In this expert survey Air Force Historian Robert Miller explores the Epic story of the Berlin Airlift, the confrontation of Democracy and Communism as the world teetered on the brink of the Third World War.
The Berlin blockade (24 June 1948;–12 May 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies’ railway, road, and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under allied control. The Soviets offered to drop the blockade if the Western Allies withdrew the newly introduced Deutschmark from West Berlin. In response, the Western Allies organised the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin. Aircrews from the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force, and the South African Air Force flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing up to 8,893 tons of necessities daily, such as fuel and food, to the Berliners. Neither side wanted a war; the Soviets did not disrupt the airlift.
By the spring of 1949 the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. On 11 May 1949, the USSR lifted the blockade of West Berlin. The Berlin Crisis of 1948–1949 served to highlight competing ideological and economic visions for post-war Europe, particularly Germany. The clash ultimately led to the division of that country into East and West and to the division of Berlin itself.
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had ordered a blockade of the city, isolating the people of West Berlin, using hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers to close off all land and water access to the city. He was gambling that he could drive out the small detachments of American, British, and French occupation troops, because their only option was to stay and watch Berliners starve—or retaliate by starting World War III. The situation was impossible, Truman was told by his national security advisers, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His answer: "We stay in Berlin. Period." That was when the phones started ringing and local police began banging on doors to deliver telegrams to the vets.
Drawing on service records and hundreds of interviews in the United States, Germany, and Great Britain, Reeves tells the stories of these civilian airmen, the successors to Stephen Ambrose’s "Citizen Soldiers," ordinary Americans again called to extraordinary tasks. They did the impossible, living in barns and muddy tents, flying over Soviet-occupied territory day and night, trying to stay awake, making it up as they went along and ignoring Russian fighters and occasional anti-aircraft fire trying to drive them to hostile ground.
The Berlin Airlift changed the world. It ended when Stalin backed down and lifted the blockade, but only after the bravery and sense of duty of those young heroes had bought the Allies enough time to create a new West Germany and sign the mutual defense agreement that created NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
And then they went home again. Some of them forgot where they had parked their cars after they got the call.
Focusing on the crucial period from 1942 to 1945, Fire and Fury tells the story of the American and British bombing campaign through the eyes of those involved: the military and civilian command in America, Britain, and Germany, the aircrews in the skies who carried out their orders, and civilians on the ground who felt the fury of the Allied attacks. Here, for the first time, the story of the American and British air campaigns is told-and the cost accounted for...
In order to defeat Germany in World War II, the Allies needed to destroy the Third Reich's industry and invade its territory, but before they could effectively do either, they had to defeat the Luftwaffe, whose state-of-the-art aircraft and experienced pilots protected German industry and would batter any attempted invasion. This difficult task fell largely to the U.S., which, at the outset, lacked the necessary men, materiel, and training. Over the ensuing years, thanks to visionary leadership and diligent effort, the U.S. Army Air Force developed strategies and tactics and assembled a well-trained force that convincingly defeated the Luftwaffe.