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The Berlin Airlift | Timeline

The Berlin Airlift

1945
February 4-11: President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchilll, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin meet at Yalta and confirm a plan to divide both Germany and the city of Berlin into American, British, French, and Russian zones.

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Courtesy: National Archives and Records Administration

March: American forces capture a bridge across the Rhine River and enter Germany.

April 12: Roosevelt dies; Harry Truman becomes president.

April 21: The Red Army of the Soviet Union reaches Berlin.

April 25-26: Soviet and American forces link up at the River Elbe.

April 30: German leader Adolf Hitler commits suicide.

May 2: Russian forces take control of Berlin.

May 7: The Germans unconditionally surrender at General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters in Reims, France.

May 8: V-E (Victory in Europe) Day; another surrender ceremony occurs in Berlin.

June 5: The Allied Control Council (ACC), with representatives from each Allied power, announces the division of Germany.

June 29: Eisenhower's deputy, Lieutenant General Lucius Clay, meets with his Russian and British counterparts in Berlin to discuss Western access to the city, which is 110 miles inside the Soviet zone. One highway and railroad are set aside for Western use. 

July 3: British and American soldiers take over their Berlin zones.

July 5: An election that Churchill has called takes place in Great Britain.

July 7: The ACC creates a governing body for Berlin, the Kommandatura; Russian representative Marshal Georgi Zhukov says that the Soviets will not supply food for the Western sectors of Berlin.

July 17: Truman, Churchill and Stalin convene the Potsdam Conference to discuss post-war issues; it lasts until August 2.

July 26: Clement Atlee, who has defeated Churchill in the election, takes over as British Prime Minister.

September 2: Japan formally surrenders, ending World War II.

October 24: The United Nations is created. November 20: The war crimes trials of Nazi leaders begin at Nuremberg.

November 30: The ACC approves three air corridors securing Western access to Berlin; each is 20 miles wide.

1946

February: The American charge d'affaires in Moscow, George Kennan, composes an 8,000-word "long telegram" laying out his understanding of the Soviet world view. Kennan's telegram helps shape U.S. foreign policy.

March 5: In a famous speech at Westminster College in Missouri, Churchill declares that an "iron curtain" has fallen across Eastern Europe.

 September 6: U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes declares in Stuttgart that "security forces will probably have to remain in Germany for a long period," adding, "We will not shirk our duty. We are not withdrawing."

October 20: Communist candidates receive little support in Berlin's elections, winning only 26 of 130 spots.

1947

March 10: Allied foreign ministers meet in Moscow to try and create a treaty for a new German government but fail to reach agreement after six weeks.

March 12: President Truman announces his "Truman Doctrine" pledging support to any country threatened by communism.

 March: Clay replaces Eisenhower as military governor of the American zone of Germany.

 June 5: New Secretary of State George Marshall presents the "Marshall Plan" of reconstruction aid to Europe — almost $13 billion will be sent from 1948 to 1952, but the Soviet Union and communist dominated countries in Eastern Europe refuse to participate.

June: The Soviets exercise their veto in the ACC and prevent Ernst Reuter from taking office as Berlin's elected mayor.

November 25-December 17: Another conference of foreign ministers is held in London, but again no agreement is reached on the future government of Germany.

 December 17: Congress enacts legislation authorizing the first aid payments of the Marshall Plan.

1948

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.

 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.

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.

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.

 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.

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.

July 23: Major General William Tuner 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.

July 27: The Soviets threaten to fly into the three Allied air corridors.

 August 2: Western representatives meet with Stalin in Moscow to discuss the blockade.

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

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.

1949

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 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.

 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.

1950

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

1951

January 18: Reuter is reelected mayor of West Berlin.

1953

September 29: Reuter dies.

1954

October: NATO guarantees the defense of West Berlin.

1961

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.

1962

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

1963

June 26: During a visit to the city, President John F. Kennedy famously declares, "Ich bin ein Berliner."

1978

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.

1989

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

1990

 October 3: East and West Germany are reunified.

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