New Release Book Review: The Berlin Airlift: The Relief Operation that Defined the Cold War by Barry Turner

The Berlin Airlift: The Relief Operation that Defined the Cold War…


Acclaimed historian Barry Turner presents a new history of the Cold War’s defining episode.

Berlin, 1948 – a divided city in a divided country in a divided Europe. The ruined German capital lay 120 miles inside Soviet-controlled eastern Germany. Stalin wanted the Allies out; the Allies were determined to stay, but had only three narrow air corridors linking the city to the West. Stalin was confident he could crush Berlin’s resolve by cutting off food and fuel.

In the USA, despite some voices still urging ‘America first’, it was believed that a rebuilt Germany was the best insurance against the spread of communism across Europe.

And so over eleven months from June 1948 to May 1949, British and American aircraft carried out the most ambitious airborne relief operation ever mounted, flying over 2 million tons of supplies on almost 300,000 flights to save a beleaguered Berlin.

With new material from American, British and German archives and original interviews with veterans, Turner paints a fresh, vivid picture the airlift, whose repercussions – the role of the USA as global leader, German ascendancy, Russian threat – we are still living with today.



My Thoughts:

What happened to Germany and its citizens post WWII is not a topic I have ever explored or even given much thought to – other than having a basic knowledge of the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall – prior to reading this book. But I recently read a novel that followed the lives of two Germans post WWII and I found it both fascinating and heartbreaking to contemplate. After finishing this novel I was compelled to read further on the topic and I was lucky enough to already have this book, The Berlin Airlift, on hand.


Grounded in politics, yet still told in an accessible manner, The Berlin Airlift is quite a fascinating account of post WWII/pre Cold War tensions within Europe as a whole, not just Germany. It is stunning to contemplate just how close we came to having a third world war right on the back of WWII ending, if not for US diplomacy in the face of Russian obstinancy. Reading this book has elevated my sympathies for Germany’s people, not only in the past but also towards the current generations who have all of that division and dissent present in their histories. WWII may have ended in 1945, but for Germany, it was never really over until 1990:

‘The end of the Berlin Wall was also the end of the Cold War. In 1990 the two Germanys and the two Berlins were reunited. The following year, Berlin was reconstituted as a capital city. The story had come full circle.’

The passages detailing the decision to bring the wall down and the subsequent destruction of it are so filled with meaning they really lift your spirits to read. Likewise, descriptions and details of the Airlift itself are such a testimony to the endurance of the human spirit, the anecdotal accounts in particular presenting an overall feeling of hope in what people can achieve when they all work together towards a common purpose.

‘Early in the morning, when we woke up, the first thing we did was to listen to see whether the noise of the aircraft engines could be heard. That gave us a certainty that we were not alone, that the whole civilised world took part in the fight for Berlin’s freedom.’


Aviation enthusiasts will revel in the detail of this book. It really is so well researched and written with the reader in mind. Loaded with facts and figures, yet even the most amateur historian can enjoy it and not get bogged down in the details or lost in the politics. Perhaps the best way to sum up the book and the spirit it contains is with this quote:

‘Having lost two brothers to fighting in the Aegean in 1943, John Huggins, a dispatch rider in Berlin, was not easily given to charitable impulses. Yet the sheer determination of Berliners to survive and to recreate their city caused him to change his outlook. “I saw women clearing bombsites with their bare hands. At the back of a restaurant I saw a mother with two young children waiting for scrapings to come out. These people didn’t ask for a war any more than my family who lived through the London blitz.”’

I highly recommend The Berlin Airlift to aviation enthusiasts along with those who are interested in WWII and Cold War history. It’s detail and high level of engagement will not disappoint.


Thanks is extended to Icon Books via Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Berlin Airlift for review.


Barry Turner is a celebrated historian, the author most recently of Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich (Icon, 2015), described as ‘page-turning’ by the Daily Mail, and of Suez 1956 (Hodder, 2006) and, with Tony Rennell, of When Daddy Came Home(Arrow, 2014). He lives in London and south-west France.

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