The Berlin Blockade


A move to test our ability and our will to resist.

President Truman, speaking in 1949


The climax of the struggle for power over Germany and Europe.

Avi Shlaim, Britain, the Berlin Blockade and the Cold War (1983)


The first major crisis of the Cold War, setting up the stage for the decades of tension that were to follow.

Rebecca Byrnes (an Australian student) on Suite


The first point where war between the two superpowers was possible.

‘Booji’, a contributor to


The USSR had already disagreed with Britain and the USA at Potsdam (July 1945) about what should be done with Germany.  Germany had been split into four zones.  

There had been particular disagreement about reparations: Britain and America had wanted Germany to recover economically, but the Russians had gained the right to take 10% of the industrial equipment of western Germany, and as whatever they wanted from their own zone in eastern Germany:


Berlin, in Russia's zone, was also split into 4 zones.   But Berlin was entirely within - and surrounded by - the Russian zone.



New Words

Blockade: a siege.


Currency: money.


Berlin Blockade web sites:

Germany in the Cold War - basic overview

The airlift - comprehensive Wikipedia account

Airbridge to Berlin (excerpts from a book)

Tribute by Warren Christopher, US Secretary of State, 1994


Telegram from A Paniushkin, Soviet ambassador to the US, setting out the Soviet position

After Victory - an interview with Stalin in the Russian newspaper Pravda, October 1948.

US State Department memo setting out the US position


NATO - essential reading


Flim clips and YouTube:

  Film clip

Berlin Airlift - American newsreel

Berlin Airlift - British newsreel (excellent narrative account)



•    The Berlin Blockade


   What Caused The Berlin Blockade, 1948–49?      

   One of the first events of the Cold War was the Berlin blockade and airlift of 1948–49.   Describe what happened.




1.  Think of as many reasons as you can why, in the period 1945-49, Germany was often at the centre of the Cold War.


What caused it?  [CABAN]


  1. Cold War

    was just getting started (e.g. Czechoslovakia, March 1948) 

  2. Aims

    Stalin wanted to destroy Germany – Britain and the USA wanted to rebuild Germany.  

  3. Bizonia

    The Russians were taking German machinery back to the USSR.   In January 1947, Britain and the USA joined their two zones together to try to get German industry going.   They called the new zone Bi-zonia (‘two zones’).  

  4. American Aid

    Congress voted for Marshall Aid on 31 March 1948.    Immediately, the Russians started searching all road and rail traffic into Berlin.  

  5. New Currency

    On 1 June, America and France announced that they wanted to create the new country of West Germany; and on 23 June they introduced a new currency into ‘Bizonia’ and western Berlin.   The next day the Russians stopped all road and rail traffic into Berlin.

    The Soviet Union saw the 1948 Berlin crisis as an attempt to undermine Soviet influence in eastern Germany; Stalin said he was defending the east German economy against the new currency, which was ruining it.  

    The western powers said Stalin was trying to force them out of Berlin.


Source D

[The Americans had introduced a new currency into Berlin.]

Old money flooded into the Soviet Zone. Some restrictions were placed on links between Berlin and western zones, but the Soviet side was ready to supply food to all Berlin.   Yet every day 380 American planes flew into Berlin. It was simply a propaganda move intended to make the cold war worse.

From a Russian history book.

Powerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

Source A

Britain and America tried to restore German prosperity in their sectors, but the Russians systematically looted their zone. This Low cartoon of October 1946 shows Bevin (British foreign minister) and Byrnes (America) trying to get the lorry of a 'united Germany' going, while the Russian foreign minister Molotov sits smugly on his motorbike, having stolen the wheels - 'Pity you fellows can't get your part going. I fixed mine OK', he is saying..

Click here for the interpretation


Stalin and BerlinPowerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

Source C

This cartoon by the British cartoonist Illingworth appeared in the Daily Mail on 9 September 1948.  Stalin has blocked the mousehole, and toys with a mouse labelled 'Berliners', whilst the other 'western powers' scuttle around in alarm.

Click here for the interpretation


What happened?

The American Army wanted to fight its way into Berlin – that would have caused a war.   Instead, Truman decided to supply Berlin by air.  

The situation was bad at first, but things got better as the blockade went on.   On 12 May 1949, Stalin re-opened the borders.



Airlift Facts

  • The blockade lasted 318 days (11 months).

  • In the winter of 1948–49 Berliners lived on dried potatoes, powdered eggs and cans of meat.  They had four hours of electricity a day.

  • The airlift was codenamed 'operation Vittles'; the first flight was on 26 June 1948.

  • The Soviet authorities offered to provide West Berlin with essential supplies - this offer was rejected.

  • 275,000 flights carried in 1˝ million tons of supplies.  A plane landed every 3 mins.

  • On 16 April 1949, 1400 flights brought in 13,000 tons of supplies in one day – Berlin only needed 6,000 tons a day to survive.

  • Some pilots dropped chocolate and sweets.

  • The airlift continued until 30 September 1949, in order to build up a reserve of supplies.

  • The USA stationed B-29 bombers (which could carry an atomic bomb) in Britain.

  • The American airmen were regarded as heroes



Powerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

Source D

This cartoon of 14 July 1948 by EH Shepard for the British magazine Punch shows Stalin watching as storks fly coal and food into Berlin.

Click here for the interpretation



2.  Working as a whole class, draw a spidergram to show all the reasons why the Berlin blockade failed.

3.  What were the results of the Berlin Blockade.


What were the Results?  [CENA]

  1. Cold War got worse

    It almost started an all-out war.  

  2. East and West Germany

    Germany split up.   In May 1949, America, Britain and France united their zones into the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).   In October 1949, Stalin set up the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) .  

  3. NATO and the Warsaw Pact

    In 1949, the western Allies set up NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) as a defensive alliance against Russia. NATO countries surrounded Russia; in 1955, the Soviet Union set up the Warsaw Pact – an alliance of Communist states.  

  4. Arms Race

    After Berlin, the USA and the USSR realised that they were in a competition for world domination.   They began to build up their armies and weapons.  



Source E

The crisis was planned in Washington behind a smokescreen of anti-Soviet propaganda...  The self-blockade of the Western powers hit the West Berlin population with harshness. The people were freezing and starving.  In the Spring of 1949 the USA was forced to yield

From a Russian history book.


Source F

We demonstrated to the people of Europe that we would act resolutely, when their freedom was threatened. Politically it brought the people of Western Europe closer to us.

President Truman, speaking in 1949.


Source G

Neither side gained anything.  The USSR had not gained control of Berlin.  The West had no guarantees that land communications would not be cut again.  Above all confrontation made both sides even more stubborn.

Historian Jack Watson writing in 1984.