Berlin, the capital city of Germany, has a fascinating history marked by significant developments. In this article, we delve into the factors that made Berlin particularly vulnerable to Soviet influence during the aftermath of World War II. Join us on this journey as we explore the postwar division of Germany and the subsequent events that shaped Berlin’s destiny.
Table of Contents
The Postwar Division of Germany
After the defeat of Germany in World War II, the victorious powers – the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union – divided the country into four occupation zones. Berlin, though located within the Soviet-occupied zone, was also divided, with the western part under Allied control and the east falling into Soviet hands. However, as time passed, the agendas of the Soviets and their Western Allies began to diverge.
The Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, sought to punish Germany economically. They aimed to extract war reparations from the country and utilize its industrial technology to aid in the Soviet recovery. On the other hand, the Western Allies recognized the importance of Germany’s economic revival in preserving it as a democratic stronghold against the spread of communism from Eastern Europe, which had fallen under Stalin’s sphere of influence.
The Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan
In 1947, President Harry S. Truman introduced the Truman Doctrine, which declared the United States’ commitment to supporting free peoples and resisting subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures. This policy set the stage for increased U.S. global engagement, further widening the divide between Western democracies and the Soviet Union.
Shortly thereafter, in 1948, U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall unveiled the Marshall Plan. Designed as an economic extension of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan aimed to rebuild war-ravaged Germany and other European nations. It also aimed to foster loyalty among participating states and make them less susceptible to communist influence. This policy directly contradicted Stalin’s vision for postwar Europe, in which the Soviet Union would emerge as the dominant force.
The Soviets Blockade Berlin
During the first half of 1948, representatives from the United States, Britain, and France met in London to discuss the future of Germany. As a result, the U.S. and Britain agreed to merge their occupied zones, creating Bizonia. The ultimate goal was to establish a unified West German state that incorporated the U.S., British, and French-occupied zones of Germany and Berlin. Furthermore, they aimed to introduce a stable currency for the newly unified Germany.
Learning of these plans in March 1948, the Soviets withdrew from the Allied Control Council, which had been coordinating occupation policies between the zones since the end of the war. In June of the same year, U.S. and British officials introduced the new currency, the Deutschmark, into Bizonia and West Berlin – all without informing their Soviet counterparts. The Soviets saw this as a violation of the postwar agreements and retaliated by issuing their own currency, the Ostmark, in Berlin and eastern Germany.
In a dramatic move on June 24, 1948, the Soviets blocked all access to the Allied-occupied zones of Berlin, including roads, railways, and canals, effectively cutting off 2.5 million civilians from crucial supplies, electricity, and food. This marked the end of the four-way administration of the city.
The Impact of the Blockade and the Allied Response
Although the Red Army greatly outnumbered the Allied forces in and around Berlin, the United States and Britain still maintained control over three 20-mile-wide air corridors from West Germany into West Berlin, as agreed upon in 1945. Realizing the dire situation faced by the people of West Berlin, the Allies launched the Berlin Airlift, commencing on June 26, 1948.
Over the next 11 months, U.S. and British planes conducted an unprecedented humanitarian operation, delivering 2.3 million tons of supplies to West Berlin through more than 270,000 flights. This remarkable undertaking marked the first major conflict of the Cold War.
Did you know? Nearly 700 aircraft, including more than 100 civilian operators, were deployed during the Berlin Airlift.
Stalin had hoped that the Berlin Blockade would force the Allies to abandon their efforts to establish a West German state. However, the successful implementation of the Berlin Airlift dashed those hopes. By May 1949, when the Soviets finally lifted the blockade, the crisis in Berlin had solidified the division between East and West Germany, as well as the broader division between the Eastern Bloc and the Western democracies. This momentous event marked the true onset of the Cold War.
- The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949
- The Berlin blockade and airlift
- Berlin Blockade
- Benn Steil, The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War (Simon & Schuster, 2018)
- Barry Turner, The Berlin Airlift: The Relief Operation that Defined the Cold War (Icon Books, 2017)
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