An airlift was the best possible option to break the berlin blockade
In 1948 the soviets engaged in the Berlin blockade. This can be seen as the start of the cold war with relations having been deteriorating but there was still cooperation in germany and austria between the two sides. The Berlin blockade was the first point where war between the two superpowers was possible.
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the strategic result of the Berlin airlift was a pretty comprehensive victory for the west. It demonstrated the ability of airpower to logistically support the needs of even a large city like Berlin. The airlift totaled 276,926 flights by 689 aircraft that between them carried 2.3 million tons of supplies to keep Berlin holding out against the blockade, the operation was certainly a logistical success.[[Lewis S. Thompson, ‘The Psychological Impact of Airpower’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol.299, (May, 1955), pp.58-66, p64]]
led towards political cooperation in the west
The Russians did not succeed in their attempt to create dissent between the allies and may well have helped along the process of integration. In the 1st week of April a meeting between Bevin, Schumann and Acheson agreed not only “positions for ending the Berlin Blockade” but also “on a plan for a German Government in the Western zones” and “the Military Assistance Program operation”.[[Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation My years in the State Department, (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1969), p272]] Politically the blockade “not only hastened the formation of a Western German state, but... widened the gap between the Soviet and Western positions concerning Germany.” “As the “airlift served to stiffen Western German opposition to the Soviet Union” Germany was now firmly with the west rather than being potentially neutral.[[Lawrence A. Kaplan, The United States and The Origins of NATO 1946-1949, Review of Politics, Vol.31, No.2, pp210-222, p219]] Significantly the Berlin blockade demonstrated the need for greater US involvement in European defense to defend not only against Soviet aggression but also the possibility of a remiliterised Germany that was the only alternative to US involvement, therefore “the tension resulting from the blockade of Berlin served to intensify Western efforts to conclude the North Atlantic Treaty and to undertake a rearmament program.”[[Paper Prepared by the Division of Research for Europe on The Soviet Approach at the meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers, May 17, 1946, FRUS, Ger&Aus 1949, p910]]
helped the US prepare for the cold war crises
“it exposed the shocking military weakness of Western Europe and the unpreparedness of the United States”.[[Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation My years in the State Department, (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1969), p308]] In 1948 the USA would have been unable to send more than one extra division overseas without at least a partial mobilisation. The airlift meant the Americans were “gaining invaluable experience in the use of air transport to support military operations.”[[Clay, Decision, p386]]
“it put us... again in the situation in which we were before the blockade was imposed... Stalin had raised it to carry on the war against a West German government by political means.” [[Acheson, Creation, p272]]
From the point of view of the Russian goals their attempt at gaining Berlin through blockade had been a failure. The Chargé d’affaires in the USSR stated the “Berlin Blockade backfired... Kremlin can breathe [a] sigh of relief even on minimum terms of accord”. He went on with an analysis that the “Kremlin has always regarded Germany as key to control of Europe,...development [of the North Atlantic Treaty] NAT and plans for organization West Germany, together with successful maintenance West position in Berlin, faces Soviets with imminent prospect complete exclusion from heart of Germany and even precarious position their own zone. This would also mean an end to reparations hopes, with West closed and Soviet zone milked dry.” [[The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kohler) to the Secretary of State, Moscow, May 6, 1949, Foreign Relations of the United States 1949, Vol. III, Council of Foreign Ministers; Germany and Austria (Government Printing Office, Washington, 1974), p865]]
withdrawal would prevent a crisis
Other possible strategies. Withdrawal was potentially the easy way out of the crisis without fighting as it was what the Soviets wanted. The Germans would have prefered this option if the US withdrawal from Berlin coencided with a russian withdrawl. This would mean “We [the US] could then withdraw from Berlin without loss of prestige, and the people of the western sectors would not be subjected to Soviet rule, because the Russians would also be leaving the city.” [[Policy Questions concerning a German Settlement, August 12, 1948, Gaddis, Containment, p138]]
Retreat would “amount to a public confession of weakness under pressure. It would be the Munich of 1948.” Withdrawing might create a domino effect "hav[ing]political repercussions far beyond the political battle for Berlin itself. It would imply that we would likewise withdraw from Vienna and western Germany.” [[The United States Political Adviser for Germany (Murphy) to the Secretary of State, Berlin, June 26, 1948, RUS, Ger&Aus II (1948), p919]]
Armed convoys could have kept the city better supplied
Clay suggested the possibility of using armed convoys to force a way through to Berlin hoping “that a prompt move on our part would break the blockade.” Due to previous Soviet attempts to avoid conflict “the chances of such a convoy being met by force with subsequent developments of hostilities were small.” [[Clay, Germany, p374]]
the Russians had stopped an attempt to send a train through by diverting it. The previous agreements only “implied the right of free access to Berlin”[[Note from the United States to the Soviet Union, July 6, 1948, Dallek, Documentary, p480]] and it was therefore easy for the soviets Soviets to find a pretext to stop any convoy. Any interference might have quickly turned into an all out war, rather than if there would be fighting, Acheson believed “The Question then would have been who would have shot first and what would have been the response to shooting.” From a political point of view even the small chance of conflict was too much, particularly given the balance of ground forces in Germany.
The Airforce did not have the capacity to be engaging in multiple roles at once. The air force argued that putting more planes on the airlift would mean “the Military Air Transport Service would become disrupted.” It would “adversely affect our capabilities to wage strategic warfare” worried General Vandenburg, he feared that the Air-force would have to use planes intended for emergency use which might then be destroyed in the case of hostilities. [[Truman, Trial and Hope, p132]]
Despite the airlift being constantly stepped up by the end of 1948 the Air Force agreed that “Air Force capabilities indicate that the strategic air offensive... could be delivered as planned even though the Berlin air lift is continued at its contemplated level.”
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