Just wanted to add something that has not been mentioned so far - at least to my knowledge:
The german comic "Charilift" states
June 1948: In response to the soviet
blockade of east germany, the western
allies construct the berlin chairlift.
I don't know if this is a joke but the Soviets never blocked East Germany - why should they? And given they did - why shall the western allies supply East Germany? To get them to love the soviets?
Ok what really happened was the blocking of West Berlin by the Soviets in order to get the western allies out of Berlin. But as you all are educated enough I don't have to say much about it. Was answered by the Western allies by the Berlin Airlift and given up on inefficiency several months later.
Yes, Randal got the "blockade East Germany" part wrong. The Soviets stopped rail and road supplies to west Berlin, in response to the creation of the new Deutschmark. The expected western response was either capitulation and abandoning Berlin, or an armored attack, which might have started World War III. We chose option three.
The Berlin Airlift from June 1948 to April 1949 was a spectacular success, both as a technical/logistics feat and a geopolitical coup. Remember, this was soon after the end of World War II, and many people of the Allied nations still hated Germans and Germany. The German attack on Stalingrad ended up with encirclement and a failed airlift to support 700,000 axis troops, with surrender in February 1943. Berlin held 2.8 million civilians, and the idea that a huge war-ravaged city could be supplied by air was ludicrous. There was much opposition to an Airlift among the American military, including the head of the air force, General Curtis "Bombs Away" LeMay, who favored the military option. President Harry Truman was being hammered on all sides by war hawks, dixiecrats, and appeasement-at-any-cost leftists. The US and its allies seemed very weak and vulnerable.
By some miracle, the airlift was approved, and what could have been a humiliating failure for the west and mass executions for Berlin "collaborators" gained momentum and efficiency as time went on. Not only was NATO shipping food, but volume and efficiency grew to the point that they were shipping coal, vehicles and building materials to West Berlin. The Berlin people energetically unloaded planes, repaired runways and constructed new ones, and committed to rebuilding their city as part of the West. On April 15 1949, the "Easter Parade" delivered almost 13,000 tons of coal, and thereafter air cargo rates exceeded former rail and road deliveries. NATO could have continued the airlift indefinitely.
The rest of Germany and western Europe realized that if NATO could do this for Berlin, capital of the hated Nazis, they could safely commit to the western cause. A blockade that should have brought western Europe into the Soviet sphere instead became a humiliating defeat for the Soviets, and the beginning of the process that ended with the dissolution of the USSR. The people of Berlin, who a few months before hated the Allied terror bombers, came to love the NATO planes and pilots.
An excellent book about the airlift: "The Candy Bombers" by Andrei Cherny.
To me, the biggest miracle was that even though the US and Britain lost 70 airmen, they did not fire a shot. And the biggest tragedy was that the US forgot this; had we shown the same creativity, resourcefulness, and commitment to peaceful but muscular solutions in southeast asia, and the middle east, two bloody and futile conflicts would have become similar massive wins.
Berlin chairlift? In Randall's alternate world, it would have been followed by the Hanoi Snakelift (a tasty delicacy) and the Baghdad Spider-Hole Lift, so the entire Baath party could have gone into permanent hiding underground. Competence and creativity beats conflict. Always look for option three.