The Berlin Blockade: the first Cold War Crisis (June 24, 1948) - History Key

The Berlin Blockade: the first Cold War Crisis (June 24, 1948)

In the summer of 1948, at the dawn of the outbreak of the Cold War, the international situation was heated when the Soviet Union decided to impose a total blockade of Berlin, administered by the former allies of the WWII. The Berlin Blockade would be the first radical action that established the tone of two worlds: democratic and communist worlds. The crisis also led to the division of the German State in West Germany and East Germany, but also the division of Berlin with the construction of the Berlin Wall.

The red area of Germany (above) is Soviet controlled East Germany. German territory east of the Oder-Neisse line (light beige) was ceded to Poland, while a portion of the easternmost section of Germany East Prussia, Königsberg, was annexed by the USSR, as the Kaliningrad Oblast
The red area of Germany (above) is Soviet controlled East Germany. German territory east of the Oder-Neisse line (light beige) was ceded to Poland, while a portion of the easternmost section of Germany East Prussia, Königsberg, was annexed by the USSR, as the Kaliningrad Oblast © CC BY-SA 2.5/University of Mainz/ieg-maps.uni-mainz.de/Image Source: Wikipedia

One nation, two countries

In the context of the end of WWII, Germany was divided into occupied areas of the US, UK, Soviet Union and France. France was responsible in certain areas to restore the orders among the former Nazis. Soviet Union occupied the East and the other Allied powers occupied the West. In the same manner was also the segmentation of the capital.

Berlin was divided into four occupation sectors. In the areas administered by the Western powers, there were 2.25 million inhabitants and the military forces numbered 11,000 people. To ensure the survival of the inhabitants, more than 30,000 tons of food, building materials and other goods were brought to the western area of Berlin.

The opposed views between the Soviet Union and the United States began to emerge rapidly. The Soviets sought to obtain large sums of money from Germany in the amount of reparations and also wanted to disarmament the state. On the other side, the US considered that a strong, unified Germany was needed for the economic recovery of Western Europe and to prevent a potential invasion of the Soviet troops to the west continent, it was necessary for Germany to be armed.

“We are still allies”

The hostile feelings were amplified on the Soviet side by the initiation of the Marshall Plan for European recovery, according to which America committed to support to help rebuild Western European economy. So the Berlin Blockade came as a consequence of the different attitudes and visions of each side.

Destruction in Berlin, 1945
Destruction in Berlin, 1945 © Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P054320 / Weinrother, Carl / CC-BY-SA 3.0 de /Image Source: Wikipedia
A devastated street in the city centre just off the Unter den Linden, 3 July 1945
A devastated street in the city centre just off the Unter den Linden, 3 July 1945 © Wilkes A (Sergeant) /BU 8604 /Image Source: Wikipedia

When the Marshall Plan became public, the Soviets began to restrict the access of Western military aid in Berlin through the Soviet area. The Soviet Command has instructed the Berlin Prosecutor’s Office to take immediate actions in order to end the legal help from the West because it “threatens the Berlin economy”. Therefore the Western States were forced either to leave Berlin after because of the political pressures either to remain in Berlin in order to carry out the monetary reform and complete the initial plans. The Allies decided to stay and introduced the Ostmark by monetary reform in West Germany.

The Soviets authorities imposed a complete blockade on Berlin. All the highways and railways linking to the capital were closed. The interesting fact is that the Soviets didn’t violate any international treaties. US, UK and France never signed a pact with Soviets regarded to the access to Berlin. Though the situation was tense, Stalin did not give any ultimatum during the blockade. He always left the door open for negotiations. Moreover, he whispered to a Western diplomat “We are still allies.”

Aerial

The citizens of West Berlin started to panic about the food and medicine. Because of this situation, some occidentals considered that the time of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union had come to an end. The world waited and worried a possible Soviet-American confrontation.

However, the Western allies were not discouraged about the blockade. They orchestrated an air transport operation that provided the inhabitants of the Western Berlin with the necessary assets for survival. The air transport was maintained for 324 days and approximately 13,000 tons of assets per day were delivered. The “air operation” became known as one of the greatest logistical efforts in history.

Berliners watch a Douglas C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948
Berliners watch a Douglas C-54 Skymaster land at Tempelhof Airport, 1948 © USGOV-PD/Image Source: Wikipedia

In the spring of 1949, the United States continued the measures against the blockade and West Germany prepared for a new government. Moreover, the same year the treaty for the establishment of the North Atlantic Organization was signed in Washington. So, in May 1949, Stalin approved the end of the Berlin blockade.

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