Airlift aircraft used three airfields within Berlin: Tempelhof (above) in the U.S. sector, Gatow in the British sector and Tegel, which was built in the French sector in only 60 days using volunteer German men and women laborers. (U.S. Air Force photo)
C-47s unloading at Tempelhof, formed the nucleus of the airlift until September when the larger and faster four-engine C-54s capable of hauling 10 tons had been put into service. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Cross-sectional view of flight into Berlin as of September 1948. This arrangement allowed for landing at the rate of one plane every three minutes. Later, two levels were used with spacing that allowed for landing at the same rate. (From AU ECI Course 50, page 103)
The Berlin Airlift was one of the defining events of the Cold War. The 464-day effort to supply a city's needs solely through the air demonstrated the resolve of democratic nations to oppose communist repression. The massive humanitarian effort was an early triumph for the young U.S. Air Force, and symbolized Western commitment to rebuilding democracy in Europe after World War II.
In 1945 the Soviets, Americans, British and French divided Germany into occupation zones. Berlin, although in the Soviet zone, also was divided among the four powers. Opposing political systems and goals strained relationships between the Soviets and their recent allies as the American, British and French prepared western Germany to govern itself. The Soviets isolated Berlin by closing off ground travel to and from the city in June 1948.
Airlift was the only way to supply West Berlin and its people. The combined efforts of the newly formed USAF and other American services, plus the forces of Great Britain and France, delivered enough fuel, food and supplies to keep the city going for nearly a year. The blockade finally ended in May 1949, but the Berlin Airlift continued through September 1949.
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