The Role of Britain in the Berlin Airlift

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Abstract

Since the opening of the Foreign Office archives covering the post-Second World War period, historians have argued that the British government played a strong and decisive role in the Berlin blockade. Determined to stay in Berlin in defiance of the Soviets, the British government acted decisively to initiate the airlift and thereafter wielded significant influence over western policy due to their close relationship with the Americans and their own contribution to the airlift itself. This article will demonstrate, however, that this interpretation fails to take into consideration both British economic weakness and the attitudes of British officials in Germany who organized and supervised the airlift. Whilst the British did indeed have a strong commitment to defending Berlin, they were less confident than their American allies about the success of the airlift and more concerned about the adverse effect the blockade would have on German resilience. Analysis of British policy at this level reveals significant differences between British and American attitudes in Berlin, and shows that the British had less influence over policy than has been previously suggested.

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