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  • June 1948.The Oval Office.

  • The cabinet gathers for a conference with President Truman.

  • Four days prior, the Soviet Union blockaded the American, British, and French occupied sectors of Berlin.

  • With the divided city located a hundred miles inside the Soviet controlled zone of East Germany,

  • there's no way for American food and fuel

  • the lifeline of its undernourished populace - to get through.

  • The city only has 36 days worth of food remaining and only 45 days of coal.

  • Allied troops are surrounded, outnumbered 62 to 1.

  • The cabinet lays out three options: One,American forces could withdraw...

  • But that would signal that Western democracies are unable to counter Soviet aggression.

  • Two,they could stay in Berlin until the starving population forces them out and accepts Soviet rule out of desperation.

  • Or 3 they could send an armed convoy to open the roads,

  • but that would start another World War.

  • They advise Truman to withdraw.

  • Truman says,"We stay in Berlin. Period."

  • You remember that series on Hiawatha we did a while back?

  • Those episodes were sponsored by the folks at DomiNations.

  • And we enjoyed doing those so much that when they said -

  • "Hey, we're about to introduce the Cold War era into our game,

  • you want to do some episodes about that?"

  • Our answer was "Heck yeah, we do!"

  • So today, we are gonna talk about the Berlin Airlift.

  • An event that not only set off the Cold War, but established how it would be fought.

  • You see, after Germany's surrender in WWII, the Allies divided Germany into four occupation zones.

  • The Soviets in the East, and the Americans, British, and French in the West.

  • And Berlin, though it lay in the Soviet zone, was divided as well.

  • The problem was that the Allies had two competing irreconcilable visions for Germany.

  • The Soviets had suffered two German invasions in the span of 30 years.

  • They wanted this country broken and subordinate, so it could never threaten Russia again.

  • They also wanted it to function as a buffer zone to keep the Western powers at bay.

  • In the end, Stalin's goal was a communist puppet state in Germany, and the Allies out of Berlin.

  • But America and Britain believed that Nazi extremism had arisen due to the Great Depression,

  • and that the best chance for a peaceful Europe was a prosperous, democratic Germany.

  • They also hoped that it would be a bulwark against Soviet expansionism.

  • So this joint occupation effort was doomed to failure from the outset.

  • But the final showdown came over currency.

  • Berlin was an economic ruin.

  • Allied bombing had destroyed most of its industrial foundation,

  • and even three years after the war most Berliners lived in the basements of shattered buildings.

  • Some were living on just nine hundred calories a day.

  • The biggest problem was the value of German currency, which was so low that a loaf of bread often cost an entire paycheck.

  • The city's real currency at this point was American cigarettes,

  • and most civilians survived by a combination of black-market, food aid, and prostitution.

  • The Allies made an attempt at currency reform,

  • but this attempt failed when the Soviets sabotaged the effort by printing billions of extra notes.

  • By 1948 the frustrated Western powers were secretly planning to introduce a new currency:

  • the Deutsche Mark,

  • and met behind Stalin's back to discuss forming a West German state.

  • The Soviets found out about this, and in protest, abandoned the Four Power Council.

  • In response, the Western Allies released the new currency.

  • And Stalin had his pretext.

  • On June 23rd, Soviet troops encircled Berlin, blockading the road and rail line

  • the Allies had been using to supply the city.

  • The city's power stations, located in the Soviet sector, cut electricity.

  • The Berlin Blockade had begun, and Truman had to choose between retreat or war.

  • But there was another possibility.

  • The Soviets had interrupted traffic to Berlin before, months earlier.

  • But the Allies had continued supplying their troops via air.

  • Truman wondered whether a similar airlift could supply all of Berlin.

  • After all, the only way you can stop a plane is to shoot at it...which would be an act of war.

  • American generals dismissed this idea as impossible, but the Royal Air Force thought different.

  • After years of war shortages, the British were experts in rationing, and they ran the numbers.

  • They concluded that it would take 4,000 tons of food and fuel per day to keep Berlin from collapsing.

  • But to move that much cargo in C-47 transports would mean over 1,300 flights every 24 hours,

  • and only the Americans had that capacity.

  • Under pressure from Truman, the U.S. generals agreed to try.

  • The first flights began on June 26th. Despite Soviet threats, the anti-aircraft guns stayed silent.

  • They had called Stalin's bluff.

  • But the airlift didn't have enough planes or crews.

  • The Air Force tried bringing in air wings from as far away as Guam, but it still wasn't enough.

  • Two weeks in, the airlift was only delivering 1,000 tons per day -

  • - a quarter of what they needed -

  • and conditions were perilous.

  • The American airport at Tempelhof was a grass field that needed to be patched between landings.

  • An apartment block stood directly on the approach path, its roof just 17 feet below the landing gear.

  • Those C-47s were old leftovers from the war.

  • Coal and flour dust, both of which were explosive by the way, filled the plane's cargo holds.

  • The 24-hour nature of this operation strained both the airmen and their antiquated planes,

  • and all the while, Soviet Yak fighters buzzed the transports, keeping the pressure on.

  • But despite the shortfall on the cargo quota, the airlift spurred a wave of enthusiasm.

  • Across Europe, people set aside wartime grudges in an effort to keep Berlin from starving.

  • Blitz survivors in London sent care packages to Berlin.

  • Many RAF mechanics didn't even wait to be called up...

  • they just grabbed their tool boxes and hitched a flight to Hamburg.

  • Germans, previously hostile to the pilots who had leveled their cities, instead began plying Allied airmen with beer.

  • It was a chaotic cowboy operation. So Washington dispatched a man to tame it.

  • General William Tunner was a taciturn man who loved him some charts.

  • During the war, he had commanded an airlift that flew supplies over the Himalayas and into occupied China.

  • Now he was given the objective of delivering 4,000 tons per day.

  • First thing first, he created a tight schedule.

  • Planes would take off and land at precise 3-minute intervals.

  • The flights would stack at five altitudes, maximizing the number of planes in the air.

  • When the crews landed, they'd have 30 minutes to unload before taking off again.

  • Tunner also enforced maintenance checks, brought in fresh U.S. Navy pilots,

  • and replaced the C-47s with larger-capacity C-54s.

  • To make up for the ground crew shortage, he hired Germans to unload cargo and patch runways,

  • and after translating the maintenance manuals, he assigned former Luftwaffe mechanics to repair planes.

  • Men who had been shooting at each other only three years before, now worked side-by-side.

  • Tunner's shakeup worked.

  • On August 12th the airlift reached its target for the first time.

  • 4,500 tons.

  • Then - Tunner discovered that one of his pilots, Gail Halvorsen, had been making unauthorized cargo drops.

  • Every time Halvorsen came in for a landing, he would drop off little handkerchief parachutes

  • containing parcels of candy to the children that gathered near the runway.

  • Berliners loved it, and Tunner saw the PR potential.

  • He ordered the candy drops expanded and sent Halvorsen on a press tour back home.

  • The airlift, a humanitarian effort without traditional military heroes, finally had a public face.

  • And that PR victory was good news, because winter was coming.

  • The Soviets had been stalling diplomatically for exactly this reason.

  • Surely, deteriorating weather would put a stop to this airlift for good.

  • Fog came in heavy that season.

  • At times, it lay so thick on the runways that ground crews had to crawl,

  • for fear of walking into an unseen propeller.

  • Aircraft landed in zero visibility with iced-up engines.

  • They collided in mid-air, they smashed into mountain ranges.

  • Exhausted pilots fell asleep at the stick.

  • Meteorologists, circling in B-29s, alerted ground control of 15-minute breaks in the weather

  • that would allow flights to get through.

  • And somehow they did!

  • On New Year's Eve, 1948, Allied forces delivered over 6,000 tons a new record.

  • And as winter passed and the weather began to let up,

  • the airlift had began to deliver more supplies than the city had ever received by rail.

  • This success emboldened anti-Soviet politicians within Berlin.

  • In September, Ernst Reuter, elected mayor in 1947 but blocked from taking his seat by the Soviets,

  • gave a fiery speech before a crowd of 300,000 Berliners,

  • imploring the world not to abandon the city to totalitarianism.

  • That December, he won the mayor's office, appearing around the world as the face of free Berlin.

  • In retaliation, the Soviets installed their own communist city government in East Berlin.

  • Stalin's strategy had backfired.

  • Instead of preventing a West German state, he had fueled it.

  • Far from revealing Allied weaknesses, he had allowed them to take the moral high ground -

  • - demonstrating their commitment and turning Germans from an occupied people into comrades.

  • And the blockade was damaging East Berlin's economy.

  • Its factories couldn't function without goods from the Western sector.

  • The Soviets had been outmaneuvered.

  • On May 12th, 1949, Soviet soldiers removed the roadblocks,

  • and allowed the first American supply convoy to pass into Berlin.

  • That road would never close again.

  • In 15 months of operation the airlift delivered over 2.4 million tons of food and fuel, saving Berlin from famine.

  • 79 Allied personnel and German civilians lost their lives to the effort, and the world would never be the same.

  • Stalin's willingness to starve civilians marked a turning point,

  • uniting Western Europe in a coalition to contain Soviet influence.

  • A month before the end of the blockade, this new alliance -

  • the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO -

  • was formally signed into being.

  • And within weeks, West Germany formally became its own country, followed by Communist East Germany.

  • Europe was divided in half, and two months later the Soviets tested their first atomic bomb.

  • It was the beginning of a new kind of war.

  • One of political influence, fought by great powers over proxy states.

  • A war of threat and restraint, where governments tested just how far they could push the other,

  • without starting a full-scale conflict.

  • But the Soviets and the Americans would never again square off as directly as they did during the airlift.

  • When nuclear armament is in play, that is just not the kind of gamble you take.

  • Thanks again to our friends at DomiNations for sponsoring this episode.

  • We'll see you soon!

June 1948.The Oval Office.

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ベルリン空輸。冷戦が始まる - エクストラ・ヒストリー (Berlin Airlift: The Cold War Begins - Extra History)

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    Ancodot に公開 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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