After the Allies decided to split Germany into four separate zones of occupation following the end of WWII in 1945, Berlin was also split into four segments. But while the UK, France and the US tried to improve living conditions in their zones, the Soviet Union was fairly ruthless in taking reparations from its zone. Two years later in 1947, the US and UK decided to unite their zones and form West Germany. And the year after that in 1948, the Allied Forces introduced the Marshall Plan in order to kickstart economic recovery in Europe. This is when things started to get messy.
Still with us? Great! Just so you know, the Marshall Plan was a package of economic aid doled out to European countries who were prepared to adhere to certain economic conditions, such as convertible currencies and mutual economic cooperation. The aid mainly came from the US, which wanted to prevent the spread of communism through the Americanisation of industry in Europe. While West Germany benefited significantly from Marshall Aid, the whole setup fuelled tensions with the Soviet Union, which saw it as a direct threat to communism. This all came to a head when the Allied Forces tried to introduce a new currency to help trade in their zones on 23 June in 1948, prompting Stalin to cut off every single rail and road link to West Berlin the next day. You know, drastic times and all that.
This act, which was to become the Berlin Blockade, confirmed the division between East and West Germany. In doing this, Stalin hoped to starve West Berlin into surrender and the Allied Forces out of their sectors of Berlin. This was because Berlin itself was inside the Soviet zone of Germany. Stalin was also concerned about plans by the UK, France and US to merge their sectors of Germany to aid the economy.
The Allied Forces saw the Blockade as an attempt to spread Communism, and their response was to fly in food, fuel and essential goods, as they weren’t prepared to let the intimidatory tactics of the Soviet Union pay off. This is generally known as the Berlin Airlift, although the American name for it was Operation Victuals and the British name was Operation Plainfare.
Their efforts were a success and the Blockade was called off by the Soviets on 12 May 1949 – a whole 318 days after it started. So basically, Stalin completely failed to achieve all of his aims, which were to remove the British, French and Americans from their sectors of Berlin.
Despite the Allied Forces’ success, the Berlin Blockade marked the beginning of the new wartime era as it was the first major confrontation and event in the development of the Cold War, with former wartime allies now being on separate sides. One of the key results of the Blockade that you really should remember was the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949. NATO was a defensive organisation that protected its members from aggression by threatening a unified response by all of the members towards the aggressor. In other words, it was brutal.