The Berlin Airlift is the type of inspirational story that makes you wonder why you did not learn about it in school. I only recently discovered it by stumbling across an old History Channel video, and have found myself thinking about it ever since. Not only is the Berlin Airlift a triumph in operational efficiency, but it is an impressive case study of what is possible with effective leadership.
The Set Up
Picture it, March 1948, three years after the end of WWII. Germany is divided into four zones of occupation by corresponding political power: British, French, American and Soviet. The city of Berlin, though located in the Soviet zone, is also divided, with the Allies taking the west and the Soviets the east. Food across Berlin is in short supply and relationships are strained. The west wants to open Germany up for business. The east wants to establish Communism. Convinced the Allies are plotting behind their backs, the Soviets begin restricting access to other zones, halting military trains and supplies. The Allies release their own money, the Deutschemark, and smuggle it into Berlin before the Soviets can stop it. It is the last straw.
On June 24, the Soviets seek to establish full control over Berlin, and attempt to force the Allies to evacuate, by cutting off all land and sea access into Berlin, as well as the main power supply. Now, the only way into Berlin is via the air, and only 36 days of food and 45 days of coal remain.