Half a million tons and a goat: a study of british participation in the Berlin airlift, 25 June 1948 - 12 May 1949

Keen, Richard David (2013) Half a million tons and a goat: a study of british participation in the Berlin airlift, 25 June 1948 - 12 May 1949. Doctoral thesis, University of Buckingham.

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The Soviet blockade of western Berlin between the 23 June 1948 and 12 May 1949 - and the airlift that was organized to defeat it - was the first major confrontation between the Soviet Bloc on the one side and the United States and its allies on the other. It was at the point where the shared cooperation arising from common interests during the Second World War finally dissolved and became the Cold War with the potential to develop into a hot war. Yet for all its acknowledged importance in the history of the Cold War, no historian has hitherto investigated the British component of the Berlin Airlift to discover how it worked in practice and if British involvement was actually necessary to the success of the Allied operation as a whole, or whether the Airlift could have been undertaken more effectively by different approach. Given its acknowledged importance, the Airlift has been poorly served by its historiography. It forms a very minor part in the post-war histories of Germany; and even in the more specialist scholarly literature on the early stages of the Cold War, it receives scant attention. Insofar as it has received any detailed scrutiny, the Airlift of 1948-9 is presented regularly as a sub-plot in the wider drama of the Berlin Blockade, and it is the US dimension of the Airlift which has produced the best historiography. The American aspect, Operation VITTLES, predominates in the current literature and there is no equivalent on the RAF side to the USAF professional historians' output. Beyond this US dimension, there is a general dearth of academic papers in journals and of scholarly monographs. Popular books exist in quantity providing narrative overviews for the general public but this literature can be based on assumptions about the British dimension to the Airlift that do not stand up when tested against the surviving evidence. This study seeks to address its principal questions - examining the scale and extent of the British participation, and gauging its utility and significance in iii relation to the broader multi-national endeavour to defeat the Blockade - by a close study of the rich and plentiful primary archival sources held in Britain, the United States and elsewhere using the combined methodologies of the historian and the logistician. The thesis evaluates British participation in the Berlin Airlift and reveals that her aircraft were demonstrably indispensable logistically. However, performance - and that of the Royal Air Force especially - was substantially lower than that of the American task force. At the time, the official explanation given to the public was that the USA operated more and larger aircraft. The thesis reveals that there were additional causes. It examines how the Americans might have replaced the British, as was feared within the Foreign Office and the RAF and as they had the French. Redistribution of the whole American task force to bases nearer to Berlin in the British Zone of Germany would have increased the tonnage delivered but the thesis finds it would not have been sufficient. Deploying more US resources is the other possibility investigated and the limitations of American capability to do so are revealed and the potential impact on the plans to continue the Airlift into 1951 identified.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Berlin (Germany) History 1945 -1990, Cold War, Europe History 1945
Subjects: U Military Science > U Military Science (General)
Divisions: School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Economics
Depositing User: Users 4 not found.
Date Deposited: 29 May 2015 13:41
Last Modified: 12 Dec 2019 15:12
URI: http://bear.buckingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/9

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