Air corridor (Berlin)

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Airways during the Berlin blockade

As Berlin air corridor , the three are air corridors designated the 1945-1990 West Berlin with West Germany combined. The main destinations in West Berlin were the British military airfield Gatow and the airports Tempelhof and Tegel , both of which were used as military airfields by the USA (Tempelhof) and France (Tegel).


The three air corridors were based on agreements between the four victorious powers of World War II. First of all, in the summer of 1945, two provisional corridors were set up over the Soviet occupation zone in Germany in order to ensure the safe arrival of the American and British delegations to the Potsdam Conference in view of the largely unregulated air traffic to Berlin . The Western Allies assumed that this was a temporary measure for the duration of the conference. After these ended, however , the Soviet Union complained about western planes that were now flying outside these corridors again; the commander in chief of the Soviet occupation troops in Germany , Marshal Georgi Konstantinowitsch Zhukov , wanted to prevent his armed forces from being monitored. Thereupon negotiations about a permanent solution took place.

On November 30, 1945, the victorious powers agreed in the Allied Control Council to set up three 20-mile-wide air corridors between Berlin and the western occupation zones. On 20 October 1946, the flight directorate rules published for the corridors that could be used by allied aircraft, and has completed the control zone Berlin (Berlin Control Zone; BCZ) with a radius of 20 Miles (equivalent to about 32 km) to that of all four powers operated air safety Center Berlin (Berlin air safety Center; BASC) in the seat of the control Council, the court of Appeal building in Berlin-Schoeneberg one. Although the Soviet Union blocked the decision-making of the Control Council from March 20, 1948 in protest against the London Six Power Conference and the establishment of the Brussels Pact and this no longer met, the former allies in the BASC worked together until the reunification of Germany .

Here all flights in the control zone and through the corridors had to be registered at least two hours in advance and approved by the representatives of the four powers. If one of these did not agree, she stamped the corresponding flight security card with "security of the flight not guaranteed", which was mostly done by the Soviets. This did not prevent such flights, but this happened at your own risk and are still subject to the actual air traffic control by the American-driven airway control center Berlin (Berlin Air Route Traffic Control Center; BARTCC) at the military part of the airport Tempelhof .

The Soviet side subsequently stated that the corridors only served to supply the Berlin garrisons of the Western powers and therefore could only be used by unarmed transport aircraft, but not by combat aircraft. In addition, a minimum altitude of 2,500 and a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet (762 and 3,048 meters, respectively) must be observed. The Western Allies did not officially recognize this, as there was no basis for this in the agreements, but unofficially agreed among themselves to comply with these restrictions. In 1959, the United States flew a Lockheed C-130 at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) into Berlin to affirm its rights. However, after a Soviet protest, this was not repeated.

Air corridors to West Berlin 1989 - display of the air traffic control of the Air Security Center Berlin (BASC)

Flight operations

Each of the three air corridors had its own name:

The air corridors were of particular importance during the Berlin Airlift from June 1948 to May 1949.

From 1952 the German DECCA chain with four transmitters was put into operation in West Germany, which enabled radio navigation .

Until the reunification of Germany in 1990, civil air traffic between West Germany and West Berlin was only allowed to be carried out by US, British and French airlines, in particular Pan Am , British Airways and Air France . Until the beginning of the 1960s, only Tempelhof Airport, located in the US sector, was available to them for civil passenger flights. With the opening of the second West Berlin civil airport in Berlin-Tegel (French sector), Air France only used the new Tegel Airport for its daily flights Paris - Berlin via Düsseldorf . Pan Am and British Airways initially continued to process their flights connecting Berlin, in particular with Hamburg, Hanover, Düsseldorf, Cologne / Bonn, Frankfurt / Main and Munich via Tempelhof Airport. It was not until 1975 that they also flew to Tegel Airport, which was provided with the longest runway in Europe at the time as a result of the Berlin blockade and, since the early 1960s, has been expanded into a modern major airport.

As the only non-allied airline, the Polish airline LOT , managed by American air traffic control in Tempelhof, was allowed to fly through the three air corridors above the permitted altitude. During the Cold War, for example, LOT offered direct flight connections from the GDR central airport Berlin-Schönefeld to Brussels and Amsterdam.

Aerial reconnaissance

Although the Soviet Union wanted to prevent its armed forces from being observed from the air by establishing the corridors, it was precisely this that gave the Western Allies the opportunity to conduct spy flights . Due to the informal restriction to transport aircraft, this happened after the Berlin blockade with appropriately modified machines, which should not be distinguishable from normal aircraft of the same type by inconspicuous identification, lockable camera openings and retractable antennas, since these missions represented a diplomatic risk. In the event of an emergency landing in the GDR , the crews were instructed to destroy equipment and recordings as far as possible.

The flights were nevertheless noticeable because, unlike in normal traffic, they often did not largely follow the center lines of the corridors, but also flew curves and approached the edges in order to take better pictures of objects under or near the corridors. This included restricted military areas such as the Letzlinger Heide and Lehnin military training areas as well as garrisons of the Soviet armed forces and NVA near Perleberg , Rathenow , Dessau and Gotha .

The Soviet Union tried to detect these aircraft by visual inspection by fighter planes , to hinder them by dangerous flight maneuvers or to get them to land on their air force base by radio messages, and protested regularly against violations of the agreements. On the other hand, she occasionally used the education to present her material as a deterrent. Major countermeasures may also not have been taken as a quid pro quo for occasional deviations by Soviet aircraft from western airways for reconnaissance over military bases.

Before the advent of spy satellites , these flights were one of the few opportunities to gain insight into Warsaw Pact territory . Even after that, they allowed more detailed aerial photographs and electronic reconnaissance and also did not follow a predictable orbit . They were supplemented by flights along the inner-German border and over the Baltic Sea , within the Berlin control zone by the western military liaison missions , and in the early days of the Cold War by illegal intrusion flights outside the corridors.

American flights

The USA carried out such missions from 1948 from Fürstenfeldbruck airfield with the 7499th Support Squadron, which moved to Wiesbaden Air Base in 1950. In 1955 this was extended to the 7499th Support Group with three, from 1959 only two squadrons. In 1972 the group was disbanded; the only remaining squadron moved in 1975 as the 7405th Operations Squadron to Rhein-Main Air Base and in 1977 was subordinated to the 7575th Operations Group with two squadrons. In 1991 the group was disbanded. The area of ​​responsibility of these units covered the entire area from the Baltic Sea to the Caspian Sea . Between 1945 and 1990 around 10,000 sorties were flown in the Berlin corridors and the control zone alone.

Initially, modified Douglas A-26 , Douglas C-47 and the reconnaissance version RB-17 of the Boeing B-17 were used. After being restricted to transport aircraft, the bomber types were abandoned in 1953, although the reconnaissance version RB-26 remained in service until 1958. The RB-17 was replaced from 1950 by the Douglas C-54 , the obsolete C-47 from 1959 to 1968 by the CT-29A, a military variant of the Convair CV-240 . From 1962 the Boeing C-97 was mainly used, which was replaced by the C-130E in 1975.

British flights

On the British side, 2 Tactical Air Force Communications Squadron from Bückeburg was responsible for corridor missions, which moved to RAF Wildenrath in 1954 . In 1959 the squadron was renamed Royal Air Force Germany Communications Squadron and 1969 60 Squadron. After Francis Gary Powers' U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960, all flights were initially stopped and only resumed on a small scale in the following February. From 1962 the commander in chief of the RAF was able to approve three missions per week in Germany without further consultation with London .

Since 1947 the Avro Anson was mainly used for corridor missions, which was replaced from 1956 by the Percival Pembroke . Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall , the military version Andover of the Avro 748 was introduced in 1989 . Unlike the Americans and French, the British did not fly regular electronic reconnaissance missions. Overall, the number of missions was much lower compared to the Americans; In 1962 around 50 were flown compared to over 500. However, the British and the Americans exchanged aerial photographs or evaluated them together.

French flights

French corridor missions began in 1957 and were mainly used for electronic reconnaissance with aircraft under the designation "Gabriel", with consecutive Roman numbers denoting various armaments. Initially responsible was the Escadrille de Liaison Aérienne 55 from Lahr Airport with C-47 Gabriel I to IV. From 1963 there was the quite openly designated Escadrille Électronique 54 with three Nord Noratlas Gabriel V. After France withdrew from the integrated command structure of NATO In 1966 the squadron moved to Metz and became part of the Groupement Électronique 35,351, which was renamed in 1971 in Groupement Électronique Tactique 30,341 and in 1988 in Escadre Électronique Tactique 54. In 1989 the Transall C-160 Gabriel VI was introduced, which also had better aerial photography capabilities.

By 1964, 1,000 and by 1968, 2,000 corridor missions had been flown. After France withdrew from the NATO structure, there was little coordination or exchange of results with the Americans and the British. The French planes were not only responsible for missions in Germany, but worldwide.


  • Apr. 29, 1952 - A French airliner is shot at with live ammunition by MiG-15 fighter planes over Dessau , there are five injured on board

Individual evidence

  1. Kevin Wright and Peter Jefferies: Looking Down the Corridors. Allied aerial espionage over East Germany and Berlin 1945–1990, Stroud 2015, p. 46.
  2. DM Giangreco, Robert E. Griffin: Airbridge to Berlin - The Berlin Crisis of 1948, its Origins and Aftermath , 1998
  3. ^ Wright / Jefferies, pp. 47 f.
  4. Hans von Przychowski: 50 years ago Air France reopened the scheduled service to Berlin . The daily mirror of January 3, 2000, accessed on October 4, 2017
  5. ^ Wright / Jefferies, pp. 186-197.
  6. ^ Wright / Jefferies, pp. 145-185.
  7. ^ Wright / Jefferies, pp. 57-83.
  8. ^ Wright / Jefferies, pp. 85-104.
  9. ^ Wright / Jefferies, pp. 106-121.