Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Welcome to the RAF museum at Cosford. And we're standing inside of the national Cold War exhibition. And in fact, we're standing in front of the area which is assigned to the Berlin Airlift. So immediately behind us is an Avro York transport, and adjacent to that is a Dakota and a Hastings, both of which are types of aircraft that were involved in the Airlift. So Ross, can you tell us how the Berlin Airlift came about, please?

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah. The Berlin Airlift, or for the RAF Operation Planiefare Fare, eventually emerges essentially because the grand alliance of the Second World War, so Britain American and Soviet Union, breaks down. So in 1945, between the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. Of course, there's the decision over the division of Germany. Germany is divided into four sectors, one each for the three great powers, and a sector for France. And of course, within that, Berlin is also divided into four sectors. Relationships between the Soviet Union and the West slowly break down.

Skip to 1 minute and 13 secondsAnd, of course, in 1946, Winston Churchill would deliver his famous iron curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri, in which he describes an iron curtain falling from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic. And then slowly over the next of couple years, the relationship breaks down and there are difficulties. And eventually, in 1948, the Soviet Union decide to close rail and transport links into the Western sector of Berlin, which means that the Western powers, primarily Britain and America, have to look at how they resupply their sectors. The alternative is is that they leave, which is considered not an option.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsSo actually, rather than saying that the Cold War starts in 1948, it's very much a crescendo effect from the breakdown of a wartime relationship. It can be argued it actually started breaking down much earlier during the course of the war, and conflicting post-war interests of the major powers and what they wanted out of the peace settlement that comes about.

Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: OK. So what does the Berlin Airlift actually tell us about East-West tensions?

Skip to 2 minutes and 20 secondsROSS MAHONEY: I think what it actually tells us is that actually both sides don't understand each other as much as they had a singular aim during the course of the Second World War to defeat Nazi Germany. Neither side is able to communicate in a way of understanding what each wants from the peace settlement. Churchill has a fairly good idea that he doesn't trust the Soviet Union. Roosevelt believes he can control Stalin. Stalin believes he can get what he wants. And that misunderstanding, that miscommunication between all sides means the by the time we get to 1948, the relationship has essentially broken down.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 secondsAnd when we see that, for example, in the Nene Engine to the Soviet Union, a benevolent attempt by the British to try and help. Was it the right decision to take? Was it misunderstanding? Did the Labour Government not understand what they were coming up against? And this changes in 1948. The British chiefs of staff, in particular, have come to the singular conclusion, which has sort of been there but they state it. That when they plan for future war, it's for a war against the Soviet Union.

Skip to 3 minutes and 23 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: OK, Understand that. Now, you mentioned that there was power control in Berlin. What was the RAF's presence in Berlin at the beginning of the Berlin Airlift?

Skip to 3 minutes and 32 secondsROSS MAHONEY: The RAF had one air base in Berlin at the time, RAF Gatow. There are two air stations in Berlin. There's the British base at Gatow, and there's an American base at Tempelhof. During the course of the Berlin Airlift, a third base-- Tegel, in the French sector-- will come online and have an influence on the course of the resupply of the city.

Skip to 3 minutes and 55 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Thank you very much for us. Let's move on from here. Please go to the next step of the course, and we're going to reflect on some of things that we've just discussed there.

The Relief of Germany

In these two videos we were thinking of covering:

  • Reasons for the airlift;

  • The RAF experience of the airlift; and

  • The US deployment of atomic-capable aircraft to the UK.

This was distilled down initially to:

  1. How did the need for the Berlin Air Lift come about?
  2. What does this say about the tensions which were evolving between East and West?
  3. What was the RAF presence in Berlin at the beginning of the air lift?

We will be talking about the topic using these as starting points, but please do contribute your own comments and participate in the following discussions.

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This video is from the free online course:

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London