Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Berlin Airlift of 1948

After WWII the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway and road access to the sectors of Berlin under their control. This was the first major international crises of the now Cold War and the first of many later such crisis. 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. As the Russian General Molotov noted, "What happens to Berlin, happens to Germany; what happens to Germany, happens to Europe.”

President Truman called a meeting of his staff to see how we could keep West Berlin, a total of two million people needed to be feed and fuel to be supplied for heat so the German people would not to freeze to death. All the General’s and military experts on President Truman’s staff said that to fly in supplies could not be done. We only had a total of 37 DC-3’s or C-47’s in Germany and the amount need to supply the population of West Berlin was physically impossible. President Truman just sat there listening to all of his experts without saying a word. After all had presented their case with the negative news that it could not be done, President Truman asked for a vote with a show of hands and again it was a unanimous vote that what was being proposed was just not feasible.

At this point President Truman stood up, faced everyone at the meeting and simply said, “DO IT,” and adjourned the meeting walking out.

In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin. The British Air Commodore Reginald Waite calculated the resources required to support the entire city. His calculations indicated that they would need to supply seventeen hundred calories per person per day, giving a grand total of 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, five tons of whole milk for children, three tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and ten tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive. Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.

Of course it took a revolutionary change and advancement in aviation at this time. The best airports in the U.S. at this time like LaGuardia or O’Hare needed 20 minutes between landings and takeoffs on commercial flights. To make the Berlin Airlift to work the cargo planes carrying the supplies landed and took off with these same DC-3’s and C-47’s every 45 seconds!!

By the spring of 1949, the effort was clearly succeeding, and by April the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously flowed into the city by rail. The United States Air Force, Royal Air Force, and other Commonwealth nations flew over 200,000 flights providing 13,000 tons of food daily to Berlin in an operation lasting almost a year.

The success of the Airlift was humiliating to the Soviets, who had repeatedly claimed it could never work. When it became clear that it did work, the blockade was lifted in May. One lasting legacy of the Airlift is the three airports in the former western zones of the city, which served as the primary gateways to Berlin for another fifty years.

Now where I am going with this history lesson that can be applied currently is today when President Obama meets with the Whining Republicans in Congress on the Health Care Reform, President Obama is going to hear a unanimous vote of what is being proposed is just not feasible and cannot be done. My advice to President Obama is to emulate President Truman in 1948 and simply say in no uncertain terms, “DO IT!!", adjourn the meeting and walk out.

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