Spotlight On: Berlin Airlift

Air Ministry: Report on ‘Operation Plainfare’, 1950

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We hope you enjoyed watching our Education Service video with Records Specialist Dr William Butler looking at records from the Air Ministry, the Royal Airforce, and related bodies. This video focuses on a report on ‘Operation Plainfare, the Berlin Airlift (1948 June to September.) 

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Watch the video and look at the documents below, then try and answer the following questions:

  • What is the role of the AIR Ministry? 
  • When was it set up? 
  • What types of sources can we find in these collections? 
  • What makes AIR Ministry documents valuable for historians? 
  • What document is examined in this video? 
  • What is the purpose of this report? 
  • How could the AIR Ministry use the findings of this report? 
  • How useful is this report to historians researching the Berlin Airlift? 

Source 1: Front cover

Cover of a report with the Royal Air Force logo.

Cover of report entitled ‘A Report on Operation Plainfare (The Berlin Airlift), April 1950, Catalogue ref: AIR 10/5067








APRIL 1950 



Source 1 – questions:

  • Why do you think the AIR Ministry published a report on ‘Operation Plainfare’ (the Berlin Airlift)? 
  • Why do you think the report was ‘Restricted’? 
  • Can you explain why the Berlin Airlift was given an operational name? 
  • Can you explain the likely perspective of this report on the operation? 
  • Can you find out and explain the code-name used by USA military for the operation? 
  • Why was this document ‘closed’ to public access until 1981? 

Source 2: Photograph from report

The caption of the photograph says: ‘Huge storage hangars like these provided emergency stocks at all Airlift bases in case the normal flow of supplies to the railhead should break down’. 

Interior photograph of a storage room or hangar with high windows with bars. The space contains boxes and filled sacks piled high. There are nine drums in the foreground. Three men stand nearby. An army vehicle is also being unloaded by two men in the storage hangar.

Photograph from the report on Operation Plainfare (The Berlin Airlift), April 1950, Catalogue ref: AIR 10/5067

Source 2 – questions:

  • What can you see in the photograph? 
  • What do the photograph and caption reveal about the organisation of the Berlin Airlift? 
  • What type of goods were airlifted to west Berlin? 

Source 3: Extract from report

Extract from the report on Operation Plainfare (The Berlin Airlift), April 1950, Catalogue ref: AIR 10/5067


  1. When Plainfare was started it was possible for aircraft to fly to and from Berlin in the same corridor, thus making use of the shortest possible routes. As the operation grew in intensity it was decided, in the interest of safety, to have all aircraft in any one corridor flying in the same direction. Consequently, all aircraft from the British Zone flew into Berlin by the Northern Corridor and aircraft from the U.S. Zone flew in by the Southern Corridor and all aircraft from both Zones returned through the Central Corridor. This procedure was subsequently used throughout the operation with one minor exception in the Northern Corridor.


  1. As greater numbers of airfields came into use it was necessary to devise clear and distinctive routes and altitudes for aircraft from each airfield to fly. This resulted in a very complicated traffic pattern that can only be illustrated properly with a three-dimensional model. However, the diagram opposite gives some idea of the lay-out of the traffic pattern, while Appendix ‘H’ gives details of routes between individual bases and Berlin.


Source 3 – questions:

  • What is an air ‘corridor’? 
  • Why were the flight paths of the British and American aircraft changed as the airlift progressed? 
  • What do these extracts of the report reveal about the organisation of the Berlin Airlift? 
  • Why would this report be useful for the Air Ministry? 

Connections to Curriculum

Key stage 4

  • AQA History GCSE: Conflict and tension between East and West, 1945–1972: Origins of the Cold war.
  • Edexcel History GCSE: Superpower relations and the Cold War, 1941–91: The origins of the Cold War, 1941–58. 
  • OCR History GCSE: The Cold War in Europe 1945–1961: Rising Tensions. 

Key stage 5

  • AQA History GCE: The Origins of the Cold War, c1945–1949 
  • OCR History GCE: The Cold War in Europe 1941–1995 

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