62 years ago this week… the Berlin Airlift

This week marks the anniversary of the Berlin Blockade by the Soviet Union. Often cited as the first event of the Cold War, the 1948 Soviet blockade of Berlin cut off communication and ground supply lines to West Berlin, leaving 2.5 million people without access to food or fuel.

In response, the United States launched the Berlin Airlift; for 10 months the US Air Force and its allies in the Royal Air Force of Britain airlifted supplies into Berlin. Also known as “Operation Vittles,” the first C-47 involved in the effort took off for Berlin on June 26, 1948. That day, 80 tons of milk, flour and medical supplies were delivered.

Open Vault’s contemporary newsreel excerpt describes and celebrates the amazing logistics of loading aircraft for takeoff every three minutes, 24 hours a day, effectively creating an “air bridge” to Berlin. This footage was originally collected by a WGBH production team for the 1989 documentary series War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.

To respond with ground troops could have launched World War III. Instead, this massive humanitarian effort fostered great affection and publicity for the Allies, a victory, in what has been called “the first battle of the Cold War.”

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