International Aerospace Exhibition ILA2008

Few events in Germany history have such strong symbolism as the Berlin Airlift. The year 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of an event that was unique in terms of international politics and aviation, and also as a humanitarian undertaking. In well over 200,000 flights between 26 June 1948 and 12 May 1949 the Allies brought in vital supplies to the western sectors of Berlin, which had been cut off from the outside world. Almost two million tonnes of essential goods, including food, coal and everything required to construct an entire power station, were flown into the city. This astonishing feat of aviation and logistics remains the largest humanitarian air transport operation of all time.

Between 27 May and 1 June the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA2008 will devote an entire section to a display marking the 60th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift. Four large panels will be used to explain the situation facing the inhabitants of the western part of Berlin at the end of the 1940s, and the efforts and achievements of the Allies during the Airlift, as well as their sacrifices.

Contemporary exhibits will include two DC-3s as representatives of what came to be known as "Candy Bombers", which can be seen on the ground and during a daily memorial flight. Veterans of the Airlift from the USA and the United Kingdom who witnessed these events first hand are expected to attend the ILA. And another notable aircraft will also be paying a visit to the Berlin Air Show, the C-17 Globemaster III transport of the US Air Force, which former US President Bill Clinton officially named the "Spirit of Berlin" prior to the ILA 1998 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

In 1948 most of the German capital lay in ruins. The victorious powers had divided Germany into four occupation zones, but tensions gradually increased between the former allies, the USA, United Kingdom and France on the one side, in the west, and what was then the Soviet Union on the other. The political situation escalated with the introduction of the Deutschmark in the western occupied zone of Germany on 20 June 1948 as the replacement for the increasingly valueless Reichsmark.

The resulting problems in the eastern sector of Berlin were used by the Soviet occupying force as an excuse to cut off the electricity supply to the western sectors of the city shortly before midnight on 23 June 1948. On the following day tram and rail links between the western zones of Germany and the city of Berlin were severed, and the waterways were also blocked. This was the start of the blockade of the western sector of Berlin. At a stroke two million people became dependent on outside assistance.

The American military governor in Germany, General Lucius D. Clay, took decisive action. He ordered the start of an airlift to supply the population in the western sectors, under the name "Operation Vittles". By 26 June 1948 the first transport aircraft had landed. Shortly afterwards the United Kingdom and France joined in this undertaking. The high point came with the so-called "Easter Parade" on 16 April 1949, when 12,000 tonnes of supplies were flown into Berlin. This was the equivalent of 600 rail freight cars and required a total of 3,946 take-offs and landings in the course of a single day.

Technical difficulties and bad weather inevitably resulted in accidents during the Airlift, and there were 31 American, 39 British and eight German fatalities. Some remarkable feats were also achieved by those trapped in the city. In just 85 days approximately 19,000 Berliners, mainly women, worked tirelessly, day and night, to construct what was at the time Europe's longest runway, measuring 2,400 metres, at Berlin-Tegel, to create additional landing facilities for the Allied aircraft. The Soviet Union finally lifted the blockade on 12 May 1949, although Allied aircraft continued to supply the city from the air until 30 September.

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