The carving up of Germany after the end of World War Two led to the unfortunate scenario whereby the nation was permanently partitioned, as the Western allies and Soviets became protagonists in the immediate postwar era. This was especially challenging for the former capital city of Berlin, which although itself split into zones, allotted to the victorious powers, was as a whole deeply situated within the Soviet zone. As a result, it would become the front-line of the Cold War and also have its own unique civil aviation arrangements.
The animosity shown by Stalin’s Soviet Union towards its former allies led to the Berlin blockade and resulting airlift in June 1948. This lasted until May 12 1949 and utilised the three permissible air corridors that the Soviets allowed the western allies to use. This was not a very comfortable arrangement since aircraft could not fly higher than 10,000 ft and each corridor was only 20 miles wide. Straying outside of the corridors for any reason risked being shot down.
The Northern corridor was used to service Hamburg, Bremen and Northern Europe. The centre corridor connected mid-German destinations like Hanover, Dusseldorf and Cologne as well as Western Europe. Lastly the Southern corridor served Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremberg and Southern Europe.
The narrowness of the corridors prohibited any overtaking within them. The destination was of course Berlin’s unique Templehof airport, and initially also for the British the airbase at Gatow. Of course, there was no longer any Deutsche Lufthansa and even when the airline was re-established it was forbidden from serving Berlin.
All civil operations had to be operated by the airlines of the victorious powers – the USA, UK and France. These not only included services connecting to other capital cities but also domestic services that would become known as the IGS (Inter-German Services).
BEA was first to begin civil operations and flew the first domestic route in September 1946 connecting Hamburg with the airbase at Gatow utilising a Douglas DC-3 (C-47). Gatow would be the base of operations for BEA until July 8, 1951 when its services switched to the more luxurious airport at Templehof.
The Americans had begun flying to Berlin earlier, they used Templehof from the start, on March 1, 1948. This service wasn’t flown by Pan Am but was instead operated by American Overseas Airlines (AOA). They flew the first service on May 18, 1946 a multi-stop service from New York, via Shannon, Amsterdam and Frankfurt.
AOA also started IGS routes with its first domestic service between Berlin and Frankfurt on March 1, 1948. These services expanded in March and June 1950 with routes to Hamburg and Dusseldorf respectively.
BEA was also growing its own IGS network. It introduced Vickers Vikings on December 1, 1949 between Gatow and Dusseldorf. Dakotas started a Hanover service on June 12, 1950.
It wasn’t until the September 25, 1950 takeover of AOA by Pan Am that Juan Trippe’s airline gained its hold on Templehof operations and it would grow to become the most important airline operating IGS services. Pan Am began operations with Douglas DC-4s (or at least demilitarised C-54 Skymasters) competing against the BEA Pionairs (as they called the DC-3s) and Vikings.
BEA continued to expand during 1951. On January 28 Berlin to Cologne was inaugurated. The service continued on to London. On April 15 Dusseldorf and Munich were also begun. The Vikings were withdrawn from IGS routes, although they still served the Dusseldorf service when it continued on to London. The six DC-3 Pionairs were transferred to Templehof in April so that all civil operations now flew from the unique airport.
Air France began services to Berlin in 1950 but was never as important a component on IGS services. Nonetheless, it was one of their C-54s, F-BELI, which was operating an IGS route between Frankfurt and Berlin on April 29, 1952 when it was attacked by a pair of Soviet MiG-15s. The aircraft took 89 hits from the MiGs, but managed to land safely, despite losing two engines. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. The Soviets claimed the aircraft had wandered outside the air corridor.
BEA’s operations on IGS routes by mid-1953 featured 6 daily returns to Hanover, four to Hamburg, two to Dusseldorf and daily services to Munich and Cologne. The DC-3s were supplemented by Airspeed Ambassadors ‘Elizabethans’ on March 2, 1954. These were only used on some services and instead BEA chartered out many of its services to Air Charter, which by 1956 was using DC-4s (to Hanover three times daily) and DC-3s (to Dusseldorf twice daily and Hamburg and Cologne each daily).
Pan Am was also growing its IGS operation and added Cologne, Stuttgart, Hanover, Munich and Nuremberg between 1955 and 1959. In fact, Pan Am was gradually taking a larger share of the pie helped by its decision from June 1954 to introduce pressurised Douglas DC-6Bs in place of the old unpressurised DC-4s. That was the year that Templehof became the third busiest airport in Europe and Pan Am was in the driving seat.
1954 was also the year that Pan Am setup its own IGS unit with a crew base in Berlin utilising local cabin crew. Pan Am would employ thousands of Germans and base a number of US crews at Berlin. The technical base was situated at Frankfurt. DC-4s would continue in service but gradually be supplanted by the new DC-6Bs.
Gradually BEA lost ground and it would be four years before it fought back by introducing the first turboprops on IGS routes. In part 2 I’ll look at how the battle for Berliners travel changed as the Berlin Wall began to be built and the 1960s dawned.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: