June 24, 2006

June 24, 1948: The Berlin Airlift

In January, 1948 England and America decided to combine their two sectors in Berlin creating a business zone called Bizonia. The purpose was to assist the Germans in reconstruction, and it was decided that if the German's had a bigger hand in the process, the process would proceed faster.

The Soviets however, were staunchly against the merger, seeing the embryo of a new German state, which they both feared, and which would, given the freedom of the west, soon outclass the Russian efforts in the east. Russian opposition however may have created the German state sooner than anticipated. France, England and America decided in June of '48 that a new German Federal Republic would be established by 1949 at the latest. Stalin was incensed.

On June 23rd, a Train headed from the western sectors to Berlin was halted and a rail removed from in front of the train. The Berlin Blockade had begun.

From a history of the Berlin Airlift:

A prerequisite for an independent nation was a revival of its economy. In West Germany the only active economy was then the black market. This now had to be destroyed, and this could only be done by currency reform-the substitution of the almost worthless Reichsmark for a brand new currency, the Deutsche Mark, with a stable and universally accepted value.

The currency reform operation was carried out in the utmost secrecy, for any leak would have led to grave international repercussions. One of the few people in the European command entrusted with prior knowledge of the operation was the civilian head of the U.S. Currency Bank in Frankfurt, Frank C. Gabell, whom some remembered as an American Military Government officer wrapped in an SS flag in the front-line town of Homberg in 1945. On Gabell fell the responsibility for directing the shipment and distribution of the new currency in the western Occupation zones.

Twenty-thousand cases of the new notes arrived in Frankfurt from the USA, where they had been printed, each case weighing 90 lbs. and marked "Bird Dog"-the operation's codename. Only Frank Gabell and five others knew what they were. "Some of the soldiers who helped load them thought they were dog food," Gabell recalled. "Others figured they were atom bombs. But it was only money. We thought about it in truckloads. For eleven days and nights the distribution went on...Then on June 18 the new currency was announced to the world."

The result was electrifying. West Germany's economic miracle began on that day. The black market was wiped out almost overnight, and the back-market barons were beggared. The cigarette, which for three years had been Germany's only valued unit of exchange, became once again merely something to smoke, as confidence in money was restored. Traders abandoned the barter system and returned to selling goods for cash. But for the ordinary German the greatest wonder of currency reform was the magical, virtually immediate stocking of shop windows with a variety of foodstuffs and consumer goods which had not been seen legally for years."

The need for re-supply of Berlin became obvious. Lucius Clay, Commander of the American Zone wanted to send an armored column down the Autobahn as the appropriate response. However, President Truman believed that this could be construed as an act of war and asked Clay to coordinate with Curtis LeMay, Commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe to establish an airlift.

The ultimate result was Operation Vittles which lasted some 462 days:

Hundreds of aircraft, nicknamed Rosinenbomber ("raisin bombers") by the local population, were used to fly in a wide variety of cargo items, including more than 1.5 million tons of coal. At the height of the operation, on April 16, 1949, an allied aircraft landed in Berlin every minute, and 12,840 tons of freight were delivered. The containers ranged from large containers to small packets of candy with tiny individual parachutes intended for the children of Berlin (an idea of a pilot named Gail Halvorsen that soon gained considerable US civilian support). Sick children were evacuated on return flights as well. The aircraft were supplied and flown by the United States, United Kingdom and France, but pilots and crew also came from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand in order to assist the supply of Berlin. Ultimately 278,228 flights were made and 2,326,406 tons of food and supplies were delivered to Berlin.
The Airlift was not without consequences however, 78 pilots and crew were killed during the airlift in a variety of crashes. The peoples of Berlin erected a monument to these individuals, and to the heroism of the flight crews arriving along three flight corridors. The last flight ocurred on September 30, 1049:

The Airlift confirmed that America and it's allies can accomplish much in the face of tyranny, and more, that Berlin was worth keeping free despite the machinations of Stalin and his "allies."

Once bitter enemies, the Airlift and subsequent founding of the Federal Republic of Germany proved that bitter enemies could become fast friends. Today, the relationship between the US and Germany is not as good as it once was, but there is hope that it can be better. Perhaps if both Germans and Americans realize this, improvements can be made.

Linked to Atlantic Review

Posted by GM Roper at June 24, 2006 08:42 PM | TrackBack

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