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American Odyssey
American Odyssey: The 20th Century and Beyond Glencoe Online
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Web Activity Lesson Plan
Chapter 17: The Uneasy Peace
"The Berlin Airlift"


Students have read about the Berlin Airlift and how it became a symbol of the United States' fight against communism. In this exercise, students will examine the circumstances just before the airlift to understand President Truman's choices and the challenges of initiating a successful airlift.

Lesson Description

Students will use information from the Berlin Airlift Web site to learn about the circumstances leading up to President Truman's decision to proceed with the airlift. Students will read about why some Americans supported withdrawal from Berlin, what the original plan for the airlift entailed, what the dangers of the mission were, and how the program supported containment. This Web site also has many original airlift documents and photos. Students will then answer four questions and apply this information by writing journal entries from the perspective of a pilot preparing for his or her first flight in the Berlin Airlift.

Instructional Objectives

  1. Students will explain the issues involved with the Berlin Airlift and analyze how it helped support President Truman's containment policy.
  2. Students will be able to use this knowledge to write a journal entry from the perspective of a pilot preparing for his or her first flight in the Berlin Airlift.

Student Activity Answers

  1. Some Americans believed that it would be impossible for the United States and British forces to defend Berlin from a Soviet invasion. They believed that it would be better to leave voluntarily rather than to be forced out militarily. It would be impossible, they assumed, to supply West Berliners throughout the difficult winter months.
  2. Originally the plan called for the airlift to provide about 700 tons of food per day and to last only until diplomatic methods could resolve the conflict. It was generally thought that the airlift would last only a few weeks. The airlift ended up lasting 11 months.
  3. In the beginning air traffic control was understaffed and ground operations were uncoordinated. Pilots suffered fatigue from flying 2 or more 4-hour round trips per day. They flew in all kinds of weather, 7 days a week, in World War II planes that were not designed for cargo. On top of it all, the planes had to land on dangerous, makeshift runways.
  4. If the United States had pulled out of Berlin, then the Soviets—and communism—would have been free to take control of the area. The Berlin Airlift's success prevented Soviet expansion into West Berlin, and it demonstrated that the United States could sustain a foreign program to halt the spread of communism. In addition, the mission created a sense of goodwill between West Berliners and the United States forces.
  5. Students' journal entries will vary.

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