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The Berlin Airlift: A Short Summary

by | Mar 7, 2024 | World War Tour Berlin

The Berlin Airlift was a historic event that took place after World War II. It was a complex and challenging operation carried out by the Allied forces, primarily the United States and Great Britain. In this blog post, we will delve into the key aspects of the Berlin Airlift and explain its significance in history.


After World War II, Germany was divided into four occupation zones controlled by the Allied forces – the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The city of Berlin, although situated deep within the Soviet zone, was similarly divided among the four powers. Tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western powers began to rise, leading to the blockade of West Berlin by the Soviets on June 24, 1948.

The Blockade

The Soviet Union decided to cut off all land and water access to West Berlin in an attempt to force the Western powers to relinquish control. This created a dire situation for the people of West Berlin who heavily relied on supplies from the Western zones of Germany. Basic necessities such as food, fuel, and medical supplies were scarce.

The Airlift Begins

Faced with the blockade, the United States and Great Britain formulated a plan to overcome the Soviet action. On June 26, 1948, the Berlin Airlift began. The aim was to transport supplies by air to West Berlin until the Soviets lifted the blockade. The two primary airfields used were Tempelhof and Gatow.

Operation Vittles

The United States named their part of the airlift operation “Operation Vittles.” American cargo planes, predominantly C-47s and C-54s, were used to transport supplies. These planes landed at Tempelhof airport, which was located in the American sector of Berlin.

Operation Plainfare

Great Britain named their operation “Operation Plainfare.” They used a variety of aircraft including the Avro Yorks and Handley Page Hastings. The supplies were primarily flown to Gatow airport, situated in the British sector of Berlin.

The Challenges

The Berlin Airlift posed several significant challenges. Firstly, the sheer volume of supplies required to sustain the population of West Berlin was immense. This necessitated continuous and precise logistical planning. Additionally, the limited capacity of the airports meant that the planes had to land and take off every few minutes, creating an intense operation.

There were also navigation challenges as pilots needed to fly through narrow air corridors amidst poor weather conditions. The Soviet Union aimed to undermine the airlift by disrupting communication and radar signals. Despite these challenges, the Allied forces persevered.

The Success

The Berlin Airlift was ultimately successful. The Western powers demonstrated their commitment to the people of West Berlin and their determination to resist Soviet aggression. Over the course of the airlift, which lasted for 11 months, nearly 2.3 million tons of supplies were transported.

The resilience and solidarity of the people of West Berlin were also instrumental in the success. They coped with rationing and made the necessary sacrifices to overcome the hardships caused by the blockade.

End of the Blockade

In the face of the successful airlift, the blockade was lifted by the Soviets on May 12, 1949. The Berlin Airlift officially concluded on September 30, 1949. Western powers celebrated the victory, and West Berlin remained under Allied control.


The Berlin Airlift left a lasting legacy. It highlighted the resolve and determination of the Western powers to defend democracy and protect the people of West Berlin. It became a symbol of hope and solidarity during the early years of the Cold War.

Furthermore, the airlift served as a catalyst for the creation of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1949. NATO was formed to ensure the collective defense of its member states against any external aggression.


The Berlin Airlift was a remarkable undertaking that showcased the creativity, determination, and resilience of the Allied forces. It stands as a testament to the power of cooperation and the spirit of humanity. The successful transportation of supplies not only sustained the people of West Berlin but also sent a powerful message to the world – that freedom and democracy would prevail.

The Berlin Airlift: A Short Summary