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Soviet Union vs. NATO (1949)

How to Make 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. Their aim was to force the western powers to allow the Soviet zone to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving the Soviets practical control over the entire city.

In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin. The airlift was soon providing up to 4700 tons of daily necessities such as fuel and food to the Berliners. By the spring of 1949, the effort was clearly succeeding and, by April, the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. The success of the Berlin Airlift brought embarrassment to the Soviets who had refused to believe it could make a difference.

During the early months of the airlift, the Soviets used various methods to harass allied aircraft. These included buzzing by Soviet planes, obstructive parachute jumps within the corridors, and shining searchlights to dazzle pilots at night. Increasingly desperate to stop the airlift, Soviet planes were ordered to shoot down any transport planes deemed to be deviating from the agreed routes. In May 1949, two US and one RAF plane were shot down with all crews lost.

Incensed by such aggressive acts and having failed to get any response from the Soviets through diplomatic channels, American and British fighter planes were ordered to protect the transports. It took only hours before the inevitable clash took place, resulting in the loss of one American and three Soviet fighter planes. More Soviet squadrons were rushed to eastern Germany and the outnumbered Western Allies were forced to gamble on attacking the Soviet fighters parked on their overcrowded airfields. Many Soviet planes were destroyed on the ground and several servicemen killed and wounded. Seven Allied planes were shot down during the initial attacks.

Pushed beyond all reasonable restraint, the Soviets decided on a punitive ground incursion into western Germany, intending to make many of the Allies’ airfields unusable. The cream of the Red Army in eastern Germany, including the best of the newly reorganized and equipped tank and mechanized divisions, crossed into the American and British occupation zones and began driving straight for key airfields.

The Americans and British flung together their widely dispersed occupation troops and got them moving to intercept the Soviet thrusts.

[With acknowledgements to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Blockade]

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