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Royal Air Force C-47s

Berlin Tegel airport

Tempelhof's advanced communications

Sustaining the airlift

Loading planes for an airdrop

People line up at Berlin's market

"Little Vittles" candy drops

In planning the Berlin Airlift, Air Force planners believed rapid expansion of the capacity of Berlin airports was critical to success. The potential capacity expansion offered by the existing Tempelhof and Gatow airports was limited and difficult. It was decided that a third airport was needed, and a site was selected at Tegel in the divided city's so-called French Sector, where construction on began August 5, 1948.

Finished just three months later on November 5, 1948, the new airport had a 5,500-foot runway, 6,020 feet of taxiway, 4,400 feet of access road, 2,750 feet of access railroad and more than 1 million square feet of apron area used for unloading operations and aircraft parking.

Here, Royal Air Force C-47s are seen being unloaded in the beginning days of flight operations at the Berlin Tegel airport in the Berlin French zone.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Air Force
Map of the Berlin Airlift Air Bases -- Winter, 1948-1949. The Allies flew more than 277,000 missions before the Soviets lifted their siege on May 12, 1949.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
During World War II, the U.S. Air Force used synthetic trainers to teach bombardiers. During the Berlin Airlift, they were adapted to teach pilots how to navigate to Berlin in any weather.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
The siege of West Berlin became a symbol of the post-1945 Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. After the U.S., France, and England solidified their zones into a single unit in 1948, the Soviets withdrew from the Allied Control Council and began a blockade of all rail, road, and water communications between Berlin and the West.

On June 24, 1948, the Soviets declared the Western administration in Berlin to be defunct and said Allied rights had been revoked. But two days later, on June 26, the United States and Britain used their aviation edge to to supply the city with food and other vital supplies from the air.

Built in just four months, the Tegel airport pictured here was, at that time, the largest airport of the world.

Caption by / Photo by JEAN MANZON/AFP/Getty Images
This model SCR-658 Radio Receiver was one of the pieces of communications equipment at Tempelhof Central Airport in Berlin that was used by U.S. occupation forces to support the airlift operations. American personnel used the devices to track weather balloons that measured the wind's direction and speed, the temperature, humidity, and air pressure by using radio signals transmitted from the balloons.

The highest balloon altitude measurement this unit recorded at Tempelhof was approximately 140,000 feet. This SCR-658 served as backup receiver when more advanced equipment became available, but it remained in use at Tempelhof until 1975.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Air Force
An equal challenge to supplying the city of Berlin was the need for the airlift forces to supply and maintain themselves. During the peak months of the operation, the U.S. Air Force provided maintenance support not only for the 324 assigned aircraft but also for 1,600 motor vehicles and 500 ground power equipment items. Operations in support of the airlift continued at stateside air depots and bases, as well as those in England and Germany 24 hours a day.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Air Force
Gallows humor, courtesy of an Air Force cartoon from the era.
Caption by / Photo by U.S. Dept. of Defense
An R-2000 engine being outfitted on a waiting C-54 at Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
U.S. weather officer at Oberpfaffenhofen Air Force Depot briefs B-17 crew.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
Trucks in Frankfurt loading planes that would be used during the Berlin Airlift.
Caption by / Photo by JEAN MANZON/AFP/Getty Images
Soldiers load an airplane before it departs for Berlin. For the children of Berlin, there were tons of candy and other feel-good things known as "Little Vittles" drops.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
People line up to buy rare goods in Berlin's market, during the Russian blockade of the western half of the city in June 1948.
Caption by / Photo by JEAN MANZON/AFP/Getty Images
During the Berlin Airlift, Allied forces dropped a total of 2,325,510 tons of cargo to waiting civilians living under the blockade. Coal represented approximately 1,500,000 tons of the goods delivered, followed by more than 500,000 tons of food. Miscellaneous cargo such as dismantled steam rollers and electrical power plant machinery, as well as all the daily needs -- from soap to medical supplies to newspapers -- made up the rest of the aid delivered over the city under siege.

Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.

Caption by / Photo by U.S. Air Force
The Allied advantage in air power proved decisive, more than compensating for the greater number of Soviet ground troops surrounding the city. The so-called "Airbridge to Berlin," as it became known, concluded in September 1949, even though although the Soviets lifted their blockade on May 12 of that year.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
As the first direct, albeit non-violent, confrontation of the Cold War played out in Central Europe, the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians depended on the ability of allied pilots to fly over hostile terrain to make their drops.
Caption by / Photo by Harry S. Truman Library
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