On This Day - June 26th

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Berlin Airlift — June 26th 1948

The Berlin Blockade was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Western control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutsche Mark from West Berlin.

The Western Allies organised the Berlin airlift (26 June 1948-30 September 1949) to carry supplies to the people of West Berlin, a difficult feat given the size of the city's population. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew over 200,000 sorties in one year, providing to the West Berliners up to 12,941 tons of necessities in a day, such as fuel and food. The Soviets did not disrupt the airlift for fear this might lead to open conflict, even though they far outnumbered the allies in Germany and especially Berlin.

The first blockade runners were RAF flights made in support of British military personal stationed in the city. The UK-US then began a joint operation in support of the entire city. By the spring of 1949, the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On 12 May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin, although for a time the U.S., U.K and France continued to supply the city by air anyway because they were worried that the Soviets were simply going to resume the blockade and were only trying to disrupt western supply lines. The Berlin Blockade served to highlight the competing ideological and economic visions for postwar Europe and was the first major multinational skirmish of the cold war.

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