Publication: The Times

Full Citation

  • Title Why Blockade Was Possible
  • Author From Our Own Correspondent
  • Publication Title The Times
  • Collection The Times Digital Archive, 1785-2008
  • Date Thursday,  May 5, 1949
  • Issue Number 51373
  • Page Number 4
  • Place of Publication London, England
  • Language English
  • Document Type Article
  • Publication Section News
  • Source Library Times Newspapers Limited
  • Copyright Statement © Times Newspapers Limited.
WHY BLOCKADE WAS POSSIBLE LACK OF WESTERN SAFEGUARDS VAGUE AGREEMENTS From Our Own Correspondent DtJSSELDORF, MAY 4. In a sense, Berlin has been a blockaded city ever since the beginning of the fourPower occupation in July, 1945, 10 weeks after its capitulation-to the Rted Army. Germans. it is true, have always had free access from Berlin to the surrounding Soviet zone, and it will be merely a curiosity of history that British, American, and French citizens living in the city did not have this right, except bn aspecial and circumscribed occasions. The essential point, however, is that from the beginning of the joint occupation Bellin was in effect an island at the end of a long causeway. So far as the victualling of three-quarters of the German population of the city and the maintenance of the position of the western Powers were concerned, there were two apparently indispensable lines of communication-the railway from Helmstedt in the British zone to Berlin and the river and canal route along the Elbe and the Havel. The third route, Hitler's motor highway from Helsnstedt through the dreary fields and forests of the Brandenburg plain, was useful but not indispensable, a convenience rather than a necessity. lt was a supplementary route, much used by individual travellers and military convoys, corresponding in some ways to the American military train to Frankfurt, which crossed the zonal frontier at Hof, in Bavaria. Until the blockade tested the'resolution and resource of the western Powers and produced the air-lift, the life of Berlin was maintained primarily through the rail aftery, and' to a lesser but' Important extent along the waterways. By this means food from the ports of north-west Germany and coal and raw materials from the Ruhr were brought into Berlin. STRQNGEST CARD This artificial situation, the result of the failure of the Russians to cooperate with the western Powers in creating an economicaUy and politically united Germany, was one strong card in the Russians' hand. Their strongest card, however, was the absence of clear agreements guaranteeing and regulating the position of the western Powers in Berlin. It was only in April of last year, when the Soviet design to squeeze them out of Berlin, began to take practical shape, that it was generally realized that there was nothing on paper to safeguard the rights of the western Powers. The European Advisory Commission had agreed in November, 1944, that an inter-allied Government should be set up in Berlin, but nothing was said about rights of access for the western Powers. The four-Power agreement of July 5, 1945, was equally vague, and was even held by some to be capable of the interpretation that if four-Power cooperation.broke down each Commander-in-Chief was master of his own zone. The Russians did not allow usage to create, precedents. For almost three years the British and American military traips-which carried soldiers, western officials, and German civilians -were run on the understanding that only: German papers were examined by the Russians. That did not prevent a sudden insistence that Soviet soldiers should board the trains and check the documents of western passengers. The western Pbwers stopped their trains, but they had no agreement that could fo-rce a resumption on their terms in which free access to Berlin was implicit.' HARD DET4IL Tihe same was true of their rights to the free use of the Autobaim and the waterways. There was also nothing to prevent the Russians from cutting off the main sources of electric power from the western sectors of the city when they completed the blockade last June. . Since ihen they have disputed the rights of the western Powers to unrestricted use of the air corridors, but this has not gone beyond polemical statements of their case. The air-lift has increased to a strength undreamed of last summer, not because the Russians have accepted the western counter-arguments, but because there has been no means by which they could stop American and British aircraft without risking war. All this made it essential, as is widely realized in Germany, that any agreement to lift the blockade should be set out in hard detail. The history of the blockade made it clear that if it was to be worth while for the western Powers to raise their counter-blockade, which has done substantial harm to the economy of the Soviet zone, they shodid establish thfeir rights in Berlin beyond dispute. The raising of the counter-blockade presents some technical diffliculties-for instance, in the regulation of the rate of exchange between east and west and the reconciliation of the controlled economy of the east with the free economy'of the west. In general, basic and heavy industries in western Germany tend to welcome a resumption of trade with the eastern zone. For them the prospect of a sellers' market is opened up. In the lighter industries of the west, however, there are doubts. Textiles and porcelain are cited as two industries where the lower production costs of the Soviet zone may bring sharp cordpetition at a time when purchasing power is still restricted.