The Berlin Blockade and airlift

In this Revision Bite you will learn about the causes of the Berlin Blockade crisis of 1948 - how Stalin was eventually forced to abandon the plan that could have cost the lives of thousands living in divided Berlin or started another war.

Summary of the Berlin crisis

How Germany was divided in 1945

In 1945, the Allies decided to split Germany into four zones of occupation. The capital, Berlin, was also split into four zones. The USSR took huge reparations from its zone in eastern Germany, but Britain, France and America tried to improve conditions in their zones.

In June 1948, Britain, France and America united their zones into a new country, West Germany. On 23 June 1948, they introduced a new currency, which they said would help trade.

The next day, Stalin cut off all rail and road links to west Berlin - the Berlin Blockade. The west saw this as an attempt to starve Berlin into surrender, so they decided to supply west Berlin by air.

The Berlin Blockade lasted 318 days. During this time, 275,000 planes transported 1.5 million tons of supplies and a plane landed every three minutes at Berlin's Templehof airport.

On 12 May 1949, Stalin abandoned the blockade.

Causes and results of the Berlin Crisis of 1948

Important dates and events

January 1947Britain and the USA join their two zones together into Bi-zonia (two zones).
December 1947London Conference: America, Britain and France meet to discuss Germany's future. Russia is not present.
January 1948Russia starts to stop western literature being sold in the Soviet zone.
March 1948 The USA offers Marshall Aid. Stalin forbids Cominform countries to take part.
April 1948Russia imposes a partial blockade of west Berlin - Allied transport into the city has to apply for a permit and is inspected.
1 June 1948 America, Britain and France announce they wanted to create a new country of West Germany.
23 June 1948 America, Britain and France introduce a new currency - this causes economic chaos in the Russian zone as everyone tries to get rid of their old money and change to the new currency.

Now consider this quote from the US commander in Berlin, General Clay:

When Berlin falls, Western Germany will be next. If we withdraw our position in Berlin, Europe is threatened... Communism will run rampant.

General Clay

Results of the Berlin Crisis of 1948

  1. Germany was divided into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany) until 1990.
  2. The Iron Curtain became permanent.
  3. The Cold War broke out into open confrontation, and the two superpowers began an Arms Race.
  4. In 1949, the Allies set up the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as a military alliance to resist Soviet Russia.

Revision tip and answer preparation

Revision tip

To help you learn the facts from this Revision Bite, imagine you are a Soviet writer trying to prove that America was to blame for the Berlin crisis of 1948, what would you say? Then think about what an American writer would say.

Remember don't confuse the Berlin Blockade of 1948 with the Berlin Wall of 1961!

Answer preparation

As part of your revision, think about the arguments and facts you would use to explain:

  1. How the Allies divided Germany in 1945.
  2. Why there was a crisis in Berlin in 1948.
  3. What happened in the Berlin Blockade and airlift of 1948.
  4. How the Berlin airlift is a good example of the Cold War.
  5. How the Berlin crisis of 1948 affected the Cold War.

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