August 8, 2016

1949. Tensions Grow as the Berlin Blockade Continues

A Decisive Spring Approaches
Edward R. Murrow (left) and Bill Downs (center) with an unidentified man in Berlin in 1953 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

February 16, 1949

We are approaching the season here in Central Europe when international rumors begin to bud and unconfirmed reports start to sprout and stir under the agitation of the struggle between the East and the West.

The first of this springtime crop of rumor came the other day in the American licensed newspaper Neue Zeitung. The Zeitung reports Soviet troop movements along the Baltic coast of Germany towards the border of the British zone. The newspaper, quoting refugees and fishermen, says that approximately 5,000 Russian Marines are in the northern German province of Mecklenburg; that new military bases are being established in the Baltic countries; and that submarine maneuvers are being conducted by the Russians in the Baltic sea.

It is impossible to check these reports, and Western intelligence authorities refused to comment.

But the rumors are worth noting. Officials here agree that this spring, now only a month away, will be a decisive season for the peace of Europe.

A C-54 cracked near Celle last night, but no one was badly injured. The Anglo-American airlift has been plagued by bad weather this week, but despite sleet and rain and fog, the planes have managed to average more than 5,000 tons a day into Berlin.

But it isn't easy. The other day I tried to get on an airlift plane to Frankfurt. The weather cleared for about an hour. I rushed to Tempelhof, was shoved onto a plane, and we waited in line to take off for more than an hour. The crew had not had any sleep for more than twenty-six hours. They had missed a blind landing at the Rhine Maine airport and been sent back; been shunted to the Celle airport; loaded again for Berlin; and were trying to get back to their billets in Frankfurt for rest and clean clothing.

We were just preparing to take off when the Tempelhof control tower closed down the field. The bad weather had moved in again.

The pilot heaved a sigh of relief. "We can't sleep here," he said. "I didn't want to try another soupy approach."

It is not particularly dramatic, but it happens every day on the airlift—an operation which even we here in Berlin are beginning to take for granted.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.