13 May 2009

Berlin airlift remembered

12:28 pm on 13 May 2009

Ceremonies have been taking place in Berlin to mark the 60th anniversary of the ending of the Berlin airlift.

In 1948, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin cut all land links into West Berlin in an attempt to force British, French and US troops to leave.

Instead, Western nations launched the biggest airlift in history to keep Berlin's 2.5 million residents from starving.

For the next 11 months, planes landed every two minutes, bringing more than 2.5m tonnes of suppliesin total.

Thousands of people, including dozens of American, British and French veterans, attended ceremonies at the recently closed Tempelhof Airport in Berlin on Tuesday to pay tributes to those involved.

Seventy-eight aircrew died in plane crashes during the airlift. Mayor Klaus Wowereit said they will never be forgotten.

Earlier, wreaths were laid at the base of a memorial in front of the terminal building.

Sweet finale

As a grand finale for the anniversary events, 700 tiny parachutes holding sweets were dropped over the airport, repeating something the Western pilots did to keep German youngsters' spirits up.

The BBC reports that at the end of World War II, West Berlin was a tiny outpost of the Western Allies in Soviet-controlled eastern Germany.

After Stalin cut all road, rail and river links into West Berlin, the Allies launched the biggest airlift in history, bringing food and fuel and machinery, to keep the West Berliners from starving.

Stalin officially ended the blockade on 12 May 1949, although flights continued until that November to ensure the city was well stocked in case of further blockades.