The Cold War was defined by several moments of extremely high tension in which one side was forced to either escalate or give in. One of these such moments came shortly after the end of the second World War in the form of the Berlin Blockade and Airlift. Following the fall of Germany at the end of World War II, the country and its capital were divided into four zones to be controlled by the four main allies: The United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Berlin, the nation’s capital, was situated firmly in the Soviet sector so the capital was divided into East Berlin and West Berlin controlled by the Soviet Union and the Western allies respectively.
It was this geographical setup that allowed the Soviet Union to set up a blockade as East-West relations deteriorated. The Soviet Union closed all ground and rail deliveries to West Berlin through Eastern Germany. Laws on ground transportation had not been negotiated so the Soviet Union was technically allowed to do this according to the Cold War Museum’s website. Conversely, air routes had been negotiated, allowing for three specific routes for planes to travel to West Berlin. It was through these routes that the Western allies delivered food and necessary supplies to the people of West Berlin. The Soviet Union had to either shoot down planes that were carrying out humanitarian missions or allow the airlift to continue. Shooting these planes down would have caused international outrage and allowed further action by the Western allies so Stalin made the decision to allow the planes to drop their supplies.
The Berlin Airlift was such a key moment in the Cold War because it was one of the first hostile engagements of the Cold War and one of the first times that the United States went toe to toe with the Soviet Union and forced them to back down. The Soviet Union was forced to accept that their blockade had not succeeded and they would have to either escalate the situation or back down. According to the Cold War Museum’s website, in 1949 Stalin officially ended the blockade at the Council of Foreign Ministers.