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1948 - Berlin Blockade

Berlin Blockade a massive airlift of supplies is undertaken by Western allies in response to Soviet blockade of west Berlin

The Berlin Blockade was the firing pistol that began the Cold War. The Second World War allies occupying a divided Germany, and a divided Berlin, were no longer able to bridge the ideological divide of the democratic and capitalist West and the totalitarian and communist East. This divide was to have far reaching consequences both for the people of West Berlin and for the rest of Europe.


In June 1948 Britain, France and the USA announced they would unite western Germany, creating a new free and democratic country, with a new currency, the Deutschemark. The Soviet Union fearing a united democratic western Germany announced that the joint administration of Berlin would end and on 24 June began a blockade of West Berlin, cutting off all land routes and waterways in and out of the city. 

To break the blockade and to deter future Soviet aggression on 26 June Britain, the US and France began flying in supplies to the over 2,000,000 citizens of West Berlin. It was to be the largest airlift in history and the first recognisable humanitarian operation carried out by the Armed Forces. 

The Blockade would last 321 days, during which Allied air forces would make 277,500 flights into Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin, delivering over 2,300,000 tons of coal, food, and other essential supplies. The RAF flew over 65,000 missions supported by crews from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. British mission including civilian companies totalled 87,000.


By January 1949, the Allies were flying in 5,000 tons of supplies into West Berlin every day. At its busiest, one flight landed in or took off from Berlin every minute. To keep West Berlin supplied with grain, Britain diverted grain ships bound for Britain to German ports. This resulted in the introduction of bread rationing in Britain, which had not been rationed even during the height of the Second World War.

At one minute after midnight on 12 May 1949, the Soviet Union accepted the blockade had failed and ended it. Later that month Western Germany was united and became the new Federal Republic of Germany. The Allied airlift saved thousands of lives and ushered in an era of renewed collaboration amongst western democracies, cemented by the creation of NATO in April 1949.



Further Reading


Smithsonian Air and Space Museum - Supplying a City by Air: The Berlin Airlift

Truman Library - Audio + Oral History of Berlin Airlift

The Guardian - The Berlin Blockade - Archive, 1948

NATO Information ServiceBackground to Berlin

1948 - Arab Israeli War

Arab-Israeli War - following Israeli declaration of Independence tensions over plans to divide Palestine erupted into all out war between Israelis and an Arab coalition including Egypt, Jordan and Syria

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Resolution) that would divide Great Britain’s former Palestinian mandate into Jewish and Arab states in May 1948. Under the resolution, the area of religious significance surrounding Jerusalem would remain under international control administered by the United Nations. The Palestinian Arabs refused to recognize this arrangement, which they regarded as favorable to the Jews and unfair to the Arab population that would remain in Jewish territory under the partition. 

The United Nations resolution sparked conflict between Jewish and Arab groups within Palestine. Fighting began with attacks by irregular bands of Palestinian Arabs attached to local units of the Arab Liberation Army composed of volunteers from Palestine and neighboring Arab countries. These groups launched their attacks against Jewish cities, settlements, and armed forces. The Jewish forces were composed of the Haganah, the underground militia of the Jewish community in Palestine, and two small irregular groups, the Irgun, and LEHI. The goal of the Arabs was initially to block the Partition Resolution and to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state. The Jews, on the other hand, hoped to gain control over the territory allotted to them under the Partition Plan.

After Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, the fighting intensified with other Arab forces joining the Palestinian Arabs in attacking territory in the former Palestinian mandate. On the eve of May 14, the Arabs launched an air attack on Tel Aviv, which the Israelis resisted. This action was followed by the invasion of the former Palestinian mandate by Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia sent a formation that fought under the Egyptian command. British trained forces from Transjordan eventually intervened in the conflict, but only in areas that had been designated as part of the Arab state under the United Nations Partition Plan and the corpus separatum of Jerusalem. After tense early fighting, Israeli forces, now under joint command, were able to gain the offensive.

Though the United Nations brokered two cease-fires during the conflict, fighting continued into 1949. Israel and the Arab states did not reach any formal armistice agreements until February. Under separate agreements between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Syria, these bordering nations agreed to formal armistice lines. Israel gained some territory formerly granted to Palestinian Arabs under the United Nations resolution in 1947. Egypt and Jordan retained control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank respectively. These armistice lines held until 1967. 


Further Reading


Jewish Virtual Library - Israel’s Wars & Operations: War of Independence

Time - Born Under Fire: Photos From the Birth of Israel

Al Jazeera - Why the Arabs were Defeated

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