Berlin Airlift

Western Europe pre 1939

Western Europe pre 1939

In July 1945, President Truman (USA); Winston Churchill (UK) and Josef Stalin (Soviet Union) met at Potsdam to divide Germany into what they saw as four temporary occupation zones (American, British, French and Soviet). Although Berlin, the pre-war capital, lay within the Soviet zone, it too, was divided into four zones.

The intention was for the occupying powers to govern Germany together but the advent of Cold War tension caused the French, British and American zones to be formed into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in 1949 and the excluded Soviet zone then formed the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the same year.

This amalgamation of zones was also reflected in Berlin where French, British and American sectors became West Berlin and the Soviet sector became East Berlin.

The Western zones benefited from an influx of Marshall Aid and so living conditions improved and standards rose. The Soviet zone was plundered for resources taken as reparation for war damage and without external aid, living conditions and standards remained low and were slow to recover.

By 1948, the difference in standards was embarrassingly obvious especially in Berlin. As a symbol of increasing prosperity the western powers decide to introduce a new currency in their zones. The new Deutschmark would provide economic stability and aid recovery. For Stalin this is the last straw and in June 1948 he took action. All road, rail and canal links with West Germany were severed. The blockade of the city was interpreted by the US government as the first stage of an attack on West Germany.

The West responded to the blockade by organising an airlift of supplies to Berlin.