Berlin in the Balance



In June 1948, Soviet authorities in Germany announced a land blockade of the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin. Isolated more than one hundred miles within Soviet-occupied territory, western Berlin was in danger of running out of coal, food, and the courage to stand up to Joseph Stalin.As Berlin in the Balance recounts, this crisis was a turning-point for U.S. policy. Just three years earlier, the Soviet Union had been an ally and Berlin the target of American bombers. In 1946 Winston Churchill had ignited protests by calling for an Anglo-American alliance against the USSR. The Berlin blockade made Churchill’s ”iron curtain” through Europe an inescapable reality.Led by Harry S. Truman, the Western Allies refused to back away from Berlin. Instead, they took to the air, packing passenger planes with coal, potatoes, flour, and other necessities. Not even the commanders of the year-old U.S. Air Force believed this fleet could supply western Berlin for long. Its main airport was squeezed among apartment buildings. Autumn would bring blinding fogs. And nobody had ever tried to supply a city of millions by air.Berlin in the Balance tells the full, gripping story of this critical conflict—how it developed and how it played out. Noted historian Thomas Parrish shows us the crisis through the eyes of Truman, Stalin, and other leaders. We hear Berliners cheer the arrival of each ”raisin bomber”; the planes’ roar was assurance that the democratic powers had not abandoned them. Through sources made available only after the fall of the USSR, we learn how Soviet leaders planned their strategy to drive out the West, what they feared, and what they hoped to achieve.Berlin in the Balance spotlights a different kind of air force heroism—flying heavy transport planes in weather so bad ”the birds walked,” harassed by Soviet fighters but never firing a shot. Under the decisive leadership of General William H. Tunner, crews took off every three minutes around the clock. Soldiers rushed to maintain the airplanes and runways, master a new radar system, even build a new airport. The operation depended on support from Frankfurt to London to Montana, on the sacrifices of German civilians and the boldness of French saboteurs. Using archives and fresh interviews, Parrish details the full scope and success of ”Operation Vittles.”The Berlin airlift stopped Stalin’s expansion in Europe. It helped Truman win his upset election in 1948. And it set the course of East-West conflict for the next forty years. More than sixty U.S. and allied fliers died in this great operation, keeping a besieged city fueled, fed, and free. Berlin in the Balance is a masterful chronicle of this crucial, stirring saga

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