Savior From Above
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force, officially formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947. The USAF would see its first military action in the Korean War beginning in 1950, but a few years before that it was put to the test in its first great challenge since the end of World War II and its inception: the Berlin Airlift.
Beginning in late June 1948, the Soviet Union implemented a blockade on all sorts of transportation in and out of Berlin from the west. Every major route running into the city from the west, including the Autobahn, was shut down. Allied military convoys, supply trains, and supply shipping were all stopped. In response the Western Allies, namely the United States and Great Britain, put into play a counter-blockade, stopping all traffic from the American and British occupation zones into East Germany and East Berlin. Before the end of June 1948 the Soviets stopped supplying food and other means of support/aid to the people of non-Soviet sectors of Berlin, and electricity was cut. By the beginning of July all "surface"-based traffic from Western zones into Berlin was blocked, and by which point West Berlin had only one month's supply of food left.
It was established and agreed on between the West and East in writing at the end of November 1945 "that there would be three 20-mile-wide air corridors providing free access to Berlin." This meant any aircraft, military or civilian, had the legal right to use them. For the West, this was the only way to bypass the Russian blockade. The Soviets were well aware. But they were also aware that there was very little they could do. They could not claim an unarmed cargo aircraft as a threat, and in the event one refused turn around, the only option to keep the blockade enforced would've been to shoot said plane down, risking grave consequences. By the end of June the West had agreed to conduct an aerial operation to aid the people of Berlin, and by July 1, 1948 it was already starting.
By the end of the first week British and American cargo aircraft were flying in only 90 tons of supplies each day. [Continued ↓]