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Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 17:03 UK

Berlin airlift anniversary marked

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Planes flew a distance equivalent to flying to the moon and back 63 times

Ceremonies have been taking place in Berlin to mark the 60th anniversary of the ending of the blockade of West Berlin by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

In 1948, Stalin cut off all land links into West Berlin in an attempt to force out British, French and US troops.

Instead, the Western nations launched the biggest airlift in history to keep 2.25 million residents from starving.

For the next 11 months, planes landed every two minutes, bringing in total more than 2.5m tonnes of supplies.

Seventy-eight aircrew died in plane crashes during the operation.

'Hope'

Thousands of people, including dozens of American, British and French veterans, attended ceremonies at Berlin's recently closed Tempelhof Airport on Tuesday to pay tributes to those involved in the unprecedented effort.

People pay tribute to those killed during the airlift at Tempelhof Airport (12 May 2009)
Seventy-eight aircrew died in plane crashes during the Berlin airlift

Representatives from the countries that took part earlier laid wreaths at the base of the memorial for those who died in front of the terminal building as a German military band played sombre music.

"I would like to express the Berliners' sincere thanks today to the representatives of the Allies and the veterans," Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said.

"We will never forget the victims who fell for the freedom of our city," he added.

"You laid the cornerstone for today's trans-Atlantic relationship. It was a logistic, humanitarian masterpiece that is... burned in the memory of the city."

As a grand finale for the anniversary events, 700 tiny parachutes holding sweets were dropped over the airport, repeating something the Western pilots did to keep German youngsters' spirits up.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in the German capital says that at the end of World War II, West Berlin was a tiny outpost of the Western Allies in Soviet-controlled eastern Germany.

To Stalin, it was a blot on his landscape and one he was determined to remove, our correspondent says.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

So in 1948, the late Soviet leader cut all road, rail and river links into West Berlin in an effort to starve its residents into submitting to Soviet forces and to pressure the British, American and French troops into withdrawing.

But the Allies launched the biggest airlift in history, bringing food and fuel and machinery, to keep the West Berliners from starving.

Horst Simon, who was six years old at the time of the blockade, told the BBC that he remembered how West Berliners were praying for the airlift to succeed.

"The West Berliners had the hope that the Russians are not coming to West Berlin, and so I think that the West Berliners at this time had the hope that the Allies can help us," he said.

Stalin officially ended the blockade on 12 May 1949, although flights continued until that November to ensure the city was well stocked in case of further blockades.



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