Berlin Airlift

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The Berlin Airlift

MGMT 410, Management of Air Cargo
Professor Walter Ginn
January 23, 2006

The Air Force can deliver anything (Glines, 1998)! That was the response given by Lt. General Curtis E. Lemay, then commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), when asked by General Lucius Clay, the U.S. Military Governor of Germany, could he haul supplies to Berlin. Little did General Lemay know that he was about to embark on one of the most massive and dynamic airlift operations ever conducted. Faced with the choice of abandoning the city or supplying the city’s residents with life’s necessities by air, the Western Powers chose the latter course and for the next eleven months sustained the city's two and a half million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history. Making of the Airlift

The airlift was a result of an unexpected breakdown of the alliance of nations during WWII. When Germany was defeated in WWII, the country was divided amongst the victors, the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. The Soviet Union took control of the Eastern half of Germany while the Western half was divided amongst the Western powers: US, Great Britain, and France. Germany’s capital city of Berlin was located in the Soviet-controlled Eastern half and like the country, was also divided into four parts with one half being Soviet controlled, and the rest divided amongst the others.  The four countries formed a provisional government called the Allied Control Council which purpose was to control and rebuild the city of Berlin. By 1948, it became apparent that the Western Powers’ (Great Britain, France, and US) plan to rebuild Germany differed from the Soviet Union's plan. The differences were many and varied with currency, German Unification, Soviet War reparations, and ideology among them. There would be no compromise and as a result, Soviet President Joseph Stalin wanted the other countries out of Berlin.  During the spring of 1948, tensions between the former Allies climaxed and on April 9, 1948, Stalin ordered American Military personnel maintaining communications equipment out of the Soviet controlled Eastern Zone of Berlin.  The Soviets began stopping trains in the summer of 1948 and on June 21, they halted a U.S. Military Supply Train and refused to allow it passage to Berlin.  On June 24, 1948, the Soviets halted all traffic by land and by water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. There were to be no more supplies provided from the West.   It was a grave situation and the Allies decided not to stand for this.  Diplomacy failed, ground invasions were planned, and World War III was on the brink of existence.  General Clay had developed a plan to break the blockade by having an armed convoy push its way through Soviet Controlled Germany.  This aggressive action would certainly have started a war. However, British Commander Sir Brian Robertson offered an alternative: supply the city by air.  Thus was the beginning of airlift operations to sustain a city of over two million people. Airlift Leaders

The men who would lead this mighty operation were Clay, Lemay, and Maj General William Tunner. General Clay announced that no Soviet action short of war would force the Americans out of Berlin. In a 1948 telegraph message sent from Berlin to Washington, D.C., General Clay sated the following, “We've lost Czechoslovakia, and we're in danger of losing Finland. If we intend to hold Europe against Communism, we dare not move from this position. I believe that the future of democracy demands that we stay put (Johnson, 1997)." The question was how to make good on that promise, for the Western sectors of the city had a total of less than two weeks of critical supplies, and the small American force in Germany could not have put down the mighty Red Army. The size of the operation had to be increased in order to sufficiently supply the city...
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