Superpower relations 7

What was the First Berlin Crisis?

RECAP: To start today, try to fill in the events box of this grid. You can check your answers below (all of the events are ones we have studied over the past few lessons)

EventDateDetail
1943The first Conference of the Grand Alliance.
1945The second conference of the Grand Alliance. They agreed on many things including setting up a UN and dividing Germany into four sections.
1945The final conference of the Grand Alliance. There were new leaders and very little was agreed.
1945This was dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It brought WWII to an end.
1945-1948The name for the time when the USSR spread communism across Eastern Europe. countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia became communist.
1946This was written by the American ambassador in Moscow. He suggested that Stalin was trying to take over Europe.
1946A speech given by the former British Prime Minister which outlined the division in Europe.
1947The was a new foreign policy put forward by the American President. It outlined the idea of ‘containment’.
1948When America gave billions $ of aid to Europe to help it recover after WWII. It was a method of containing communism.
Answers to the grid above (click to reveal)
  • Tehran Conference
  • Yalta Conference
  • Potsdam Conference
  • atomic bomb
  • Soviet expansionism/creation of the buffer zone
  • Kennan’s long Telegram
  • Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech
  • Truman Doctrine
  • Marshall Plan/Marshall Aid

What was the First Berlin Crisis?

Today we are going to be learning about an event in the early Cold War called the First Berlin Crisis or the Berlin Airlift which centred on the German city of Berlin. Most historians see this as a key flashpoint in the Cold War, a time when tension and mistrust dramatically increased, meaning we were closer to an outright war between the USA and the USSR.

To understand this crisis we need to go back to the agreements made back at Yalta and Potsdam. Look at the map below to remind you.

At Yalta it was agreed that after the war Germany would be divided into 4 zones.

These zones would be overseen by one country.

The reason for this was to help Germany recover, whilst at the same time paying the reparations from the war.

The 4 zones were organised by Britain (green), France (blue), USA (yellow), and USSR (red).

As you can see USSR organised the zone in the east of Germany. This is also the area where Berlin was so it was decided that Berlin would be divided in the same way.

By 1948 there was a very strange situation. Not only was Germany split into sections, but there was the ‘capitalist’ Western half of Berlin inside the communist eastern part of Germany.

Stalin was not happy about this. Remember he was paranoid and wanted security for the USSR above all else.

TASK 1. Why was Germany a cause of tension after 1945?

Key terms when explaining what happened in this First Berlin Crisis:

Bizonia – when Britain and America joined their 2 zones in Germany together in 1947 (Bi = 2)

Trizonia – when Britain, America and France joined their 3 zones in Germany together (Tri = 3)

Deutschemark – a new currency (money) that was introduced into Trizonia in 1948 (the western sections of Germany)

Marshall Aid – money given to countries in Western Europe. The western zones of Germany got money but Stalin stopped his zone in eastern Germany from getting American money

STAGE 1 – Stalin became worried about Berlin.

The reason for this was because the Western powers had created Trizonia in the West of Germany. This was against the agreements at Yalta, but it also suggested to Stalin that the West were joining up against him. The spread of Marshall Aid was also a concern but it was the introduction of the Deutschemark that was the final straw. Stalin was not informed of this and he saw it as capitalist aggression.

Stalin felt that he could not allow a Western capitalist half of Berlin inside his eastern communist zone of Germany.

STAGE 2The Berlin Blockade

In June 1948 Stalin closed all roads and railways, and blocked barges from entering West Berlin. He hoped that the west (mainly America) would give up on or leave West Berlin to his control. This was known as the Berlin Blockade (look at the first cartoon).

STAGE 3The Berlin Airlift

America and the Allies felt that they could not just leave Western Berlin. “If we withdraw,” said the American military commander, “our position in Europe is threatened, and Communism will run rampant.” However, they also needed to avoid conflict and war with the USSR.

The decision was an airlift. Instead of bringing supplies in by road or train, they flew them in. There was nothing Stalin could do to stop them (look at the last cartoon).

The Berlin Airlift was code named Operation Vittles. 8000 tons of supplies were flown into West Berlin each day to keep it going. In total 2.3 million tons of supplies were flown in.

STAGE 4the end of the Blockade (and the end of the First Berlin Crisis)

Stalin recognised that his Blockade had failed. The Allies were not going to leave West Berlin and there was nothing he could do about the supplies being flown in (or he would start a war). He ended the blockade in May 1949. It had lasted nearly a year.

watch this video on the Berlin Blockade and Airlift

TASK 2: Using the information above (and any other research you might want to do) EITHER draw a comic strip of the First Berlin Crisis OR write a story of the Crisis. Make sure you include the Blockade AND the Airlift.

THINK (you don’t need to write your answer): Why was this an important event? How did it affect tension? How did it affect Germany? How did it affect the relations between the USA and the USSR?

Well done you have completed this lesson!

Want to know more?

1. Complete you own further research into the First Berlin Crisis. These websites are good starting points. think about the cost to the Americans of doing the Airlift as well as their reasons for doing so
https://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/berlin-airlift
https://www.britannica.com/event/Berlin-blockade
2. This event has often been called the first ‘flashpoint‘ of the Cold War. Why do you think that is? Has there been anything else that you think has caused more tension so far in the Cold War?