February 14, 2017

1948. The Berlin Blockade After One Hundred Days

Soviet Maneuvers Near the Berlin Airlift Corridor
A Douglas C-74 Globemaster heavy-lift cargo plane at the RAF Gatow airfield during the Berlin Airlift in 1948 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

September 30, 1948

There has been no answer yet to the American protest over yesterday's incident of the Russian Yak fighters buzzing two of our cargo planes flying into Berlin, but more effective than an answer is the fact that there have been no incidents today.

Last night, Russian planes were reported flying over the city at about 4,000 feet—much lower than the 10,000-foot safety level agreed upon by the four occupying powers. However, there were only a few and we are making no formal representations.

From Frankfurt comes word of a revolutionary discovery which, if it lives up to its promise, may greatly simplify the job of feeding Berlin—in fact, it may solve the entire European food problem. An Austrian scientist employed at the AST Chemical Works in the American zonal city of Giessen is reported to have discovered a new vitamin pill. This new formula is supposed to pack the equivalent of 2,000 calories into one tablet. Experiments with guinea pigs have shown that animals fed with this vitamin concentrate doubled their weight in a few days.

The new Communist call for violence to break the Western Powers' hold on Berlin was followed up last night in a speech by one Dr. Kurt Fischer, president of the East Zonal Interior Administration. Fischer declared that the so-called People's Police—the action cadre now being organized in the Soviet sector—must be "ready to fight effectively at any moment." He called for strong discipline and spoke of the "alarming preparation for civil war in Western Germany." This talk of civil war and the new violence line in the Communist propaganda is the sort of thing that usually precedes action. However, there is no sign as yet that the Communists are ready to move.

The newspaper war between the Eastern and Western Berlin papers continues to get more vitriolic. With a double boycott operating in both sectors, harried news vendors have found at least a partial answer to their reduced paper sales. They make up special packets of newspapers. In the Western zone the outside newspaper will be the Tagesspiegel or the Telegraf or one of the Allied-sponsored publications, while inside will be the banned newspapers form the Soviet zone. And in the Eastern zone the outside newspaper will be the Rundschau or other Russian-licensed publications, while inside will be folded the Western zone newspapers.

I suppose the next step will be an underground press.

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

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

October 1, 1948

The Berlin Blockade is one hundred days old today, and Germans here consider it something of a holiday-in-reverse. There were ceremonies by city authorities at both Templehof and Gatow airdromes in which speeches were made praising the American and British air bridge. But while the formalities were there, the uncertainty as to the future of the crisis was there too.

Approximately one quarter-million tons of supplies have been flown in the past one hundred days. More than 30,000 flights were made by the Anglo-American air forces.

Incidentally, the German Youth Association added two planes to the airlift in today's ceremonies. A model American Skymaster was presented out at Templehof, while a model British York plane was turned over to the RAF at Gatow.

The British-sponsored newspaper the Telegraf reports this morning that Marshal Sokolovsky is still in Moscow. The Soviet commandant is believed to be conferring at the Kremlin concerning future policy for Berlin, and the publication says that the Russians have never regarded the present international situation as seriously as they do now.

American military government authorities here are protesting another incident last night. Two Russian soldiers wandered into the American zone. The Germans called the police. American MPs answered the call, the Russians started shooting. One German bystander was shot.

Stories have been trickling back from the Eastern zone of Germany for some time now about the establishment of Russian secret police control in that area.

Today the British military government confirms at least one of these tales—the story of Joyce Bunce, an eighteen-year-old London girl who came to Germany to marry her war prisoner husband, Waldemar Kliesch. The couple were married and moved to the Russian zone of Germany about four months ago.

Yesterday they returned secretly to Berlin, where the British girl tells of being kicked and beaten by Russian secret police. She said she and her husband were arrested when they were overheard speaking English; the Russians obviously thought she was a foreign agent. She said half of the rations now being doled out in the Soviet zone consist only of meal and water.

The British government is providing the family transportation back to London and safety.

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

October 2, 1948 (signal washed out)

Soviet military authorities posted another notice this morning that they intend to carry out maneuvers in the vicinity of our airlift corridor to Berlin.

This announcement comes less than twenty-four hours after yesterday's action in which Russian Yak fighters again buzzed an airlift plane—a British ship this time—and an American report of Russian fighter strafing and diving maneuvers near the corridor some forty miles east of Berlin.

But thus far today there have been no incidents reported despite the Soviet announcement. In fact, neither the American nor the British authorities made formal written objections against yesterday's actions, although both made verbal protests.

American and British air force officials with whom I have talked the past few weeks tend to minimize the importance of these incidents. They point out that, although this Russian activity undoubtedly is deliberate, in reality the air corridor incidents have no effect on the airlift at all. The fact that the Russians take the trouble to post warnings in the Air Safety Center at all is an indication of the fear felt by all four powers that perhaps some careless or foolish flier or gunner may shoot themselves into a full-scale international incident with serious repercussions. And there is no indication that the Russians want that right now.

The attitude—unofficial at least—is to take it easy in assessing the Russian maneuvers near the air corridor and hope for the best.

There is more downright excitement on the Berlin elevated railway than there is in the airlift right now.

This railway is the battleground for the war between the Eastern and Western-licensed newspapers. Since the elevated is controlled by the Soviet sector of the city, Russian-sponsored police have been riding the railway, confiscating Western zone publications and sometimes even Western zone marks. The East-sector police also have tried to stop the sale of Western newspapers even at the elevated stations in Western zones.

So today the American, British, and French commandants for Berlin ordered that Western sector newspapers be sold at the railway stations in our zones. One Soviet-sponsored policeman already has been arrested.

It all adds up to the fact that you may get a fistfight with your twenty-pfennig ticket on the Berlin elevated railway.

Now back to CBS in New York.