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From Empire to Nationhood

Berlin Airlift

Berlin AirliftBerlin AirliftThe Soviet blockade led progressively to the severance of road, river and rail links between western Germany and West Berlin in June 1948.

Faced with this challenge, the western allies determined to keep Berlin alive by air.

The scale of the necessary relief operation was staggering - the two and a half million inhabitants of the western sectors imported more than 12,000 tons of supplies a day including 2,000 tons of food.

Its reserves of coal and oil - vital to heating and electricity - would last only weeks.

The logistical demands of the operation were numerous and included the navigational difficulties of negotiating the narrow air corridors to Berlin, pilot fatigue from round the clock sorties and severe winter weather conditions that made take off and landing especially hazardous.

When the Soviets raised the siege in May 1949, nearly 300,000 flights had delivered close to 2.5m tons of supplies - an average of one flight every three minutes.

Raising German morale was also important and with this in mind, so-called 'candy bombers' delivered thousands of sweets for Berlin children.

While the airlift had achieved its immediate purpose, the episode ended hopes of a unified Germany and intensified the 'Cold War'.

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