Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Berlin Airlift: Soviets' first defeat of the Cold War

Though Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany is now closed, this memorial to the Berlin Airlift there is still clearly visible from the A5 Autobahn which runs alongside the Frankfurt Airport

Sixty years ago, the Berlin Airlift was nearing full swing after the Soviets blockaded West Berlin in a bid to starve out the occupying Allied troops and bring the entire city under Soviet control. The blockade had started on 24 June, 1948 cutting off supplies to the city from the west over road and rail lines. In cutting off Allied Forces, the Soviets were perfectly willing to starve West Berlin's civilian residents, as well.

From its start near the end of June of 1948 to its official end in September 1949 (the Soviets lifted the blockade in May 1949), American, British and French aircraft delivered enough food, coal and fuel to keep Berlin's citizens fed and warm through the winter.

Aside from serving up a humiliating defeat to Josef Stalin and his pack of commies, the airlift sent the clear message that the US, Britain and France wouldn't abandon their new allies and set the tone for the rest of the Cold War.

Some interesting facts about the Berlin Airlift from this Wikipedia article on the topic:
  • Tons of goods delivered: 2,326,406
  • Number of flights flown: 278,228
  • Total miles flown: 92 million (nearly the distance of Earth to the sun)
  • Lives lost: 101 (mainly due to crashes)
  • Aircraft lost: 25
  • Cost of airlift: $224 million (around $2 billion adjusted for inflation)

1 comment:

darkpixel said...

While USAF did the majority of the lifting, the Brits had a crucial role - their seaplanes (Short Sunderlands) hauled almost all of the salt that went into Berlin during the airlift. Salt is incredibly corrosive, one pierced bag and a plane would have to be grounded for an awful long time. However seaplanes by their nature are hardier when it comes to salt... Or, more likely, they were already starting to corrode anyway....

From af.mil:

Through it all, airmen delivered more than 2.3 million tons of cargo -- about 75 percent flown in by American aircraft. American crews took off more than 189,000 times, totaling about 600,000 hours of flight time, covering more than 92 million miles. Thirty-one Americans lost their lives in 12 crashes.

Operation Vittles' airlift record stood until Operation Desert Shield in the fall of 1990. In just 22 days, modern C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, C-130 Hercules and aircraft from the Civil Reserve Air Fleet eclipsed the tonnage total for the entire Berlin Airlift.