At the conclusion of World War II, both the western Allies and the Soviet Union wanted Germany under their sphere of influence. The defeated country was divided into four sections (French, British, American, Soviet), as was the city of Berlin. That city, however, was 100 miles inside the Soviet sector. And Stalin wanted all of Berlin under his control. As a result, he stopped trains bringing in crucial food and other supplies to the vanquished city, hoping to gain total control.
The devastate German capital could only produce two percent of its food needs. Outside supplies were a humanitarian necessity. While the western Allies had never negotiated land links to Berlin, they had secured three air routes into the city. To prevent a catastrophe, and to keep the entire city from falling under Soviet power, this was the daily supply total needed to support Berlin’s 2.8 million people, according to Wikipedia: “646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive.Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.”
The U.S. and Britain agreed that the only course of action was an airlift. Yet they could only use a medium-size cargo plane (the C-54), due to runway limitations. At first, the Allies managed to bring in 1,000 tons of supplies each day – 5,000 tons were needed. It took a month of improved procedures and logistics, but eventually the full 5,000 tons were delivered daily. The airlift continued for most of a year, eventually humiliating the Soviets into capitulating. West Berlin continued as a free island as a result of President Truman’s commitment to turning back the Soviet threats – and as a result of thousands of American pilots, crewmen, and ground personnel who made the operation a success.