That was the total distance flown by allied aircraft 70 years ago during the 15 months of operations known as the Berlin Airlift between July 1948 and September 1949. What had brought this about? The circumstances surrounding the airlift are quite well known so here is just a quick resume of the political situation at the time that led to this extraordinary logistical challenge followed by a deeper look at the civil airlines’ contribution to the operation.
After the Second World War, the occupying powers of Germany split the country in two, East and West Germany. The allies (Britain, USA and France controlled the west and the USSR controlled the east. With the country’s capitol, Berlin, being firmly in the eastern half it was also agreed this would be split into four sectors, one for each occupying power.
To allow the western powers access to Berlin a written agreement was made regarding air corridors linking the city to West Germany, however only an informal arrangement covered the roads, railways and canals over which most of West Berlin’s supplies travelled. When the Western Allies announced they would be introducing new financial arrangements, including the creation of the Deutschmark, to Western Germany as a step towards self-rule, the USSR demanded a greater say in these arrangements. When it was refused, the Soviets blocked all road, rail and canal routes into Berlin. After 24 June 1948, the only way into Berlin for the Western Allies was along the three air corridors.