Berlin airlift

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A military operation in the late 1940s that brought food and other needed goods into West Berlin by air after the government of East Germany, which at that time surrounded West Berlin (see Berlin wall) (see also Berlin wall), had cut off its supply routes. The United States joined with western European nations in flying the supplies in. The airlift was one of the early events of the cold war.

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


What was the Berlin airlift?

The Berlin airlift was a 1940s military operation that supplied West Berlin with food and other vital goods by air after the Soviet Union blockaded the city. The operation lasted from June 1948 until September 1949.

After World War II ended in 1945, Germany was divided among the major Allied powers of Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Berlin, the capital of Germany, was also divided among the Allies, even though it was located deep in the Soviet’s territory. The Soviets were unhappy with this arrangement and decided to block all access in and out of Berlin in an attempt to drive the other countries out of the city.

The Allied response to this was the Berlin airlift. The Allies dropped food and other supplies from aircraft into West Berlin to support citizens there. The Berlin airlift was a significant act of resistance by the West against the Soviet Union and was one of the events that signaled the beginning of the Cold War.

Why is the Berlin airlift important?

The Soviets had suffered heavily because of Nazi Germany amd wanted to prevent a reunified Germany with a non-Communist government under any circumstances. The remaining Allies wanted to curb the Soviets’ expansion and they were just as determined to prevent the Soviets from controlling the entire city. Because they opposed any kind of military response to the Soviet blockade, they airlifted food and other supplies into West Berlin in an attempt to foil the blockade without actually going to war with the Soviets. In English, this operation was referred to by the public as the Berlin airlift as early as 1948.

While it was supposed to be a short-term solution, the Berlin airlift lasted for over a year. Ultimately, the Soviets’ blockade backfired because it made them look cruel, while the Berlin airlift showed that the West was able to unite against the Soviets. The Soviet Union lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949, but the Berlin airlift continued until September 30, 1949, in case the Soviets decided to reinstate it.

Did you know … ?

The American military’s code name for the operation that made up the Berlin airlift was Operation VITTLES and the Germans referred to the event as die Luftbrücke (the Airbridge).

What are real-life examples of Berlin airlift?

This video gives a more detailed explanation about the events surrounding the Berlin airlift:

The Berlin airlift is still remembered as an important moment in world history, including by people who were there.


Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The Berlin airlift was an operation conducted in response to the Soviet Union’s blockade of West Berlin.

How to use Berlin airlift in a sentence