Berlin Airlift: The Salvation of a City

by Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell, Pelican Publishing, Gretna, La., 2008, $24.95.

The division of Germany after World War II into four occupation zones, with Berlin buried deep inside the Russian sector, was not an amicable one. The Soviets harassed vehicles on the supply route to Berlin at every opportunity, and it became painfully obvious that they intended to do everything they could to bring the capital under their full control. By the spring of 1948, the situation had reached the showdown point: On June 25, 1948, it was announced that “the Soviet administration is compelled to halt all passenger and freight traffic to and from Berlin…because of technical difficulties.”

Cut off from all land and water routes into the city, the only way the inhabitants of the French, English and American zones in Berlin could obtain the necessities of life was by air. Thus began the greatest example of using aircraft solely for humanitarian purposes to date, known as the Berlin Airlift. Although there have been at least a dozen excellent books explaining the struggles of a city under siege, few have included the behind-the-scenes political and military maneuvering in such detail as have Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell.

One of the central figures who deserves much credit for the airlift’s success is Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, a veteran air transport commander whose men and planes had helped keep the Fourteenth Air Force fighting in China by flying supplies over the Himalayas during the war. He brought order and discipline to the operation, and the statistics accumulated by the authors prove the point. What is not generally known is that more than 700 Soviet harassment incidents took place in the corridors—and 68 Americans, British and Germans were killed during the operations.


Originally published in the July 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here