May in History!

Sriram Chakravadhanula, This Month In History Columnist

This month in history, we witnessed two very important events concerning the lives of people through the air industry.


The Crash of the Hindenburg:

The Hindenburg was an exceptionally large airship. This was a kind of blimp-like structure that was filled with hydrogen gas (a highly flammable substance). This German-made airship was the largest airship ever built, measuring only a little shorter than the Titanic and 3 times the size of the largest modern aircraft. 

The Hindenburg was arriving from Frankfurt am Main as many of the passengers were there to witness the coronation of the KIng and Queen of England. The Hindenburg made the transatlantic journey only to see a stormy sky over Lakehurst, New Jersey, forcing the pilot to show off the magnificent airship to the New Yorkers before mooring at lakehurst after the sky cleared. The mooring process was known as a high landing, a maneuver that took incredible skill and position.

And suddenly, at 7:25 in the evening, the HIndenburg crashed within 32 seconds, primarily due to the hydrogen gas. Once alight, the whole structure was incinerated within a minute making a tragic scene to anyone who witnessed it. With 35 fatalities, the crash of the Hindenburg effectively ended the airship era. What created the original spark that lit hydrogen gas is still unknown. It could have been a cigarette lighter or a lightning strike. Either way, the catastrophe has been and will continue to be remembered for decades to come.


The Berlin Airlift:

After World War II, the Allies had strategically split Germany into four parts. The three western sections were capitalist while the Soviet controlled East was communist. In the Truman administration, Secretary of State George C. Marshall devised the Marshall plan, which gave economic aid to the west side of Germany. This would help rebuild their societies and stand as a strong example of capitalism thriving. 

The plan was a huge success and West Germany grew steadily and became prosperous while East Germany suffered. This made many Germans want to move to West Germany and desert the Soviet rule.

This situation was replicated in Berlin, the capital of Germany. Berlin was split into West and East as well, Berlin standing as the middle of the East part of Germany. So, in order to stop the Marshall plan, Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin ordered a blockade of Berlin, not allowing any economic aid to Berlin. Truman realized that he could easily give all of Berlin to the Soviets, but realized that holding half of a country’s capital held some symbolism to the American people. By activating Operation Vittles and the British activating Operation Plainfare, the allies used B-29 bombers to fly economic aid to West Berlin. This plan was highly successful, allowing West Berlin to rebuild its economy while East Berlin lay in ruins. This set the stage for the Berlin Wall and further opposition to communism.