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The Berlin Crisis (1948-1949)

This map is part of a series of 9 animated maps showing the history of The Cold War and Confrontation between East and West 1947-1991.

At the end of the Second World War and Germany’s defeat, vast areas of its territory east of the Oder-Neisse Line were amputated. The rest of the country was divided into four zones placed under Soviet control in the Eastern areas, and British, French and American control in the West. The capital, Berlin, lay in the Soviet zone and was also divided into four occupation sectors.

The presence of Western forces in Berlin worried Stalin, and he saw the gradual unification of the zones occupied by the Western powers as a threat.

In response to the introduction of a single currency in the Western zones, Stalin launched a coup de force on 24 June 1948 by setting up a tight blockade to prevent the delivery of essential supplies to the 2 million inhabitants of West Berlin. Railways and roads were blocked and controlled by the Soviets.  Boat traffic on the Spree Canal was also brought to a halt.

The only way to make deliveries of food to Berlin was by air. The American Commander, General Clay, quickly organized an airlift for the city. Three one-way air corridors were established: two allowing aircraft to fly into Berlin and the third as an exit route, thus allowing planes to make as many as 800 deliveries a day.

For nearly 11 months, the Western planes, (known as “Rosinenbomber” for the Berliners) transported approximately 2.5 million tons of supplies, mostly food and coal.

Seeing his plan fail, Stalin decided to lift the Berlin blockade on 1 May 1949.

During this first Cold War crisis, the two superpowers remained somewhat prudent.  The USSR did not try to stop the Western airlift, while the United States avoided forcing a passage through the Soviet blockade.

Nevertheless, they were totally unable to reach a mutual understanding on the future of Germany.  In September 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany was inaugurated, supported by the Americans, British and French, with Bonn designated as its capital city.  

The USSR responded by creating the German Democratic Republic in October 1949, with East Berlin as its capital.