May 26, 2017

1949. Soviets Dispute the Western Claims of Ending Berlin Counter-Blockade

Post-Blockade Complications
The first post-blockade inter-zonal bus crosses the Soviet freight border station at Babelsberg, East Germany on May 12, 1949 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 10, 1949

The American, British, and French military commanders for Berlin have just issued an order to lift the Western Powers' counter-blockade at midnight tomorrow night. This new directive follows by about twelve hours a similar order for lifting the Berlin siege issued last night by the Soviet commander, General Vasily Chuikov.

Thus the stage is all set for the end of the Berlin crisis. The freight and passenger trains are scheduled to roll over the British-Russian zonal crossing points a few minutes after these directives become effective. Automobile traffic on the autobahns also will proceed at that time.

The first fruits of the blockade lifting were felt in Berlin today. In some sectors of the city, electric lights stayed on until mid-morning as gradually public services are restored to normal.

Communists propagandists are doing ideological flip-flops in an effort to place the blame for the eleven month blockade on America. Today's Russian army newspaper, Tägliche Rundschau, now says that the reason the blockade has lasted so long is that the United States needed the crisis in order to promote the Atlantic Pact.

Blockade Day, Thursday, will be a holiday for West Berlin. The Western military governors, including General Clay, will attend a special meeting of the magistrate. Businesses are closing at three o'clock. Schools will have only short assemblies and then kids will get the rest of the day off.

However, we are reminded today of the cost of the airlift. Last night a British Lancaster tanker plane returning from Berlin to Hamburg crashed in the Soviet zone north of here. All four crew members were badly injured, two of them critically. They are now being cared for in a Russian military hospital.

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

Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

May 13, 1949

The Russian army newspaper Tägliche Rundschau this morning threw a propaganda monkey wrench into the East-West relationship with a surprising accusation that the Western Powers have violated their part of the agreement and failed to lift the West's counter-blockade of the Soviet zone.

The Communist newspaper, quoting "well-informed circles," charged that the American, British, and French zonal authorities had not taken any measures to lift the ban on trade relations with the Soviet zone and complained that "as yet no goods have arrived from Western Germany."

Lawrence Wilkenson, economics adviser, says that the Rundschau statements are untrue. The Western Powers have lifted their counter-blockade, he said, and West zone businessmen and industries are now permitted to make contracts with firms in the Soviet zone.

British authorities said the Rundschau accusations are false, and that in the Hamburg area alone thirty to forty trucks a day carry goods to the Soviet zone.

The Russians maintain that lifting the blockade should mean automatic resumption of trade on the basis of contracts in force when the blockade was clamped on eleven months ago.

The Americans say that these old trade contracts are invalid—most of them ran out in 1948—and that new contracts must be signed in light of increased costs and prices.

The Rundschau editorial carried an implied threat that the blockade may be reimposed because "the agreement cannot only be fulfilled by the Soviets."

Wilkenson said that conferences with Russian economic authorities over the dispute were held yesterday and will be continued today.

Meanwhile American, British, and French authorities in Berlin are studying a similar situation regarding goods leaving Berlin for the West.

The Russian authorities demand that all firms exporting goods from this city have a Soviet license to travel across their zone. This technicality, which is entirely legal, could mean a strict control of the kind of articles shipped westward and, if applied, could force Berlin manufacturers to ship their goods eastward.

We are finding out that there is more to lifting a blockade than the raising of a road barrier.

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