Berlin Airlift - A Cold War Myth?

#1
BERLIN AIRLIFT
Cold War myths

By Paul Steege Published: June 13, 2008

VILLANOVA, Pennsylvania:

As the 60th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift approaches, recycled myths about its accomplishments drop from the sky like candy into the waiting arms of Americans hungry for a foreign policy alternative to endless war and secret torture. But politicians and pundits looking for a humanitarian policy to win the world's hearts and minds should look back to the airlift with caution.

Sixty years after British and American planes began to fly supplies to West Berliners facing a Soviet blockade, even the faux news program "Colbert Report" has reprised the Cold War refrain that the airlift saved the population from starvation and halted the Soviet advance across Europe. But the airlift never provided everything West Berliners needed to stay alive.

While the airlift delivered more than 2.3 million tons of supplies to Berlin, this amount failed to meet West Berlin's food needs, and the planes never even attempted to supply coal to heat private homes. The Western victory in this first Cold War battle came in spite of the fact that the airlift never achieved its ostensible purpose: to fully supply West Berlin.

That the West "won" depended first and foremost on Berliners' survival practices in the face of ongoing scarcity - practices that the great powers could not control and failed to understand. And this Western victory came with costs that were not obvious at the time and have largely been ignored in retrospect.

After World War II, the four victorious allies - Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States - divided Germany into occupation zones. Berlin, located more than 100 miles into the Soviet zone, was likewise divided into four occupation sectors. By spring 1948 the four-power structures designed to administer occupied Germany had collapsed.

On June 24, 1948, the Soviets halted rail and road traffic from the three Western zones to Berlin. Because each occupying power was obligated to provide the food and fuel for the inhabitants of its sector, most historical accounts assume that this step completely cut West Berliners' supply lines, leaving them dependent on airlifted supplies.

But West Berliners did not just tighten their belts and wait for a delivery of dried potatoes or stand at the end of the runways at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in an effort to catch the chocolate bars imaginative airlift pilots dropped by handkerchief parachute.

They embarked on foraging trips into the surrounding Soviet zone, made under-the-table arrangements with shopkeepers and bartered and traded on the streets and squares of Berlin. Berliners had practiced these black market strategies since war's end and were used to depending on them for their survival.

These ordinary if technically illicit practices continued in 1948-1949 and made for a steady if occasionally hazardous flow of goods through the Soviet blockade. More than a month into the blockade, one German Communist begged Soviet officials to do something about the vegetables streaming into the Western sectors, which were available in greater quantity and at lower prices than in the Soviet half of Berlin.

Even after the blockade had been tightened in October 1948, it remained rather porous. In mid-November U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall received an intelligence report entitled, "Is Berlin blockaded?" The answer provided by the report and supported by evidence from East German archives: Only partially.

Rejecting the standard account of a total blockade does not deny the incredible technical accomplishments of the airlift or the sacrifice of the American and British personnel killed while flying supplies to the former German capital. Nor does it deny the ruthlessness of the Soviet and German Communists who showed no qualms about defending their hold on power with brutal violence. But it does challenge Cold War Berlin's status as the West's Achilles' heel that only a miracle could save from the Soviets.

In fact, Berlin was a site of Western (and especially American) strength. Even at the height of the blockade, German communists in Berlin repeatedly expressed how they felt besieged in the city.

The international settlement that resolved the blockade crisis guaranteed West Berlin's independence, but it also marked the West's acceptance of a Stalinist state in half of Germany. It thus helped assuage the Communist anxieties that motivated their expanded "control measures" in the first place.

In 2008 we risk conflating the symbolic and the material accomplishments of the airlift. While the airlift did cement the alliance and even friendship between Germans and Americans after World War II, the blockade never threatened West Berlin with starvation.

The airlift also solidified American commitment to a conflict that defined the world in absolute and ultimately destructive terms: the Cold War.

In the face of a "war on terror" that makes similar universal claims, those issuing nostalgic appeals for total foreign policy solutions - even humanitarian ones - should heed the cautionary lessons of the Berlin Blockade.

Paul Steege, associate professor of history at Villanova University, is author of "Black Market, Cold War: Everyday Life in Berlin, 1946-1949."
I hope Mr. Steege doesn't mind my blatant Cut and Paste from today's IHT.

I've italicized the reference to the coal , because I'm sure RAF Sunderlands were lifting coal and Salt and landing on Berlin Lakes during their part of OP. Plainfare.

So was the greatest airlift in the history of mankind, a cold war myth?
 
#2
To be fair he doesn't say coal wasn't part of the airlift but "the planes never even attempted to supply coal to heat private homes"

Presumably the first priority for coal airlifted in would be for power stations, factories, community buildings? - what were left of them!

I don't recall the "Colbert Report" suggesting the Berlin Airlift was a myth. Colbert did interview an author about a new book on the Airlift but the only thing that stuck in mind about the interview was that it portrayed it as purely an American endeavour; In fact I checked out the book (forgotten the title now but it had "Candy" in the title) and it only had one fleeting reference to the RAF in it, so I didn’t bother reading it.
 
#3
Short Sunderlands DID carry salt, as flying boats their structures were treated against salt erosion.
I have also read accounts of USAF Sky masters that "still had the Coal dust" inside from their service on the Berlin airlift
The Following site talks about the airlift
http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Air_Power/berlin_airlift/AP35.htm
The Quote below is important I think.
"But coal was the trickiest commodity, although the most important, comprising 65 percent of the cargo. Coal dust corroded cables and electrical connections, and crews complained of breathing problems from inhaling the dust. When the planes had their 1,000-hour overhauls, their weights had increased by as much as 100 pounds (45 kilograms)--all coal dust. Eventually, surplus army duffel bags were used to hold the coal and decrease the dust somewhat."
 
#4
While the airlift did cement the alliance
I could have sworn a small unpleasantness 3 years previously had done that..

The airlift also solidified American commitment to a conflict that defined the world in absolute and ultimately destructive terms: the Cold War.
I could have sworn a Mushroom cloud over Khazakstan did that.
 
#5
the airlift never achieved its ostensible purpose: to fully supply West Berlin
Was that its purpose? Or was it to stave off stravation and to maintain the Western Allies control of West Berlin?

Berliners had practiced these black market strategies since war's end and were used to depending on them for their survival.
They would have practiced these black market strategies long before the war's end.
 
#6
The Truman doctrine was already pretty much in place. That solidified the"Bi-Polar World" as Kennedy calls it.
There is a argument, that as early as 1945 Truman, Forrestal and others, were set on containing a Soviet bid for Global Superiority (as the USA had already reached that point and could not allow anotherto "topple it")
 
#7
My father was flying Yorks with 511 Sqn. I'm looking at his log books now. From Mid-July 48 to the end of the year he made about 400 flights on about 150 days. Not sure if his days off were leave or due to bad weather. His hours increased by 1420 which is over 9 hours a day.

The ground crew at Gatow must have worked like demons unloading the aircraft. The interval between landing and take off was often less than an hour and in one case is less than half an hour.
 
#8
PartTimePongo said:
Sixty years after British and American planes began to fly supplies to West Berliners facing a Soviet blockade, even the faux news program "Colbert Report" has reprised the Cold War refrain that the airlift saved the population from starvation and halted the Soviet advance across Europe. But the airlift never provided everything West Berliners needed to stay alive.

quote]

If you don't mind me saying, whoever wrote this is just trying to stir up shite!
The main aim of the Berlin airlift was to signal to the Soviets that the Allies would not give up the western sectors of Berlin without a fight.
The Soviets had blocked the ground corridors and attempted to undermine the western sectors both politically and financially in the belief that the Americans in particular would not want to risk world war III over West Berlin.
The plan backfired spectacularly and the Allies played it to their advantage. The propoganda machine went into full production anouncing to the world that only the Brave western democracies (ie. the USA) could and would stand up to the evil red menace.
The Berlin airlift could never supply West Berlin entirely with all it's fuel and food needs. However the Allies did a fantastic job in trying and the media did the rest.
The Berliners themselves played a great part in the sucsess of the airlift by doing their own version of "dig for victory" as well as burning anything that had survived 4 years of allied bombing.
It was a backs to the wall, near run thing and in the end it was the Soviets who blinked first.
 
#9
Murphy_Slaw said:
If you don't mind me saying, whoever wrote this is just trying to stir up shite!
I think that the intention is to have a pop at the current US Administration.

While the airlift did not prevent widespread starvation it did prevent the slide into communism that the Soviets desired. In fact, the Soviet action finally confirmed the face of communist hegemony.

The blockade was a spectacular own-goal by the Soviets. Instead of driving the Berliners into their arms, the reverse happened. It also convinced any in the Western Sectors of Germany who needed proof that they were better off in 'Trizonia' than in the Soviet Sector.

Another bonus was that it finally convinced the French that 'Trizonia' should be formulated into what was to become West Germany and that maintaining Germany as a colony wasn't sustainable.
 

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