Ever since the Yalta Conference, it had been clear that Berlin was going to be a flash point in the Cold War, and this came to a head in 1948. The settlement agreed at the end of World War Two at Potsdam in 1945 was a temporary one. The Grand Alliance could not agree on a permanent united German state, and so the temporary zones of occupation had been created. Stalin was concerned that the Western powers would force the creation of a single capitalist Germany, by joining their zones together and overpowering the East.
Stalin was very aware that the western part of Germany was always going to be more prosperous and secure than the eastern zone. It was not a case of ‘two halves’ of Germany. There were considerable differences between the west and the east. Stalin was worried that the west would take advantage of their stronger position and unite all their zones and eventually take over the eastern part.
On 24 June 1948, Stalin cut all land access to Berlin for the Allies. This became known as the Berlin Blockade. Stalin did not intend to risk war over Berlin, and he did not intend to ‘drive the Allies out’. More likely, his intention was to show that the Soviets also had power in Germany, that could match the demonstrations of economic power and unity that the West had just shown. He was using the Blockade as a lever to prevent any further Western moves in Germany, rather than attempting some kind of communist rollback.
The Berlin Blockade was the first serious clash between the members of the former Grand Alliance, and from here on in it was very clear that the Cold War had begun.
The Western Allies were not prepared to risk armed conflict with the Soviets to open the way to West Berlin. They decided that their sectors of Berlin would be supplied by air. This became known as the Berlin Airlift and it lasted for eleven months until the Blockade was lifted in May 1949.
At the height of the Berlin Airlift, a plane landed at Berlin’s Templehof Airport every minute. Keeping West Berlin supplied in this way cost the USA $350 million and Britain £17 million.
Similarly, Stalin was not prepared to use force to keep the Western Allies from supplying West Berlin by air, because he didn’t want to risk a war.
Generally, all Western actions were matched by the USSR. Learn the pairs and their dates!
Politics: Truman Doctrine (1947) vs Cominform (1947)
Economics: Marshall Plan (1948) vs Comecon (1949)
Military: NATO (1949) vs Warsaw Pact (1955)