Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World (Giles Milton)

The years after the end of World War II were marked by the development of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the collaboration of Western Europe and America.  The unfolding of the Iron Curtain across Europe was most pronounced with events in Berlin. The city’s gradual split into West and East zones, free and communist, is told in Giles Milton’s Checkmate in Berlin: The Cold War Showdown That Shaped the Modern World.

Berlin’s postwar years were governed by American, British, French, and Russian military leaders, each with differing objectives for how the city would be governed but under an initial agreement that the city would be jointly run. Berlin resided within Germany’s Soviet zone of occupation, over 50 miles from British and American controlled zones in the future West Germany. The Russians, having reached the city first, tried in vain to establish communist control throughout the city but were only successful within the sector that they controlled. As the city and its governing committees gradually split into two camps, the Soviets and West were increasingly at odds with each other, leading to espionage and heightened military action that occasionally spilled into fighting.

Eventually, development of a Soviet blockade prevented supplies from British and American controlled German zones from reaching Berlin. American and British aircraft teamed up to respond to a city that was cut off by road and rail. The Berlin Airlift, as it is known, was a tremendous feat of logistical planning and execution. The last third of the book dives into the names and execution of one of the greatest relief operations ever.

Checkmate in Berlin is a fast-paced, entertaining read that for history fans will provide a great dive into the 1940’s and the developing Cold War as seen from those in Berlin.