Why did the Soviet Union lift the Berlin Blockade?

Why did the Soviet Union lift the Berlin Blockade?


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Between 24th June 1948 and 12th May 1949 land routes into West Berlin were blocked by Soviet forces and West Berliners were supplied entirely by air (the famous Berlin Airlift).

No one connected with the Soviet authorities had thought Berlin could be supplied this way. But contrary to expectations the airlift was an astonishing logistical succcess, eventually bringing in supplies at a rate which exceeded what had been provided by road and rail prior to the crisis.

So, although "because it wasn't working" is the flippant answer to my question, that doesn't explain Soviet thinking. While the blockade was clearly a failure from the Soviet point-of-view, at the same time it (seemingly) cost nothing to maintain. It was a success for the western allies, and a glorious one, but its costs were high. Wikipedia's article only suggests that "humiliation" forced the Soviets to lift the blockade, but surely ending the blockade and admitting their defeat was humiliating in its own right.

Why not just impose the blockade indefinitely? Airlift or no airlift.

Did the blockade impose costs on the Eastern Bloc which aren't immediately apparent? Damage to goodwill (both inside Germany and in the wider world)? Trade costs? Were there economic levers which the western allies were able to apply quietly to help end the blockade?


This is a good question. So many encyclopedia entries, passing mentions in books, etc. pass up the issue of ending the blockade, as if the motivation for dropping it was obvious. Daniel Harrington, in a mid-1980s round up and revisit of the arguments over the crisis, gives a typical example of this, "By mid-March, with the worst of the winter behind him, Stalin realized that whatever leverage the blockade afforded was shrinking rapidly" [3:110] This is true even in very recent accounts. Ted Hopf's book on the early cold war, writes, "After the airlift demonstrated its capacity through the winter, Stalin dropped his currency demands… " [2:141] which were the final obstacle to coming to resolution.

Usually there isn't much attempt to explain why he couldn't continue the blockade another year, two years, etc. The assumption I think many people make, even when works don't really show any evidence that Soviets thought this way, is that the political cost in terms of loss of international reputation was high, and not worth dragging the crisis out. My quick look through the literature didn't say much in detail on this however, but perhaps someone can chime in. Part of the problem, I think, is that the overwhelming predominance of literature on this subject seems to use almost exclusively Western sources (would be great if someone could point out recent work which makes use of Soviet archival sources).

I found one important exception to the above in the form of a 1997 article by William Stivers 1 in Diplomatic History which is frequently cited in subsequent works and encyclopedia entries on the subject of the Berlin blockade. I'm frankly surprised to see no integration of its findings into the Wikipedia entry on the blockade.

I saw three major takeaways from the Stivers piece that can help us answer your question:

  1. The literature fundamentally distorts the facts on the ground during the conflict by portraying (as Allies did at the time) the situation in Berlin as creating a fully isolated city. As Stivers puts it and argues in detail in the article, “the Soviet blockade neither attempted nor achieved the isolation of West Berlin” [1:569]

    No effort was made, however - either at the beginning of the blockade or during the course of it - to seal off the Western sectors from either East Berlin or from the surrounding countryside. As a result, a flood of goods - roughly a half a million tons, to take the mean of various estimates - entered the Western sectors from Soviet area sources over the ten-and-a-half-month period of “restrictions.” [1:570]

    Many works, including the wikipedia entry note that there was food offered from the east but, "they do so chiefly to emphasize that the great majority of Western sector residents turned it down.” [1:571]

  2. Speaking to your suggestion that the Soviets could have just continued indefinitely, Stivers suggests even more strongly:

    East German and Soviet aims - once asserted with breezy certainty by Western historians - become suddenly elusive. In particular, the fact that the Soviets imposed the blockade, but then let it be undermined in a way that assisted the West to victory, is a contradiction in search of explanation. The Soviets probably could have “won” the conflict at any number of points. Had they imposed an absolute blockade at the very beginning of the crisis (thereby reducing the Allies' cushion of time), or slogged on with it indefinitely… they would have strained morale to the limit. [1:595]

    He answers this puzzle by emphasizing the fact that it was not the isolation of Berlin that they wanted, but the further integration of it into an economy that had great benefit for interaction with it [1:595] While all eyes are on the symbolism of the air-lift for relieving West Berlin, less attention is paid to the powerful impact of the counter-blockade on East Germany:

    The East German economy suffered grievously from the Allied counterblockade imposed… against Western zone shipments to the East. Trade with Berlin's Western sector companies helped reduce the damage of shattered interdependencies and avert collapse in certain key sectors. [1:587]

    In this perspective, Stivers there was both an economic and a political cost - but here the political cost is not just internationally but in terms of its intra-bloc reputation as well:

    As it was, the blockade was a massive blunder. In German eyes, not only did the Soviet Union appear a most implausible “friend,” but the necessity of seeking security with the West seemed conclusively proved. Economic considerations aside, Soviet supply and trade offers - beginning with the milk offer five days after the blockade began - look like efforts to deescalate the crisis in order to repair political damage. [5:596]

  3. Finally, Stivers makes a complex argument, not considered in detail here, that the conclusion of the crisis, which hinged on the Soviet dropping of its demands, especially regarding the currency in West Berlin, came partly as a result of British resistance to certain aspects of American demands, and stalling actions by the British and French up to a point where the demand simply made little sense anymore, thus easing the way for a resolution to the crisis. The period of the blockade brought about changes in the economic environment and decreased the interdependency of the two sides to a point where the restoration of the pre-crisis state was increasingly unlikely. [1:602]

In conclusion, Stivers argue, reproduced by others who cite him in later works, is that the blockade came with a cost to the Soviets that was both political and economic in the form of the counter-blockade by the Allies on East Germany, and during its course, helped bring out economic changes in the relationship between East Germany and West Germany that made restoration of the pre-crisis status quo difficult and thus not worth the continuation of the blockade.

Sources refered with above as [Source Number:Page Number]

Sources

  1. William Stivers, “The Incomplete Blockade: Soviet Zone Supply of West Berlin, 1948-49,” Diplomatic History 21, no. 4 (October 1, 1997): 569-602. Wiley Online

  2. Ted Hopf, Reconstructing the Cold War: The Early Years, 1945-1958 (Oxford University Press, 2012). Gbooks

  3. Daniel F. Harrington, “The Berlin Blockade Revisited,” The International History Review 6, no. 1 (February 1, 1984): 88-112. Jstor


The history.com article says:

in April 1949, planes were landing in the city every minute. Tensions were high during the airlift, and three groups of U.S. strategic bombers were sent as reinforcements to Britain while the Soviet army presence in eastern Germany increased dramatically. The Soviets made no major effort to disrupt the airlift. As a countermeasure against the Soviet blockade, the Western powers also launched a trade embargo against eastern Germany and other Soviet bloc countries.

Probably they got something for them too (source):

Realizing the blockade was failing, the Soviets sought to negotiate. On May 4, the Soviets met with the three Western Allies in Berlin and agreed to end the blockade, effective on May 12.

One more thing is that Soviets actually lost this fighting (source):

Not only did the blockade turn out to be totally ineffective, it ended up backfiring on the Soviets in other ways. It provoked genuine fears of war in the West. And instead of preventing the establishment of an independent West Germany, it accelerated the Allies plans to set up the state. It also hastened the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an American-Western European military alliance. In May 1949, Stalin had little choice but to lift the blockade.

Keeping the blockade could thus unite West more, which was not desired by Stalin.

Please also note that in West Berlin there were not only civilians, but also military forces of USA, UK and France. Disallowing their supply could have been considered as an act -- not war maybe, but aggression. USA had the A-bomb and nobody was 100% sure if this won't be used again. This might explain why "three groups of U.S. strategic bombers" made so much fear.


I am surprised that no one mentioned one of the major reasons for the blockade (which might help explain why it was finally lifted). On June 20 1948 western powers unilaterally decided to switch to the new money (new German mark) in their zones of occupation while the Soviet zone continued to use previous reichsmark bills whose issue was controlled collectively by the allied powers. USSR objected to that step because this resulted in clear economical separation of the three "western" zones from the "eastern" one which went (in Soviet opinion) against Potsdam agreement about collective sovereinghty of the four allied powers over Germany.

People in western zones were allowed to exchange the old money for the new very gradually and the rates naturally started going up. But in the eastern zone they could still use the old money to buy the goods - and you can imagine that in 1948, in the country laying in ruins, that was huge. So the Germans, and especially those who lived close to the eastern zone, crowded the eastern sectors, sweeping away everything that was offered at the stores.

So Soviet administration decided to stop the flow - they simply could not afford it financially - hence the blockade commenced and then slowly spread from just auto vehicles to trains and then to air transport.

Seems that nobody wanted to back down - not to mention, the cold war has started already, allies were not allies anymore - so down the road the things were getting worse and situation was deteriorating further and further. In just 4 days blockade became absolute.

The "funny" thing that for some time after the blockade had started Soviets shipped some food and goods into Western Berlin - obviously using that as a propaganda tool, but for the Berliners who benefitted that was likely not the main point, they just wanted to survive. And then the government of West Berlin… prohibited getting the food from eastern Berlin. For instance, government workers were being fired from their jobs if it was discovered they had been getting food and supplies from East Berlin… a sort of loyalty test, I guess. In August 1949 West Berlin government barricaded off Postdammerplatz where the major exchange of goods between the sectors had been organized, etc. USSR also used some underhanded tactics to try and undermine Western efforts.

Both sides pursued their political goals, and USSR was not a fluffy teddy bear either, by no means. However, the blockade was not something that Stalin just decided to do just because he was this super-villain bent on Communist world domination. As a matter of fact, it was rather a knee-jerk reaction to (probably) not very expected actions by USA-UK-France bloc.

Result - split of Germany into FRG and GDR in October 1949. So my explanation: Soviets stopped caring about the blockade mid-1949 because they have made the decision about the split. There was no more point to the blockade, since Germany would soon become two countries anyway, with real borders etc. And that's exactly what happened.

Sources:

  1. Keiderling G. Die Berliner Krise 1948/49. Berlin (West), 1982

  2. Беспалов В. А. "Блокада Берлина" и продовольственный вопрос: забытые аспекты, Вестник РГУ им. И. Канта, 2007 (in Russian)

  3. Summary of the First Law of Currency Reform Promulgated by the Three Western Military Governors, Effective June 20, 1948, United States-Department of State. Documents on Germany 1944-1985. Washington: Department of State

  4. Tripartite Statement Announcing Extension of the Western "Deutsche Mark" as Currency in the Western Sectors of Berlin, Effective June 24, 1948, United States-Department of State. Documents on Germany 1944-1985. Washington: Department of State

Dates and simple facts (like split of Germany, creation of NATO) do not need a citation, I am sure.


How The Allies Defeated The Soviet Blockade Of Berlin In The Cold War

The Berlin Airlift was the first major confrontation between the East and the West during the Cold War. It was known as Operation 'Plainfare' by the British and Operation 'Vittles' by the Americans.

The divided city of Berlin lay deep in Soviet territory and was connected to West Germany by formally agreed road, rail, waterway and air 'corridors'. Anxious to oust their former American, British and French allies, the Soviets embarked on a progressive strangulation of the city, beginning in January 1948.

Currency reforms, opposed by the Russians, were introduced in West Germany in June 1948 and were to be the catalyst that sparked the Berlin Blockade in earnest. Access between West Berlin and West Germany was prohibited on the ground.

Two-and-a-half million Berliners, as well as the Allied garrisons, needed to be supplied with food, fuel and the means to continue production and export. The only way to supply the city was by the three air corridors into Berlin from Hamburg, Hanover and Frankfurt. Britain, the United States and other Western Allies flew aircrafts of supplies into Berlin's Tempelhof, Gatow and Tegal airports.


How the Russians took Berlin single-handedly

The Red Army in the streets of Berlin, April 1945. / Photo: DPA/Global Look Press

The Battle of Berlin was one of the largest battles in human history. It began on April 16 in the outskirts of the city. By April 25, Soviet troops had entered the Third Reich's capital. About 3.5 million soldiers from both sides participated in the fight with more than 50,000 weapons and 10,000 tanks.

Why didn&rsquot the other Allied forces fight in Berlin?

Soviet troops stormed Berlin while the rest of the Allied army remained more than 100 kilometers outside the German capital. In 1943, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt declared that "the U.S. must obtain Berlin." British Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed that the Nazi capital must not fall into Soviet hands. However, in the spring of 1945, these Allied forces did not make any effort to take possession of the city. British historian John Fuller called it "one of the strangest decisions ever made in military history."

Yalta Conference 1945: Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt. / Photo: Public domain

However, this decision had its motives. In an interview with RBTH, Russian historian Andrei Soyustov said that there were at least two reasons for this decision. First, according to preliminary agreements, including the accords made in Yalta, Berlin was located in the zone of Soviet military operations. The demarcation line between the USSR and the other Allied forces went along the Elbe River. "Rushing into Berlin for the sake of status, could have, at minimum, backfired and may have resulted in a USSR decision not to fight against Japan," explains the historian. The second reason for not storming the giant urban center was that the Allies had been fraught with casualties as the end of the war approached. In the period between the Normandy landing and April 1945 the Allies "were able to avoid storming large cities," Soyustov notes.

Soviet casualties in the Battle of Berlin were indeed very high with 80,000 injured and at least 20,000 killed. The German side suffered just as many losses.

A night attack under floodlights

Berlin was captured by Soviet troops on three fronts. The most difficult task fell to the soldiers from the First Belarus Front, commanded by Georgy Zhukov, who had to charge the well-fortified German position in Seelow Heights on the outskirts of the city. The attack began during the night of April 16 with an unprecedentedly powerful and coordinated artillery barrage. Then, without waiting for morning, tanks entered the battle supported by the infantry. The offensive was conducted with the help of floodlights, which were set up behind the advancing troops. Even with the use of this clever this tactic, several days were needed to seize Seelow Heights.

Soviet artillery at the Seelow Heights, April 1945. / Photo: Getty Images

Initially, almost one million German servicemen were concentrated around Berlin. However, they were met by a Soviet force that was 2.5 times greater. At the very beginning of the Berlin operation, Soviet troops succeeded in cutting off the majority of the German units from the city. Due to this, the Soviet Army encountered only a few hundred thousand German soldiers in Berlin itself, including the Volkssturm (the militia) and the Hitler Youth. There were also many SS units from different European countries.

All bets on the tanks

Hitler's troops worked desperately to defend themselves with two lines of defense organized in Berlin. Many homes were equipped with bunkers and these houses, with their thick walls, became impregnable strongholds. Of particular danger for the advancing Soviet troops were the anti-tank weapons, bazookas and hand grenades since Soviet forces were heavily reliant on the use of armored vehicles during the attack. In this environment of urban warfare, many tanks were destroyed.

Soviet combat troops on the way to the center of Berlin, 1945. / Photo: Arkadyi Shaikhet/RIA Novosti

Following the war, commanders of the Soviet operation were often criticized for relying so heavily on the use of armored vehicles. However, as emphasized by Soyustov, in such conditions the use of tanks was justified. "Thanks to the heavy use of armored vehicles, the Soviet army was able to create a very mobile unit of support for the advancing troops, which helped them break through the barricades into the city center."

The tactics used in the Battle of Berlin built on experience from the Battle of Stalingrad. The Soviet troops established special assault units, in which tanks played a critical role. Typically, maneuvers were carried out in the following manner: The infantry moved along both sides of the street, checking the windows on both sides, to identify obstacles that were dangerous for the vehicles, such as camouflaged weapons, barricades and tanks embedded in the ground. If the troops noticed such impediments up ahead, the Soviet infantry would wait for the arrival of their self-propelled tanks and self-propelled howitzers, known as "Stalin's sledgehammer." Once this support arrived, the armored vehicles would work to destroy German fortifications at point-blank range. However, there were situations where the infantry could not keep up with the armored vehicles and consequently, the tanks were isolated from their cover and became easy prey for the German anti-tank weapons and artillery.

The capture of the Reichstag

The culmination of the offensive on Berlin was the battle for the Reichstag, the German parliament building. At the time, it was the highest building in the city center and its capture had symbolic significance. The first attempt to seize the Reichstag on April 27 failed and the fight continued for four more days. The turning point occurred on April 29 as Soviet troops took possession of the fortified Interior Ministry building, which occupied an entire block. The Soviets finally captured the Reichstag on the evening of April 30.

Victory Banner over the Reichstag, 1945. / Photo: Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Early in the morning of May 1, the flag of the 150th Rifle division was raised over the building. This was later referred to as the Banner of Victory.

On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker. Until the last moment, Hitler had been hoping that troops from other parts of Germany would come to his aid in Berlin, but this did not happen. The Berlin troops surrendered on May 2.

Was the Battle of Berlin necessary?

Calculating the losses involved in the Battle of Berlin at the end of such a bloody war, some historians doubt whether the Soviet attack of the city was necessary. In the opinion of historian and writer Yuri Zhukov, after the Soviet and American troops met at the Elbe river, surrounding the German units in Berlin, it was possible to do without the offensive on the Nazi capital. "Georgy Zhukov&hellip could have just tightened the blockade circle on an hourly basis&hellip But for an entire week, he mercilessly sacrificed thousands of Soviet soldiers&hellip He obtained the surrender of the Berlin garrison on May 2. But if this capitulation had occurred not on May 2 but, let's say, on the 6th or the 7th, tens of thousands of our soldiers would have been saved," Zhukov continues.

Berlin, the end of the World War II. / Photo: Global Look Press

However, there are other opinions that contradict this view. Some researchers say that if the Soviet troops had just besieged the city, they would have lost the strategic initiative to the Germans. Nazi attempts to break the blockade from the inside and outside would have resulted in just as many losses for the Soviet Army as the attack, claims Soyustov. It is also not clear how long such a blockade would have lasted.

Soyustov also says that delaying the Berlin operation could have resulted in political problems between the Allied forces. It is no secret that towards the end of the war the Third Reich's representatives tried to negotiate a separate peace deal with the Americans and British forces. "In these circumstances, no one would have been able to predict how a blockade of Berlin would have developed," Soyustov is convinced.

Read more: Five questions about the judgment at Nuremberg

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Why did the Soviet Union lift the Berlin Blockade? - History

Please note: The audio information from the video is included in the text below.

The Berlin Airlift could be called the first battle of the Cold War. It was when western countries delivered much needed food and supplies to the city of Berlin through the air because all other routes were blocked by the Soviet Union.


A C-54 landing at Berlin Tempelhof Airport
Source: United States Air Force

At the end of World War II the country of Germany was divided by the Allies into four zones. Great Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union each controlled a different zone. The capital of Germany, Berlin, was located in the Soviet Union zone, but control of this city was also split into four zones between the four countries.

Tensions Between the East and West

With the war over, tensions began to mount between the democratic countries of the west and the communist countries controlled by the Soviet Union of the east. The west was determined to stop the spread of communism and the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine made this clear.

The west also wanted the country of Germany to be united under one democratic government. The Soviet Union didn't want this. Soon the two sides were at odds over the future of Germany. The west introduced a new currency called the Deutsche Mark, but the Soviets refused to use it in their zone.

The city of Berlin was an island in the middle of the Soviet controlled zone. The west sent supplies there via railroads and roads. However, the Soviets wanted total control of Berlin. They figured if they cut off Berlin from their external supplies and food, then it would fall under their control.

On June 24, 1948 the Soviets blocked all rail and road traffic to Berlin. They cut off the electricity coming from the Soviet part of the city. They halted all traffic going in and out of the city. The only way in was to fly.

When the blockade first started, the city of Berlin had around 36 days worth of food. They also needed tons of coal for energy and other items such as medical supplies.

Without going to war or giving up the city of Berlin, the only option the western countries had was to try and fly in all the supplies. This was a huge task. There were over two million people living in the city at the time. The army estimated that it would take over 1500 tons of food each day to keep them alive.

The Soviets did not believe that an airlift would work. They felt that the people of Berlin would eventually give up.

Over the next ten months the United States and Great Britain flew around 277,000 flights into Berlin. They carried over 2.3 million tons of supplies into the city. On May 12, 1949 the Soviet Union stopped the blockade and the airlift was over.


Contents

1961 Berlin ultimatum Edit

At the Vienna summit on 4 June 1961, tensions rose. Meeting with US President John F. Kennedy, Premier Khrushchev reissued the Soviet ultimatum to sign a separate peace treaty with East Germany and thus end the existing four-power agreements guaranteeing American, British, and French rights to access West Berlin and the occupation of East Berlin by Soviet forces. [1] However, this time he did so by issuing a deadline of 31 December 1961. The three powers responded that any unilateral treaty could not affect their responsibilities and rights in West Berlin. [1]

Rising tensions Edit

In the growing confrontation over the status of Berlin, Kennedy undercut his own bargaining position during his Vienna summit negotiations with Khrushchev in June 1961. Kennedy essentially conveyed US acquiescence to the permanent division of Berlin. This made his later, more assertive public statements less credible to the Soviets. [2] Kennedy decided on a flexible policy proposed by his younger advisors, with only a few concessions to the hardliners around Dean Acheson. The United States now defined three vital interests in its policy for Berlin, and linked all of them only to the western part of the city: the presence of Western troops in West Berlin the security and viability of the western sectors and Western access to them. [3]

As the confrontation over Berlin escalated, Kennedy delivered on July 25 a television speech in Washington on CBS, and broadcast nationwide in the US. He reiterated that the United States was not looking for a fight and that he recognized the "Soviet Union's historical concerns about their security in central and eastern Europe." He said he was willing to renew talks, but he also announced that he would ask Congress for an additional $3.25 billion for military spending, mostly on conventional weapons. He wanted six new divisions for the Army and two for the Marines, and he announced plans to triple the draft and to call up the reserves. Kennedy proclaimed: "We seek peace, but we shall not surrender." [4]

Vacationing in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Khrushchev was reported to be angered by Kennedy's speech. John Jay McCloy, Kennedy's disarmament adviser, who happened to be in the Soviet Union, was invited to join Khrushchev. It is reported that Khrushchev explained to McCloy that Kennedy's military build-up threatened war.

Plans for the Berlin Wall Edit

In early 1961, the East German government sought a way to stop its population leaving for the West. Walter Ulbricht, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and Staatsrat chairman and thus East Germany's chief decision-maker, convinced the Soviet Union that force was necessary to stop this movement, although Berlin's four-power status required the allowance of free travel between zones and forbade the presence of German troops in Berlin. [1]

The East German government began stockpiling building materials for the erection of the Berlin Wall this activity was widely known, but only a small circle of Soviet and East German planners believed that East Germans were aware of the purpose. [1] This material included enough barbed wire to enclose the 156 km (97 mi) circumference of West Berlin. The regime managed to avoid suspicion by spreading out the purchases of barbed wire among several East German companies, which in turn spread their orders out among a range of firms in West Germany and the United Kingdom. [5]

On 15 June 1961, two months before the construction of the Berlin Wall started, Walter Ulbricht stated in an international press conference: "Niemand hat die Absicht, eine Mauer zu errichten!" ("No one has the intention to erect a wall"). It was the first time the term Mauer (wall) had been used in this context.

On 4–7 August 1961, the foreign ministers of the US, UK, France and West Germany secretly met in Paris to discuss how to respond to the Soviet actions [ further explanation needed ] in West Berlin. They expressed a lack of willingness to engage in warfare. Within weeks, the KGB provided Khrushchev with descriptions of the Paris talks. These showed that US Secretary of State Dean Rusk, unlike the West Germans, supported talks with the Soviet Union, though the KGB and the GRU warned that the US was being pressured by other members of the alliance to consider economic sanctions against East Germany and other socialist countries and to move faster on plans for conventional and nuclear armament of their allies in Western Europe, such as the West German Bundeswehr. [6]

The West had advance intelligence about the construction of the Wall. On 6 August, a HUMINT source, a functionary in the SED, provided the 513th Military Intelligence Group (Berlin) with the correct date of the start of construction. At a weekly meeting of the Berlin Watch Committee on 9 August 1961, the Chief of the US Military Liaison Mission to the Commander Group of Soviet Forces Germany predicted the construction of a wall. An intercept of SED communications on the same day informed the West that there were plans to begin blocking all foot traffic between East and West Berlin. The interagency intelligence Watch Committee assessment said that this intercept "might be the first step in a plan to close the border", which turned out to be correct.

Closing of the border Edit

On Saturday 12 August 1961, the leaders of East Germany attended a garden party at a government guesthouse in Döllnsee, in a wooded area to the north of East Berlin, and Walter Ulbricht signed the order to close the border and erect a Wall around West Berlin.

At midnight, the army, police, and units of the East German army began to close the border by morning on Sunday 13 August 1961, the border to West Berlin had been shut. East German troops and workers had begun to tear up streets running alongside the barrier to make them impassable to most vehicles, and to install barbed wire entanglements and fences along the 156 km (97 mi) around the three western sectors and the 43 km (27 mi) which actually divided West and East Berlin. Approximately 32,000 combat and engineer troops were employed for the building of the Wall, after which the Border Police became responsible for manning and improving it. To discourage Western interference and perhaps control potential riots, the Soviet Army was present. [1]

Kennedy did not give in to angry demands for immediate action raised by West Berliners and their mayor, Willy Brandt. Instead, he sent vice president Lyndon B. Johnson together with Lucius D. Clay, the hero of the Berlin Airlift of 1948‒49, to West Berlin on August 19. They managed to calm the population and demonstrate symbolically the Unites States' solidarity with the city. On August 20, 1,500 additional GIs arrived in West Berlin. [7]

On 30 August 1961, in response to moves by the Soviet Union to cut off access to Berlin, President Kennedy ordered 148,000 Guardsmen and Reservists to active duty. In October and November, more Air National Guard units were mobilised, and 216 aircraft from the tactical fighter units flew to Europe in operation "Stair Step", the largest jet deployment in the history of the Air Guard. Most of the mobilised Air Guardsmen remained in the US, while some others had been trained for delivery of tactical nuclear weapons and had to be retrained in Europe for conventional operations. The Air National Guard's ageing F-84s and F-86s required spare parts that the United States Air Forces in Europe lacked. [1]

Richard Bach wrote his book Stranger to the Ground centred around his experience as an Air National Guard pilot on this deployment.

Berlin travel disputes Edit

The four powers governing Berlin (Soviet Union, United States, United Kingdom, and France) had agreed at the 1945 Potsdam Conference that Allied personnel could move freely in any sector of Berlin. But on 22 October 1961, just two months after the construction of the Wall, the US Chief of Mission in West Berlin, E. Allan Lightner, was stopped in his car (which had occupation forces license plates) while crossing at Checkpoint Charlie to go to a theatre in East Berlin. [8] President John F. Kennedy worked closely with retired Army General Lucius D. Clay, who had been in charge of the famous Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949. They decided to demonstrate American resolve. The American command in the West Berlin garrison considered a plan to pull down the wire and barricades with bulldozers. This, however, was overruled by the troop commander, Brigadier General. Frederick O. Hartel. General Clay went to Berlin for 10 months. [9] [10]

Military stand-off Edit

US Commandant General Watson was outraged by the East Berlin police's attempt to control the passage of American military forces. He communicated to the Department of State on 25 October 1961 that Soviet Commandant Colonel Solovyev and his men were not doing their part to avoid disturbing actions during a time of peace negotiations, and demanded that the Soviet authorities take immediate steps to remedy the situation. Solovyev replied by describing American attempts to send armed soldiers across the checkpoint and keeping American tanks at sector boundary as an "open provocation" and a direct violation of GDR regulations. He insisted that properly identified American military could cross the sector border without impediments, and were only stopped when their nationality was not immediately clear to guards. Solovyev contended that requesting identifying paperwork from those crossing the border was not unreasonable control Watson disagreed. In regard to the American military presence on the border, Solovyev warned:

I am authorized to state that it is necessary to avoid actions of this kind. Such actions can provoke corresponding actions from our side. We have tanks too. We hate the idea of carrying out such actions, and are sure that you will re-examine your course. [11] [ failed verification ] [12]

Perhaps this contributed to Hemsing's decision to make the attempt again: on 27 October 1961, Hemsing again approached the zonal boundary in a diplomatic vehicle. But General Clay did not know how the Soviets would respond, so just in case, he had sent tanks with an infantry battalion to the nearby Tempelhof airfield. To everyone's relief the same routine was played out as before. The US Military Police and Jeeps went back to West Berlin, and the tanks waiting behind also went home.

Immediately afterwards, 33 Soviet tanks drove to the Brandenburg Gate. Curiously, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev claimed in his memoirs that as he understood it, the American tanks had seen the Soviet tanks coming and retreated. Col. Jim Atwood, then Commander of the US Military Mission in West Berlin, disagreed in later statements. As one of the first to spot the tanks when they arrived, Lieutenant Vern Pike was ordered to verify whether they were indeed Soviet tanks. He and tank driver Sam McCart drove over to East Berlin, where Pike took advantage of a temporary absence of any soldiers near the tanks to climb into one of them. He came out with definitive evidence that the tanks were Soviet, including a Red Army newspaper. [13]

Ten of these tanks continued to Friedrichstraße, and stopped just 50 to 100 metres from the checkpoint on the Soviet side of the sector boundary. The US tanks turned back towards the checkpoint, stopping an equal distance from it on the American side of the boundary. From 27 October 1961 at 17:00 until 28 October 1961 at about 11:00, the respective troops faced each other. As per standing orders, both groups of tanks were loaded with live munitions. The alert levels of the US Garrison in West Berlin, then NATO, and finally the US Strategic Air Command (SAC) were raised.

It was at this point that US Secretary of State Dean Rusk conveyed to General Lucius Clay, the US commanding officer in Berlin, that "We had long since decided that Berlin is not a vital interest which would warrant determined recourse to force to protect and sustain." Clay was convinced that having US tanks use bulldozer mounts to knock down parts of the Wall would have ended the Crisis to the greater advantage of the US and its allies without eliciting a Soviet military response. Frederick Kempe argues that Rusk's views, along with evidence Kempe advances for the possibility that the Soviets might have backed down following this action, support a more unfavorable assessment of Kennedy's decisions during the crisis and his willingness to accept the Wall as the best solution. [14]

The United States deployed the Davy Crockett tactical nuclear device into the field for the final time during the Berlin crisis of 1961, according to Brigadier General Alvin Cowan, Assistant Division Commander of the United States 3rd Armored Division, at the Tactical Nuclear Weapons Symposium of 1969. According to Cowan, the device was retired afterwards in part because "it was essentially a platoon weapon," and there was apparently "great fear that some sergeant would start a nuclear war." [15]

Resolution Edit

With KGB spy Georgi Bolshakov serving as the primary channel of communication, Khrushchev and Kennedy agreed to reduce tensions by withdrawing the tanks. [16] The Soviet checkpoint had direct communications to General Anatoly Gribkov at the Soviet Army High Command, who in turn was on the phone to Khrushchev. The US checkpoint contained a Military Police officer on the telephone to the HQ of the US Military Mission in Berlin, which in turn was in communication with the White House. Kennedy offered to go easy over Berlin in the future in return for the Soviets removing their tanks first. The Soviets agreed. Kennedy stated concerning the Wall: "It's not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war." [17]

A Soviet tank moved about 5 metres backwards first then an American tank followed suit. One by one the tanks withdrew. But General Bruce C. Clarke, then the Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of US Army Europe (USAREUR), was said to have been concerned about General Clay's conduct [ citation needed ] and Clay returned to the United States in May 1962. Gen. Clarke's assessment may have been incomplete, however: Clay's firmness had a great effect on the German population, led by West Berlin Mayor Willy Brandt and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. [ citation needed ]


Supplying a City by Air: The Berlin Airlift

On June 24, 1948, the Soviet Union closed all surface routes into the western zone of Berlin. Citing "technical difficulties," the Soviets blockaded the city, hoping to force the United States, Great Britain, and France to abandon Berlin and thus sabotage currency reforms and the unification of the western zone of Germany. The Allied response was neither retreat nor war, but a unique reply made possible only by aviation - an airlift. Two days after West Berlin was sealed off, the first transport plane of "Operation Vittles" landed with vital supplies. For 18 months, American and British aircrews literally flew around-the-clock bringing coal, food, medicine, and all of the other necessities of life to the 2 million inhabitants of war-ravaged West Berlin. Despite impossible odds, the Berlin Airlift succeeded in winning this, the first battle of the Cold War.

By prior arrangement before the blockade, the US, Britain, and France had secured air rights to three narrow 20-mile-wide corridors over east Germany into Berlin. The shortest was 110 miles long. Aircraft were flown into Berlin along the northern and southern corridors. All planes leaving the city used the central corridor.

With the total support of President Harry S. Truman, the military governor of the American zone in Germany, Gen. Lucius D. Clay, organized the airlift. Although pressured by countless calls to abandon Berlin, Clay stood firm. His resolve and ability became the driving force behind this massive task.

Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the commander of the US Air Force (USAF) in Europe, responded immediately to General Clay's request to supply Berlin by air. When asked by Clay if the USAF could deliver the coal, which was vital for Berlin's survival, LeMay responded, "We can deliver anything." He promptly arranged for additional aircraft and established the complex organization that made the airlift work. Wisely, he found the best person to run it.

In August 1948, General LeMay ordered Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner to assume command of the Combined Airlift Task Force. Tunner was experienced in the job, having organized the "Hump" operations over the Himalayas to China in World War II with great success supplying the Nationalist Chinese armies and the US 14 th Air Force in their fight against Japan. He rapidly coordinated American and British efforts into an efficient unit.

For 18 months, American and British aircrews literally flew around-the-clock bringing coal, food, medicine, and all of the other necessities of life to the 2 million inhabitants of war-ravaged West Berlin.

Douglas C-47s flew the first Airlift loads into Berlin three days after the blockade began, though they were phased out by the USAF in favor of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster. These large four-engine transports could carry up to 10 tons of supplies - four times the capacity of a C-47. Standardizing on one aircraft type also simplified the coordination of the operation as the aircraft all had the same performance characteristics. The C-54, military version of the DC-4 airliner, greatly increased the ability of the Air Force to maintain the minimum of 4,500 tons needed daily to feed the 2.5 million isolated Berliners. Because of its large capacity, the C-54 carried most of the city's coal shipments. The US Navy provided two squadrons of their R5D version of the C-54 as well. The British flew a variety of types including Avro Lancastrians and Yorks, Handley-Page Hastings, and even Shorts Sunderlands, that alighted on the Havel See (a large Berlin lake) while carrying loads of much needed salt.

Tempelhof was the principal Berlin airfield used by Operation Vittles during the Airlift. Built in 1923, this former parade ground in the heart of the city originally was a grass field. By November 1948, the US had built three modern concrete runways to withstand the constant pounding of the stream of transport planes. Royal Air Force aircraft landed at Gatow in the British sector.

To keep turnaround time to a remarkably low average of 49 minutes, crew members were not allowed to leave the immediate vicinity of their airplane when unloading the aircraft. Three vehicles met them: a mobile canteen for refreshments, a weather and operations car for briefing, and a maintenance truck for service.

Moved by the plight of the children of Berlin, one of the pilots, 1st Lt. Gail Halvorsen, cheered them up by dropping small bundles of candy tied to handkerchief parachutes as he approached Tempelhof. His gesture sparked an enthusiastic response from the Air Force and the American people as "Operation Little Vittles" became an overwhelming humanitarian and public relations success.

Typically bad weather on northern Europe struck frequently. Rain and snow hindered operations as well as Soviet harassment by intercepting fighters. Bad weather contributed to accidents as did the stress and strain of around-the-clock flying. All told, some 65 pilots, crewmembers and civilian workers perished during the Airlift. For several months in late 1948, Berlin was just barely surviving.

The key to the eventual success was not only General Tunner’s strict discipline and superb organization, but also the use of a sophisticated radio, radar, and Ground Controlled Approach system that enabled flights to continue around the clock in all but the worst weather. Air traffic controllers guided each aircraft on a straight approach at three-minute intervals. Aircraft were not stacked as this wasted much time and fuel. Planes were flown at 15-minute intervals at each 500-foot level between the altitudes of 5000 and 7000 feet.

When asked by Clay if the USAF could deliver the coal, which was vital for Berlin's survival, LeMay responded, "We can deliver anything."

Despite these difficulties, by the Spring of 1949 it was clear that the Airlift could supply Berlin from the air. To prove the point, General Tunner ordered a maximum effort on Easter 1949. Flying around the clock with every aircraft available, the US and Britain flew in 12,941 tons of supplies in 1383 flights during the “Easter Parade,” three times the daily requirement that was necessary for Berlin to survive. By the end of April, daily deliveries grew from 6,729 to 8893 tons per day, more than enough to keep the city alive.

Faced with increasing international condemnation and the fact that the airlift succeeded despite months of bad weather and Soviet harassment, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin called off the blockade and reopened the ground routes to Berlin on May 12, 1949. General Clay continued the Airlift until September to ensure that Berlin would survive the winter if the Soviets resumed the blockade. The Allies won. In the course of the Airlift, they had safely delivered an astonishing 2.3 million tons of supplies, solely by air – an accomplishment unprecedented in history.


Why did a Cold War begin in Europe after The Second World War?

Despite being allies (friends) during the Second World War with Nazi Germany as a common enemy, the ideologies (beliefs) of the USA and the Soviet Union (look at the Word 'Soviet Union map to see who this was) were very different. Use page 79 of the pdf text book (box above this section) to see what they believed in. Write two politician speeches from each country, defending their system and criticising the other system, use the 'cold war ideological differences' sentences to help you if you like.

Why else did the two allies fall out? Read the 'cold war causes' Word document then complete the table to show your understanding of the events. At which point do you believe relations had broken out into 'Cold War'?

Both sides used propaganda (posters) to encourage their populations to support their systems. Look at these examples (there are translations of the Soviet posters) then, using the similar techniques and styles from the time, design your own propaganda poster for one side.

The first real test of the Cold War was in Berlin in 1948 - 49 with the blockade and airlift. Watch the video below to find out what happened. Open the pdf 'berlin blockade packet' to enhance your understanding and answer the questions. You might be asked to complete the study in the green box and / or look at the newspaper front pages and create your own from either a US or Soviet perspective.


Why did the Soviet Union lift the Berlin Blockade? - History

The first heightening of Cold War tensions occurred in 1948 when the Soviets imposed a blockade of Berlin.

But the western powers would not give in. To demonstrate their resolve, the Americans
orchestrated a monumental airlift which flew necessities such as coal and food into the western sectors of Berlin. This airlift lasted for 324 days, and approximately 13,000 tons of supplies a day were delivered.

Operation Vittles

Explain one way in which the Cold War was fought.

The Cold War was fought in many ways including political pressure in order to claim further territory by driving the USA or USSR out of a region. This can be seen in Berlin in 1948 when the USSR stopped supplies entering West Berlin through the East Germany area they controlled. This effectively cut off the city, resulting in potential shortages in food, clothing, fuel and many other necessities. By cutting off supplies, the USSR hoped to drive the USA and her allies out of the region. The USA responded through an immense airlift program to supply West Berlin with the required necessities for survival. Lasting 324 days, approximately 13,000 tons of supplies were delivered per day in order to provide for the people. Realising the blockade was unsuccessful in driving out the USA, the USSR decided to discontinue this political standoff. While the Berlin blockade had been a failure for the USSR, it assisted the growth of the USA’s influence as hostility between the three powers occupying West Berlin was reduced in confronting a common threat. Furthermore the political conflict was a success for the USA as a greater perception of the USSR as a hostile threat emerged in West Germany and West Berlin, resulting in a lessening of the USSR’s influence in those areas. This event is an example of the USSR trying to use political pressure to extend their influence, however, this was not successful.


Watch the video: Πούτιν: Αν μπορούσα θα άλλαζα την πτώση του κομμουνισμού