Today’s entry from the RedState Department of History deals not with a military operation designed to smash an enemy, but to save a former enemy. On this date in 1948, what came to be known as “Black Friday” resulted in a record day few people expected to occur.
The record came during the Berlin Airlift, known as “Operation Vittles”, and “Black Friday” referred to the weather on this date in 1948, which was vile. But on that day in 1948, over 700 Allied aircrews delivered over 5,000 tons of supplies to the people of West Berlin — which was the record day for the airlift.
After the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, the former German state was divided into four zones of occupation, one for each of the four major victorious powers (France included). Berlin was also divided into four zones, with the Soviets allowing access to West Berlin across their zone of occupation. Early in 1947, the Americans and British combined their zones of occupation into a territory known as Bizonia, or the Bizone, and began negotiations with the French to add their zone as well.
That was still in the future. However, late in 1948, the Western Allies introduced new currency, the Deutschmark, into their areas of occupation as well as into West Berlin. This tactic had several purposes: to curb a growing black market in Berlin, to enable the introduction of aid under the Marshall Plan, and of course, to take economic control of the city from the Soviets, who realized the threat all too well. In reply, they blockaded all ground access to West Berlin across their occupation zone, leaving an airlift as the only way to supply hundreds of thousands of West Berliners and occupation troops with food and supplies.
Thus, the Americans began Operation Vittles on June 26, 1948, with the Royal Air Force following two days later with their own Operation Plainfare. While American bomber aircraft and supply planes streamed toward Berlin’s giant Templehof Field with essential supplies, nuclear-capable B29 Superfortresses staged to England in their wake. British and French airplanes landed on fields in their own respective sectors.
Yet it was August 13 which became recognized as “Black Friday”. On that day, no fewer than three C-54 “Skytrain” aircraft crashed at Templehof on a particularly bad day for flying.
But after a better safety system was worked out and a plan developed among the Allies to allow a constant flow of aircraft to enter West Berlin unimpeded either by the Soviets or each other, Operation Vittles/Plainfare turned into an amazing success.
On May 11, 1949, the Soviets ended their blockade, after the Western Allies showed they could continue the airlift indefinitely. Two weeks later, all the western occupation zones were combined to form West Germany.
The operation was a triumph of logistics. According to the Royal Air Force’s National Cold War Exhibition, the Berlin Airlift accomplished these objectives:
The U.S. State Department’s official history of the airlift can be found here. Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!