadays, economic oppression has substituted political oppression of the former totalitarian regime.
Nonetheless, it is necessary to clearly realise that the current problems are temporary and in larger terms the fall of the Berlin Wall is rather positive than negative because the existing socio-economic differences and problems would be minimized in the future and in perspective there would be little or no significant difference between East and West Germany. Briefly speaking, the current problematic situation in Germany is the price German people have to pay for freedom and unification.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the fall of the Berlin Wall is a great historical event that has changed the life of German people and symbolized the end of the Cold War. Its existence caused deaths and sufferings of thousands and millions of ordinary people who simply strived for better life for themselves and their families. This is why the fall of the Berlin Wall should be undoubtedly assessed as a positive event since people have got a desirable freedom and real opportunities to lead a normal life, being independent from the will of a totalitarian state.
1. Kortunov, Andrei. 1994. Sources of International Crises after the End of the Cold War New York,
2. Lott, J., 2004, May, âAll Fall Downâ, American Spectator May2004, Vol. 37 Issue4, p63-64, 2p
3. Palmer, T., 1999, âThe fall of the Berlin Wallâ. Publishers Weekly, 3/1/2004, Vol. 251, Issue 9, p63-64, 1/5p.
4. Sandro, C., 2005, âResentment in the eastâ 09/18/2005, Toronto Star (Canada).
5. Shanor, D., 2004, âGermany Looks Eastâ, New Leader, Nov/Dec2004 Vol. 87 Issue 6, p12-14.
6. Thomas, E. 2003. Germany after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. New York: Routledge.
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The Berlin Airlift began on June 24, 1948 in response to the Soviet Unions’ blockade of the capital city of Berlin. This action marked the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. It was a time of political, technological, and military trial. Most of all it was a period of humanity. The German people were no longer the enemy, but the cold, hungry victims of a cruel and powerful government. What began as an act of division had ended as a way to unite wartime opponents.
To understand the reasons for the airlift you need to go back to the summer of 1945. The Allied Powers who had won the war in Europe met at the Potsdam Conference to discuss postwar Germany’s punishments and future. At the conference, the Allies divided the defeated country into four temporary occupation zones. Western Germany was divided into American, British and French Zones, while Eastern Germany became the Soviet Zone. One hundred miles inside the Soviet Zone was the city of Berlin. During the conference, Berlin was divided into four sectors; American, British, French and Soviet. The Soviets gave each of the other allies a twenty mile-wide air flight path to their own city zone. No such arrangement was created for road, rail and barge travel. That oversight would come back to haunt the allies in June of 1948.
Relations between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union began to worsen soon after the Potsdam Conference. The reason was stated by Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill in this 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri, ‘From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.’ The Western Allies were not happy about Soviet control over the countries surrounding the Soviet Union. They were using those ‘satellite states’ as an ‘iron curtain’ of protection against foreign invasion. Tensions increased when the Allies combined the economies of the British and United States zones into a Bizone. It later became a Trizone when France joined them. They issued a new form of currency to replace the Nazi Reichsmark, which continued to be used as Germany’s legal currency, even though the government it represented no longer existed. The German currency was inflated with nothing to buy, but black market cigarettes and illegal goods. To make things even worse the Allied Armies issued the Allied Occupation Currency, which the Germans did not trust, so they kept using the Reichsmark. The Western Allies came to the conclusion the only way to get the German economy started was with a new currency. The Soviets objected to this policy and attempted to challenge it in any way possible.
The United States had the new money secretly printed at the United States Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. They shipped the 23,000 boxes, weighing a total of 1,035 tons to the old Reichsbank in Frankfurt Germany under the code name of ‘Operation Bird Dog.’ The United States Governor of Occupied Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, was given the option to decide when the Deutsch Mark currency would be officially released. As of June 17, 1948, the Soviets had no idea ‘Operation Bird Dog’ existed. That would all change on June 18, 1948 when General Clay made the official announcement after the German banks had closed for the weekend. The new currency was distributed with each citizen receiving 40 Deutsch Marks. It would continue to be distributed throughout Germany over the next few days. ‘This currency reform was a comprehensive and complicated restructuring of wages, prices, public and private debt, exchange rates and banking regulations.’ After the Deutsch Marks were issued the Soviet zone was flooded with the worthless Reichsmark. That forced the Soviets to develop their own currency. They improvised a temporary currency by taking the old Reichsmarks and reissuing them with a Soviet Zone Monetary Reform Coupon attached to the corner. Eventually they introduced their own new currency, the Ostmark.
The currency change was unacceptable to the Soviet Union, so on June 24th they restricted all vehicle, train and barge traffic in and out of Berlin. A day later they blocked all food shipments to Berlin’s non-Soviet sectors. A reduction of their armies after World War II had left The Western Allies unprepared for the blockade. The United States Air Force had only 275 planes in Europe and they were light bombers or fighters. The Soviets, on the other hand, had kept their large military, so they were in better equipped to face any conflict. Two-Thirds of their 4,000 aircraft were in Germany. The Allies had 6,000 troops stationed in Berlin, while the Soviets had 18,000 and thousands more in nearby cities. To balance the military numbers, President Truman sent sixty long-range B-29 ‘Superfortress’ aircraft, supposedly equipped with atomic bombs to English bases. The Soviets did not know atomic bombs were scarce and the B-29’s were not equipped to carry them. This lack of knowledge probably kept the Soviets from starting a war for Berlin. General Clay thought the Allies should use military action to gain access to Berlin, but President Truman was against it. ‘Truman made it clear to his colleagues that he was prepared to use A-Bombs against Russia, but only if it was absolutely necessary.’ . In place of force, Truman wanted to use an airlift similar to ‘Operation Little Lift’ to get food and supplies into the city. ‘Operation Little Lift’ took place in March 1948, when the Soviets blocked Berlin for a short period of time. It delivered 300 tons of supplies to Rhein-Main Air Base by truck. Then volunteer C-47 pilots flew the supplies to Berlin. During the operation the Western Allies found the air safety agreement signed by the Soviets at the Potsdam Conference to be effective. The Berlin Blockade left the Allies no choice, but to use an airlift to get necessary supplies to the citizens of Berlin. When the airlift began it had a three week time frame.
‘Operation Vittles’ was the code name for the Berlin Airlift, which began on June 25, 1948. The airlift was placed under the leadership of Brigadier General Joseph Smith. Smith was a combat pilot who was not familiar with running an airlift. That led to problems later in the airlift. On June 26th, the first 32 C-47 planes left for Berlin with 80 tons of milk, flour, and medicine. Then, on June 26 the first British Royal Air Force planes began flying supplies to Berlin under the name ‘Operation Plainfare.’ There were only two air fields in Berlin that could be used for the airlift. They were Templehof in the American sector and Gatow in the British sector. Each of these airports had one runway. Two other runways were made at Templehof later in 1948. France also added an airfield in Tegel in their sector later in the airlift.
By July 1948, C-54 planes were beginning to arrive in Berlin in larger numbers. Aircraft would fly into Berlin using the American air corridor to Tempelhof Airport and then return using the British air corridor. Then after reaching the British zone they would return to their own bases. The large number of flights, of varying sizes, into Berlin took carefully coordination to prevent disaster. Gen Smith and his staff created a complex flight schedule called the ‘block system’. It was made up of three eight-hour shifts of C-54 section to Berlin followed by a C-47 section. Aircrafts were scheduled to take off every four minutes. Each plane would fly 1000 feet higher than the previous flight. The pattern would begin at 5,000 feet and was repeated five times. This system was called ‘the ladder’ and allowed radar controllers on the ground to handle large numbers of similar planes more easily. In the first week of the airlift, ninety tons of cargo would be shipped daily. The second week the cargo was increased to 1,000 tons, which would have been okay if the airlift had only lasted a few weeks.
A month into the airlift, American officials decided it was the only alternative to war and it was extended. Going into the winter the transports would have to deliver not only food, but coal for heating. The bags of coal would be bulky and take up most of a plane’s space. As the airlift’s operation increased it exceeded General Smith’s capability. As a result, the duties of running the airlift were given to the Military Air Transport Service and a new commander Major General William H. Tunner. General Tunner had previously operated an aerial supply line during World War II that crossed the Himalayas, from India to China. After taking over the airlift, Tunner and his staff toured the bases to see what was going on. They discovered the flight and maintenance schedules to be inadequate for this type of operation. This became very obvious to Tunner on August 13, 1948 or ‘Black Friday.’
On ‘Black Friday’ the clouds seemed to drop onto the roofs of the apartment buildings surrounding the airfield. A heavy cloudburst hid the runway from the tower. The radio signals could not get through because of the rain. The tower and ground control operators lost control of the situation. A C-54 overshot the runway and crashed into a ditch at the end of the airfield and caught fire. Fortunately, the crew got out alive. Another plane landing with a maximum load of coal, landed too far down the runway. To avoid hitting the burning plane the pilot had to put on his brakes heavily in order to stop. A third plane landed on what the pilot thought was a runway. He discovered, too late, it was a runway under construction, which caused his plane to slide and flip over. As all this was taking place, planes full of supplies were sitting on the runway ready for takeoff and more aircraft were waiting to land. General Tunner was on one of the planes waiting to land. He gave orders for all planes to return to their home bases. The next day he had twenty experienced civilian air controllers ordered back to duty as reservists and sent to Germany. Another problem for Tunner was a lack of aircraft. He replaced the small C-47 ‘Gooney Birds with the plentiful C-54 ‘Skymasters’.
The Berlin Airlift was not just a military operation, but it was also a humanitarian mission. Many human interest stories came out of the airlift. John Provan told the story of an airlift pilot and a 13 year old boy who lived in Weisbaden. ‘The boy had just received word that his mother, who lived in Berlin, had suffered a heart attack. The boy managed to pass the guards and make his way to an aircraft, when a pilot discovered him.’ Provan continued, ‘He told his story to the pilot, who realized the boy was telling the truth. Making sure no supervisors were watching, the pilot lifted the lad into the aircraft and said: ‘Make yourself comfortable, son. In two hours you’ll be in Berlin.’ The most famous human interest story is that of airlift pilot First Lieutenant Gail Halverson. He was one of the American pilots flying round-the-clock missions from Rhein-Main Air Base to Templehof. One day he was at Templehof filming aircraft landings when he met a group of German children. He used his limited German to greet them and then answered their questions about the airlift with help of some of the children who knew English. Halverson talked to them for an hour before he realized that none of them had asked him for anything. He said in his autobiography, The Berlin Candy Bomber, ‘Hitler’s past and Stalin’s future was their nightmare. American-style freedom was their dream. They knew what freedom was about. They said someday we’ll have enough to eat, but if we lose our freedom, we’ll never get it back.’ Halverson continued, ‘These were kids, and they were teaching me about freedom. That’s what blew me away.’ As he was getting ready to leave he reached into his pocket and pulled out two pieces of Doublemint Gum. He debated whether or not to give them to the children. What if they would fight over them? Halverson broke the two pieces in half and passed the four halves through the barbed wire fence. He waited for the children to rush the fence and grab the candy, but they did not. Some of the children got gum and others did not. They asked the lucky ones for a piece of the gum’s wrapper just to smell it. Halverson was impressed when the children did not beg, so he decided to do more for them. He told the children he was going to fly into Berlin the next day and would drop candy as he approached the airport. The children asked how they would know it was him. After making them promise to share, he told them he would wiggle his wings up and down. When he got back to his base he combined his candy rations with hose of his co-pilot and engineer. Then he made his first parachutes out of handkerchiefs, string and then tied them to chocolate bars and gum. July 18, 1948, would be the first drop of ‘Operation Little Vittles’. The longer ‘Operation Little Vittles’ went on, the more candy and handkerchief were donated and the more children were waiting at the airfield. Stacks of letters began arriving at Templehof base operations for ‘Der Schokoladen Flieger’ (the Chocolate Flyer), or ‘Onkel Wackelflugel’ (Uncle Wiggly Wings) proving ‘Operation Little Vittles’ was a success. Over 23 tons of candy had been dropped, using 250,000 parachutes and hundreds of Berlin’s children learned that the people of Britain, France and the United States cared about them. They and their country was no longer the enemy of the Western Allies.
The chapter of the Berlin Airlift began On Easter Sunday, April 17, 1949, when the airlift delivered 13,000 tons of cargo including the equivalent 600 railroad cars of coal. The ‘Easter Parade’ as it was known, set a record for daily cargo delivery. To achieve that record, everything needed to be perfectly coordinated and teamwork was very important. Step one was getting fuel and bulk goods loaded onto ships in the United States. Next the cargo was transported to Germany where it was unloaded. Then it was sent to the two airfields in the American Zone and two in the British Zone. Freight from the American Zone went to the Templehof Airfield and cargo from the British Zone went to Gatow Airport. This enormous delivery of cargo was a combined effort of the United States Air Force and the British Royal Air Force. ‘General Clay about to dig into a blueberry pie, listened to the steady roar of aircraft and said, ‘You know, I think we’ve licked them.’
The Berlin Airlift was not just a United States and Royal Air Force accomplishment. It involved the hard work of both military and civilian groups. For instance, the Navy in ‘Operation Sea Lift’ transported 100 million gallons of aviation fuel from the United States to Bremerhaven Germany. It also transported tons of food and supplies to Germany, so the Air Force could fly it into to Berlin.
Another group that supported the airlift was the United States Army. Their troops trucked a total of 1,900 tons of goods to waiting aircraft. They also handled rail operations in Bremerhaven. These units were staffed mostly by African Americans since the military was not desegregated at that time. The Army also provided 500,000 duffel bags needed to transport coal inside the cargo planes. Housing, furniture, clothing and other services for airlift personnel were provided by the Army Quartermaster.
France could not provide the airlift with planes, equipment or crews, since it was involved in the Indochina conflict. They did provide the land for the Tigel airfield, which the American forces and German citizens built. Another service they provided was using a confiscated German plane, to fly in 200 tons of fine food and wine for French Officers in Berlin.
German civilians were responsible for a large part of the Airlift’s success. They worked hard to support the Allied mission. The Berliners helped to support the Allied forces building the Tegal Airfield in the French Sector. Construction was completed in less than 90 days. It was built by hand, by thousands of mostly female laborers working around the clock. The Germans unloaded the majority of cargo at all the airfields.
During the airlift the Soviets found many ways to annoy the Allies. They used searchlights to blind the pilots flying at night. The Soviet’s jammed the Allies’ radio signals and released balloons to block Allied takeoffs. Allied planes were ‘buzzed’ by Soviet aircraft, which made the Allied pilots uneasy, but many of them had flown in the war and were able to keep going. ‘By the spring of 1949, it was obvious tactics of harassment had failed to deter the American and British airmen involved in the airlift of supplies to Berlin.’ There were a total of 733 reported incidents of Soviet harassment during the airlift.
The ‘Easter Parade’ and the airlift in general embarrassed the Soviets. They realized they were losing the propaganda war. On April 14, 1949, TASS the Russian news agency conveyed the Soviets willingness to end the blockade. The four powers began negotiations and a settlement was reached on the Western Allies’ terms. Then on May 4th, the Allies announced an agreement had been reached. The Berlin Blockade ended at a minute after midnight on May 12, 1949. As soon as the Soviet’s opened the road a group of British vehicles drove through to Berlin. The First train from West Germany arrived in Berlin that same day. An enormous crowd gathered to celebrate the end of the blockade. The airlift would continue until September 30th when the Allies felt comfortable the blockade would not be reinstated.
When the Berlin Airlift ended the statistics revealed impressive numbers. The U.S. Air Force had transported 1,422,000 tons of coal, 296,000 tons of food and 65,000 of miscellaneous goods for a total of 1,783,573 tons. Another 542,000 tons of cargo was delivered by the British Royal Air Force. A total of 75,000 people, both military and civilian were involved in making the airlift a success.
The Berlin Airlift was the first time a large scale military air transport was used to accomplish diplomatic objectives. ‘Not only did the Soviet Union suffer the defeat of the Blockade breaking, but the Allies had witnessed a change in attitude by the Germans themselves. Before, the Allies had been considered, a Besatzungsmacht (an Army of Occupation).’ When the airlift was over the Germans considered the Allies not as enemies, but as protectors.
When The Berlin Airlift ended on May 12, 1949, the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union was still in effect. Politically, the United States had achieved success by standing up to the Soviets without starting another war. The Soviets, on the other hand, suffered a political defeat with the blockade. They implemented the blockade to protest and evict the Western Allies, but in the end the Allies were still there dictating the terms. Technologically, the Allies used the A Bomb, or the threat of using it, to scare the Soviet’s out of starting another world war. The United States and British Military used their aircraft, equipment and personnel to keep the citizens of Berlin from freezing and starving to death. The Soviet’s chose to use their military to block roads, rails and waterways and cut off life giving supplies into the city of Berlin. Most importantly the German people no longer viewed the United States as their enemy, but as their defender and friend. In contrast, the Soviet Union was seen as the oppressive government that tried to starve them and took away their freedom. What began as an act of division by the Soviets, ended by the Western Allies as an act of unifying the United States and Germany.