The Blockade

On 24 June 1948 the Soviet Union blocked all communication routes, air, rail, water, and road, between the occupied city of West Berlin and the outside. The intentions were to force the Western powers to concede Soviet control over the entire city. It was the first serious Cold War confrontation between former wartime allies of the East and West. What followed was a dangerous game of brinksmanship that witnessed the establishment of a military air corridor by direction of President Harry Truman. The purpose was to demonstrate resolve in the face of threats. For almost one year allied airforces maintained around the clock resupply of the city delivering cargoes as diverse as food, clothing, machinery, and coal. Against the backdrop of one of the worse winters ever visited on Europe the 'Berlin Airlift' maintained the freedom and morale of West Berlin.

The Crisis Begins

In the early morning hours of 24 June 1948 the Soviets severed all land, water, and rail routes between the non-Soviet zones and Berlin. For a limited time only some limited non-military traffic from West Berlin to the Western zones was permitted via a 23 kilometer detour to a ferry crossing. Additionally, the Soviets cut off all electricity supplied to West Berlin from generating plants in the Soviet zone. Only air corridors remained open. Left with only a month's worth of food and coal the situation appeared desperate. In reaction to what would develop as the first major military crisis of the Cold War US Secretary of State George Marshall sent a measured protest to the Soviet Ambassador on 6 July 1948. In part it insisted that the United States Government was obliged to insist that in accordance with existing agreements the arrangements for the movement of freight and passenger traffic between the western zones and Berlin be fully restored.