The Berlin Airlift – How An Entire City Was Supplied By Air

After the Second World War, Germany was divided into four zones. As part of the agreement Germany’s capital city, Berlin, was also divided into four sections. However, Berlin was fully surrounded by the Soviet’s zone of Germany.

Berlin Airlift, West Germany, West Berlin, Soviet Blockade
Aircraft ferried supplies to West Berlin during the Soviet blockade. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

This meant that all access to West Berlin had to come through the Soviet’s portion of the country. When this access was cut off, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France were left with a problem. They were no longer able to supply the city by railway, road, or canal.

What about via air?

Britain, the US, and France had never agreed on ground passage to West Berlin. It was just implied, hence when it was cut off, nothing could be argued. They had, however, agreed on access to three corridors of airspace between their zones and West Berlin. One from the Frankfurt area, one stretching towards Celle, and a final one towards the North of the British zone.

Berlin Airlift, West Germany, West Berlin, Soviet Blockade
Three corridors existed in the air between West Germany and West Berlin. Image: Leerlaufprozess via Wikimedia

These three routes through the air between West Germany and West Berlin proved vital for the community’s continuation. Partially due to the huge numbers of resources required to supply the city. It would be these routes that would halt the Soviet’s attempts to starve out West Berlin.

15 months of supplies

The Berlin Airlift was in operation for 15 months from June 1948 until September 1949. In order to keep the city running, a huge number of supplies were needed. According to History.com, at the start of the airlift, 5,000 tons of supplies were being ferried to Berlin every day. However, this increased to 8,000 tons towards the end of the 15-month operation.

Berlin Airlift, West Germany, West Berlin, Soviet Blockade
Around 300,000 flights took place during the operation. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

A total of 2.3 million tonnes were conveyed via airlift during that 15 month period. However, the number of flights conducted is also an impressive figure. The total number of flights lies somewhere around 300,000 for the operation. Divided into 15 months, this equates to 20,000 a month, which further divided by 30 gives around 666 flights per day. In fact, an aircraft took off or landed in West Berlin roughly every 30 seconds. These aircraft were largely cargo aircraft from the British, Americans and French.

Berlin Airlift, West Germany, West Berlin, Soviet Blockade
2.3 million tonnes of supplies were conveyed. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Lasting legacy

Thanks to the success of the airlift, the Soviets gave up with their blockade of Berlin. It became clear that its intended goal would not be achieved. However, despite the blockade being lifted in May, the airlift continued until September incase it was suddenly reinstated.

Berlin Airlift, West Germany, West Berlin, Soviet Blockade
Today, a monument to the Berlin Airlift stands just outside Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Today there are monuments to the airlift, including at Frankfurt Airport, remembering the operation. Frankfurt Airport, which is the Aviation Capital of Germany, allows visitors to see a couple of aircraft used during the operation, in addition to learning about the operation. There is also a portion of the Berlin Wall on display.

Do you remember the Berlin Airlift? Have you visited the monument in Frankfurt? Let us know in the comments!

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Trent

If this at all fascinates you, which it should, you’re reading and aviation blog, then go read more about this operation!

Philip Weyers

I was lucky enough to know a number of SAAF pilots and nav’s who flew the Airlift, and hear their stories first hand. Sadly none left now.