airlift to supply West Berliners
June 1948 - May 1949
World War II nearly wiped out Berlin. About a third of the city was destroyed, and some 152,000 civilians lost their lives. The damage and deaths resulted mostly from Allied bombing raids throughout the war, and from an extended land battle for Berlin in 1945.
The victorious Allies took over Berlin in 1945 and divided the city into four sectors. Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States each occupied one sector. They also divided Germany into four zones.
Although Berlin lay within the Soviet zone of occupation, the Western powers expected the Soviet Union to permit them free access to the city. However, in June 1948, the Soviet Union blocked all rail, water, and highway routes through the Soviet zone to the Western sectors of Berlin.
The Soviets hoped the blockade would drive Western troops out of Berlin. But Western nations organized a gigantic airlift to supply West Berliners with needed goods. At the height of this project, called the Berlin airlift, planes landed in West Berlin at the rate of one every one to two minutes. General Lucius D. Clay, the commander of the U.S. armed forces in Europe, directed the airlift. The Soviets finally ended the blockade in May 1949, and the airlift stopped that September.
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