Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
The Berlin Airlift
Timeline: The Berlin Airlift

1945 - 1947 | 1948 - 1990  


March 20: At an ACC gathering in Berlin, the Soviet representative demands to know what happened at a secret London meeting of the Western powers. America, France and Great Britain had been planning a new West German state to be composed of the territory in their zones.

Supplies for the US garrison in Berlin being unloaded from C-47 aircraft at Tempelhof during the emergency air movement later dubbed the "Little Lift," 2 April 1948. March 31: The Soviets demand inspection of all Western military trains going to and from Berlin. Clay refuses to comply and halts train shipments, starting a mini-airlift to re-supply the roughly 6,000 Western troops in Berlin that lasts 10 days.

April 5: A Soviet fighter collides with a British airplane in one of the Allied air corridors, leading to crashes that kill people on both aircraft.

April 10: The Soviets drop their inspection demands but continue periodic harassment of road and rail traffic.

June 11: For two days, the Soviets block railroad access from the Western zones to Berlin. Five days later, they quit a Kommandatura meeting.

June 18: The Western powers announce plans for a new deutschmark to replace the former German currency which had become worthless. Russia refuses to go along and announces its own currency introduction four days later.

West Sector residents exchanging Reichsmarks for Deutsche Marks. June 23: The Western deutschmark appears in Berlin. Just before midnight, the Soviets cut power to West Berlin and then begin a blockade of the city.

Rail and barge traffic begins to stack up as the blockage begins in earnest. Before the currency reform, black-market activity was common throughout Germany. June 24: All rail, road, and water access from the Western zones to Berlin is halted. The next day, the Soviets declare they will not send any supplies to West Berlin, which has only enough food for 36 days and coal for 45 days. In response, the Western Allies impose a counter-blockade on Soviet areas.

The first C-82 used during the Berlin Airlift, unloading at Tempelhof. June 26: The Berlin airlift begins with 32 flights by American C-47 aircraft in West Germany to the Tempelhof airport in Berlin. Eighty tons of provisions are delivered that first day. The American attempt to supply Berlin's 2.5 million people is dubbed "Operation Vittles," while the British effort becomes known as "Operation Plainfare."

July 1: The Soviets officially quit the Kommandatura.

July 7: The first coal shipment arrives at Gatow airport in the British sector; it and Tempelhof are the only two airports in West Berlin.

July 9: The first fatal crash of the airlift claims three lives in West Germany.

July 12: Construction begins on a new runway at Tempelhof.

Berlin Children Cheering Airlift Plane. July 17: Construction is completed on a concrete runway at Gatow. Airlift pilot Gail Halvorsen strikes up a conversation with a group of children watching the planes arrive at Tempelhof and gives them some of his gum, promising to drop more from his aircraft the next day. Soon word of Halvorsen's efforts has spread, and by January what he dubs "Operation Little Vittles" will have dropped some 250,000 candy-laden parachutes into the city.

July 20: Clay flies to Washington to meet with Truman.

Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner. July 23: Major General William Tunner is made operational head of the American airlift; he arrives in Berlin five days later and declares that he wants the airlift to operate in "rhythm, on a beat as constant as a jungle drum."

July 25: A C-47 crashes into an apartment in Berlin; two people die.

Planes of the Berlin Airlift lined up on the runway. July 27: The Soviets threaten to fly into the three Allied air corridors.

Soviet Prime Minister Josef Stalin. August 2: Western representatives meet with Stalin in Moscow to discuss the blockade.

August 4: The British begin using civilian aircraft in the airlift.

German cement workers laying Tegel Airfield's runway, 17 August 1948. August 5: Work begins on a new Berlin airport, Tegel, in the French sector. At its height the site will employ some 18,000 German workers.

August 12: The U.S. Air Force and the Royal Air Force conduct 707 flights into Berlin and deliver 4,742 tons of supplies, the first time the airlift has exceeded the 4,500 daily threshold deemed necessary to keep Berlin alive.

The Tempelhof Flight Operations Desk. August 13: On the airlift's 50th day, dubbed "Black Friday," a series of close calls near Tempelhof lead Tunner to alter flight patterns and request civilian air traffic controllers from the U.S.

August 24: Four Americans are killed in a midair collision.

A C-54 flys over a graveyard and periously close to some apartments buildings while making its landing approach at Tempelhof. August 26: U.S. planes have now delivered 100,000 tons of supplies.

August 31: Talks in Berlin among the four military governors fail to resolve the situation.

September 6: Berlin officials flee City Hall, which is in the Soviet sector, under attack from a communist mob.

Ernst Reuter addressing up to 300,000 Berliners outside the Reichstag after the repeated disruption of City Council meetings in the Soviet Sector, 9 September 1948. September 9: Hundreds of thousands of Berliners protest this event at the Reichstag. Addressing the Western Allies, Reuter declares, "You cannot abandon this city and its people."

September 18: The U.S.A.F. hits a new daily record, delivering nearly 7,000 tons of supplies to Berlin.

September 19: The RAF suffers its first five fatalities of the airlift.

Awaiting their turn to take off for Berlin, US Air Force C-54s will land at Gatow in the British Sector of Berlin just one hour from their British Zone airlift terminat at Fassberg. September 30: American C-47s are phased out of the airlift, replaced by better capacity C-54s.

October 4: The United Nations Security Council takes up the issue of the blockade.

October 14: The British and American airlifts are combined under a single operational headquarters, with Tunner in charge.

October 18: Three Americans die in the first C-54 crash; 10,000 former pilots, flight engineers, and radio operators are recalled to active duty.

October 21: After meeting with Clay, Truman orders more aircraft to join the airlift.

October 26: The Soviet Union rejects the Security Council resolution to end blockade.

The first C-54 to arrive at Tegel Airfield lands during a light rain, 5 November 1948. November 5: After destroying a Soviet radio tower obstructing the flight path, Tegel in the French sector opens for business; the 300,000th ton is flown into Berlin.

Remains of a Navy C-54 after a crash. November 18: An RAF plane crashes into the Russian zone; four crew members die.

November 30: The Soviets set up their own Berlin city government.

December 5: Reuter is again elected mayor of West Berlin.

December 16: French engineers destroy the transmitting towers for a communist-run radio station near Tegel.

Project Sleighbells brought Christmas gifts from dependents  of Vittles fliers from all parts of the world to Germany. December 20: "Operation Santa Claus" brings Christmas gifts to 10,000 Berlin children.

December 24: Bob Hope conducts a Christmas tour of airlift bases, performing for American soldiers in Berlin.

December 31: 100,000 flights have been completed since the airlift began.


January: The first American airlift participants begin rotating back to their home bases. The British begin evacuating Berlin children in planes that have unloaded their cargo.

A British Army enlisted man directs the parking of a coal truck as German laborers prepare to load a shipment of coal aboard a C-54 at Fassberg. January 24: The 250,000th ton of coal arrives at Tegel.

January 31: More than 170,000 tons of supplies have been airlifted this month, a new record. More than 20 airlift personnel have also died in January.

Philip C. Jessup. February 15: America's U.N. delegate, Philip Jessup, begins talks with his Soviet counterpart, Jacob Malik.

February 18: One million tons of supplies have now arrived in Berlin.

February 26: A daily delivery record is set: more than 8,000 tons arriving in 902 flights.

March 21: Malik informs Jessup that the blockade can be ended soon.

March 31: A new monthly record of nearly 200,000 tons is set.

Photograph of President Truman signing the document implementing the North Atlantic Treaty at his desk in the Oval Office, as a number of dignitaries look on. 08/24/1949 April 4: The U.S. and Western European governments sign the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. This treaty, which goes into effect in August, establishes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and commits its members to mutual defense in the event of a Soviet attack.

Cross-sectional view of flight into Berlin as of September 1948. This arrangement allowed for landing at the rate of one plane every three minutes.
Berliners at Tempelhof watching in-coming plane.
April 7: In one 6 1/2-hour period, Tempelhof air traffic controllers handle more than 100 planes, a rate of one plane every four minutes.

April 16: Tunner's "Easter Parade" operation breaks a 24-hour-delivery record, bringing nearly 13,000 tons of supplies to Berlin.

Jewish Passover food arriving in Berlin. April 21: The airlift enters its 300th day; supplies coming in by plane now equal those that previously arrived by rail, and the airlift appears capable of continuing indefinitely.

April 25: The Russian news agency TASS reports a willingness by the Soviets to lift the blockade. The next day, the U.S. State Department says the "way appears clear" for the blockade to end.

May 4: Delegates from the original four Allied powers announce an agreement to end the blockade in eight days. Clay, whose retirement has been announced by Truman on the 3rd, is saluted by 11,000 U.S. soldiers and dozens of airplanes. Once home, he will receive a ticker-tape parade in New York, address Congress, and get a medal from Truman.

The first vehicle to travel the land route between the US zone and the Western Sectors of Berlin, 12 May 1949. May 12: At one minute after midnight, the Soviets lift their barricades and restore access from West Germany to Berlin. A British convoy immediately drives through, and the first train from the West reaches Berlin at 5:32 that morning. Later that day an enormous crowd celebrates the end of the blockade by Berlin's City Hall and pays tribute to Clay.

May 23: The Federal Republic of Germany is established in the country's Western zones.

June 26: The first anniversary of the airlift sees planes continuing to pour into Berlin to ensure an adequate stockpiling of supplies in the city.

July 24: Berlin now has nearly three months of food reserves.

A C-54 crew at Rhein-Main airbase at Frankfurt, Germany, prepares to takeoff on the last airlift flight to Berlin, Sept. 30, 1949. September 30: The 276,926th and final flight of the airlift arrives in Berlin. Nearly 700 aircraft have logged over 124 million miles and delivered roughly 2.3 million tons of supplies. Sixty-five lives have been lost.

October 7: The Soviets respond to the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany by announcing their own German Democratic Republic in the East.


October 1: The new West Berlin constitution comes into effect, defining the city as part of the Federal Republic of Germany.


January 18: Reuter is reelected mayor of West Berlin.


September 29: Reuter dies.


October: NATO guarantees the defense of West Berlin.


The Berlin Wall shortly after its construction. August: The Soviets and German Democratic Republic block movement by East Berliners into the West and begin construction of a Berlin Wall dividing the two parts of the city.


May: Clay returns to Berlin and makes his final appearance there before a crowd of 750,000.


U.S. President John F. Kennedy speaks to thousands of Berliners in front of Rathaus Schöneberg (City Hall). He expresses his feelings for the divided city and says, "Ich bin ein Berliner" (I am a citizen of Berlin), a phrase that has become legendary. June 26: During a visit to the city, President John F. Kennedy famously declares, "Ich bin ein Berliner."


April 16: Clay dies. By his West Point grave, a memorial from the people of Berlin reads: "Wir danken dem Bewahrer unserer Freiheit," in English, We thank the defender of our freedom.


November 9: After enormous public demonstrations, the Berlin Wall comes down.


A child holds the new German flag that reunites the two Germanies. October 3: East and West Germany are reunified.

1945 - 1947 | 1948 - 1990  

back to top page created on 01.19.2007

The Berlin Airlift American Experience