At the risk of diluting my #brand, I’m gonna step back from our popular feature Terrible Book Exchange, and instead talk about something that I actually enjoy. Also, I need time for my brain to get back into shape where I can read capitalized words without cringing. So, instead, I’m going to talk about the Berlin Airlift.
Nearing the end of World War Two, the Allies were closing in on Axis Germany from two different fronts, East and West. Germany pretty much knew it had lost, and was surrendering in droves, just about as fast as American, British, and French soldiers could reach them from the West, and the Soviets from the East. In spring of 1945, the Allies were practically racing to Berlin, just to be known as the country who did it- competition abounded during this phase of the war about who could capture which beautiful town and steal the most silverware or whatever. It was practically a geopolitical Black Friday.
Well, the capital of Germany, Berlin, is much closer to the eastern border than the west, and the western Allies decide they’ll just let the Soviets have it; they’re closer, anyway, and let’s face it, earned it more. What with the double the casualty rate and size of the fighting force, and everything. Never forget, most of World War Two happened on the Eastern Front, although that’s a discussion for another time.
Eisenhower and Truman and Montgomery and the rest decide to let Soviets capture Berlin, so they do. Much ransacking and burning and let’s-not-really-go-into-it-in-this-lighthearted-blog commence, but things settle down after a bit. Now, Russians are in charge of Germany’s capital, and as decided early in the war, Germany will be split in half to prevent another militant powerhouse from rising. Western Germany is split into thirds between American, British, and French influences, while the USSR gets all of Eastern Germany to themselves. Berlin, likewise, is split into these sections. American, British, and French thirds in the West, an entire half given to the Soviets in the East. It goes great for everyone forever!
Oh, wait, this is Soviet Russia and Stalin we’re talking about. It goes great for no one never. The first couple years after the war, the borders between East and West are relatively open, but Stalin clamps the border shut in June of 1948. In addition to keeping citizens inside his borders, which is never a good fight to get into, Stalin also wants to parade about the global bar, slapping his biceps and challenging people to take it outside, which is an even worse one. He’s mad about a new type of money in Western Germany, but that’s super technical and finance history so I don’t want to get into it.
The border isn’t just for family trips out of the Iron Curtain, it’s also how the Allies have been getting supplies and information to their people and citizens in Western Berlin, which remember, is WAY inside quasi-enemy territory. Stalin would never do something as stupid as invade the city, but he’ll sure as heck starve it until they give in, and, um, not introduce a form of currency? (I said I didn’t want to get into it!)
The supplies the West -- jeans, rock music, miscellaneous shiny rocks -- has been shipping to Berlin have been going by truck convoy, but now the road is closed. However, like that Firefly theme song said “Something something you can’t close the sky or whatever”.
The Allies have a lot of experience in flying huge flights of planes to Berlin, you know, explodey-wise. They immediately begin loading the same supplies they’ve always shipped onto massive cargo planes, sending them up and over the blockade to land and unload in Berlin. It’s very easy to close borders on the highway without retaliation, but to shoot down a supply plane on a peaceful mission would straight up start World War Three. Not even Stalin thinks his mustache is THAT intimidating.
For almost a full year, from June 1948 to April of 1949, the Allied nations fly 24/7 supply missions from dozens of airports in the West. It didn’t start great. When military documents base feasibility of supply plans on minimum calorie counts, they’re either in that movie The Martian, or in serious trouble. They estimated they needed about 5,000 tons a day of food and industrial supplies. The first week, they flew out 90.
However, as more planes arrived and crews got better and grew more dedicated to the supply missions, the tonnage improves. The second week, they improved to nearly 1,000 tons a day. The improvement continued week by week.
The Communist press laughs at the Airlift, like “Just admit it, man, you’re beat. Planes can’t work that well for as long as we’re willing to hold out!” And as we all know, when you tell an American you think they won’t be able to sell as much stuff as they want to, we only try harder. God bless capitalism!
The airlift continues. A flight lands in Berlin every three minutes. In essence, there isn’t a time a plane isn’t flying over West Berlin. A plane could land, unload, refuel, and take off on the return trip in under 30 minutes. The Berliners took the rate of landings and applied German industriousness to it. Crews competed to see who could unload the heaviest planes in the shortest time, and winners received extra rations.
One American pilot, Gail Halvorsen, started a mail-in campaign to have Westerners donate candy and gum. He flew over Berlin (East and West) and would drop the donated goods with teency little cute parachutes, just as a sign of, like, “We’re kicking so much Soviet butt, here’s straight up candy. Fo’ free.” The kids, and let’s face it, probably some weird adults, knew to look for Halvorsen’s plane as he flew over – he would wiggle his wings as a sign for kids to get out in the streets, like an ice cream truck thousands of feet in the air.
|THEY CALLED HIM "UNCLE WIGGLY-WINGS"|
By April, the Allies were shipping more tons of freight through the air than they had been on the ground. The blockade not only didn’t work, but the US and other Western nations had such a hard-on for proving the Communists wrong that they went above and beyond to over-supply Berlin. Quietly, the USSR cancelled the blockade for road-based shipping in late April of 1949, and the Berlin Airlift came to an end.
The reason the Berlin Airlift RULES SO HARD is because it’s a great example of the power of humanitarianism. This airlift cost Western governments insane amounts of money to fuel and load that many cargo planes, but they did it, because the people of Berlin needed it. And also, you know, to prove that they were better than the USSR, but whatever floats your boat. The planes were unarmed, unarmored, and not shot at. They carried food and coal (and sometimes candy), not weapons. No shot was fired, and although I’m willing to bet someone got punched or something, no violence ensued. Citizens came together to work their collective capitalist asses off because they weren’t going to allow their countrymen to starve.
The Berlin Airlift is a reminder what can be accomplished through actions that benefit people who need it, that motivate people who do it, and what an immense need can bring out of people. The industriousness and organizational insanity that the Berlin Airlift harnessed is one of our greatest collective efforts that, once again, cost SO MUCH MONEY TO DO.
What I’m saying is that maybe we just need to compete for who can cut the most carbon.