|24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949
Berlin Blockade and Airlift
|Although at Potsdam the Allies had agreed that the division of Germany would only be temporary, and that in the meantime the country would be directed economically by an Allied Control Commission, no real progress had been made in determining the fate of postwar Germany. Differences over issues such as reparations and de-Nazification led to a breakdown in negotiations between the Soviets on the one hand, and the British, French, and Americans on the other. Meanwhile the country was stagnating economically, and most in Western Europe and America believed that Europe’s recovery in general depended on the recovery of Germany.
On June 7 the U.S., Britain, and France announced their intent to integrate their zones of occupation, and in retaliation the Soviet Union retaliated by closing off all access to the western zones of Berlin (which lay entirely in the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany). Then, since the main power plant for the city of Berlin lay in the Soviet zone, the Soviet authorities shut off all electricity to West Berlin as well.
Clearly the Soviet goal was to force the western nations either to abandon their efforts to integrate their occupation zones, or to pull out of Berlin. In the United States, President Truman was outraged that the Soviets were effectively using the people of West Berlin as hostages. He ordered that plans move forward for the creation of a new German state, formed from the three western zones of occupation. At the same time, he ordered an airlift of food, coal, and other supplies to the people of West Berlin. All through the fall and winter a constant flow of planes arrived in Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, and it soon became obvious that Stalin’s tactics had failed. By late March the blockade was almost entirely lifted, and a final settlement between the Soviets and the West would be reached on May 12. Not one, but two Germanies would emerge from the crisis—the U.S.-backed Federal Republic of Germany (a.k.a. West Germany), and the Soviet-backed German Democratic Republic (a.k.a. East Germany). This division would remain until 1990.