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The Berlin Airlift
Berlin Airlift Map

Introduction | Airlift Begins | Escalation | Airlift Ends

Airlift Begins
The Berlin Airlift began on June 26, 1948 with 32 flights by American C-47 planes into Berlin. The Americans called their effort "Operation Vittles," while the British dubbed their side of the operation "Operation Plainfare." U.S. General Lucius Clay, commander of the U.S. occupied German sector, had advocated sending supplies with an armed convoy straight into Berlin, calling Joseph Stalin's bluff. He didn't think an airlift could deliver enough supplies. Allies estimated that Berliners required 4,500 tons of supplies each day.

Three Air Corridors Wunstorf Finkenwerder Lake Havel Rhein-Main Wiesbaden Tempelhof airport Gatow airport

US Air traffic controllers at the Berlin air Safety Center check and post flight progress strips indicating movement of American aircraft in and out of Tempelhof. The Soviet panel for their airfield at  Schonefeld is at right and the British panel for Gat 1. Three Air Corridors
The 1945 agreement between the Allies and Soviets specified three 20 mile wide air corridors in and out of Berlin, from the West. General Joseph Smith developed radio codes for flights to identify their direction and plane type: C-47 planes headed east into Berlin were called "Easy," C-47s headed west were "Willie," larger C-54s flying east were dubbed "Big Easy," and westbound C-54s were "Big Willie."

Major Crisp Jones (right) who is in charge of airfield organisation and the distribution of cargo at Wunstorf Airfield during the Berlin Airlift. Sept. 18, 1948. 2. Wunstorf
Originally built by the Germans in 1934, occupied by the RAF since May, 1945. The British flew Dakota planes out of here at first and after expanding the small airfield, larger York planes were able to fly out.

Berliners head for shore after unloading a newly arrived load of salt from a Sunderland flying boat. 3. Finkenwerder
On July 5, 1948, the British began operations from this temporary base on the Elbe River, to fly Sunderland flying boats into Berlin. These planes were the only ones that could transport salt, as they were treated with an anti-corrosive element to protect against salt water.

Berlin children on their way to a British Sunderland flying boat which will take them to Western Germany, 17 August 1948. 4. Lake Havel
The British landed Sunderland flying boats at this lake next to Gatow airfield. They transported back refugees, mostly children, on the return flights.

A new R-2000 engine, called "wasps" by the maintenance crews, being swung into position on a waiting C-54 at Rhein-Main Air Base. 5. Rhein-Main
Germany built the Rhein-Main airbase for commercial zeppelins, including the Hindenberg and later used it as a Luftwaffe fighter base during World War II. After the war, the U.S. used it as a gateway to Europe for both the Air Force and commercial flights.

Crews unload flour from rail cars and prepare to truck this airlift cargo from train to nearby plane-side at Wiesbaden Air Base. 6. Wiesbaden
The Germans used the Wiesbaden airbase as a Luftwaffe fighter base during World War II. The U.S. established an air force base at Wiesbaden after the war. In April 1948, the U.S. conducted a ten-day "mini-Airlift" to Berlin out of Wiesbaden.

A pilot's eyeview of Tempelhof shortly before the blockade. Many of the large buildings surrounding the airport were destroyed by Allied bombing during the war. 7. Tempelhof airport
Tempelhof airport has a long aviation history -- in 1903 Orville Wright flew in to perform flight shows. Germans began a large expansion in 1936, resulting in what is still Europe's largest stand-alone structure. The division of Berlin placed Tempelhof in the American sector.

C-54 transports after arrival at Gatow Airport during Potsdam Conference. 8. Gatow airport
The division of Berlin put Gatow airport in British control. The Germans had built the airport as a Luftwaffe training center in the 1930s.

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The Berlin Airlift American Experience