12 May 1949

The Soviet Union lifts its blockade of Berlin.

On May 12, 1949, an early crisis of the Cold War comes to an end when the Soviet Union lifts its 11-month blockade against West Berlin. The blockade had been broken by a massive U.S.-British airlift of vital supplies to West Berlin’s two million citizens.

At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors administered by the four major Allied powers: the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France. Berlin, the German capital, was likewise divided into four sectors, even though it was located deep within the Soviet sector of eastern Germany. The future of Germany and Berlin was a major sticking point in postwar treaty talks, especially after the United States, Britain, and France sought to unite their occupation zones into a single economic zone. In March 1948, the Soviet Union quit the Allied Control Council governing occupied Germany over this issue. In May, the three Western powers agreed to the imminent formation of West Germany, a nation that would exist entirely independent of Soviet-occupied eastern Germany. The three western sectors of Berlin were united as West Berlin, which was to be under the administration of West Germany.

On June 20, as a major step toward the establishment of a West German government, the Western powers introduced a new Deutsche mark currency in West Germany and West Berlin. The Soviets condemned this move as an attack on the East German currency and on June 24 began a blockade of all rail, road, and water communications between Berlin and the West. The four-power administration of Berlin had ceased with the unification of West Berlin, the Soviets said, and the Western powers no longer had a right to be there. With West Berlin’s food, fuel, and other necessities cut off, the Soviets reasoned, it would soon have to submit to Communist control.

Britain and the United States responded by initiating the largest airlift in history, flying 278,288 relief missions to the city during the next 14 months, resulting in the delivery of 2,326,406 tons of supplies. As the Soviets had cut off power to West Berlin, coal accounted for over two-thirds of the material delivered. In the opposite direction, return flights transported West Berlin’s industrial exports to the West. Flights were made around the clock, and at the height of the Berlin airlift, in April 1949, planes were landing in the city every minute. Tensions were high during the airlift, and three groups of U.S. strategic bombers were sent as reinforcements to Britain while the Soviet army presence in eastern Germany increased dramatically. The Soviets made no major effort to disrupt the airlift. As a countermeasure against the Soviet blockade, the Western powers also launched a trade embargo against eastern Germany and other Soviet bloc countries.

On May 12, 1949, the Soviets abandoned the blockade, and the first British and American convoys drove though 110 miles of Soviet Germany to reach West Berlin. On May 23, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was formally established. On October 7, the German Democratic Republic, a Communist state, was proclaimed in East Germany. The Berlin airlift continued until September 30, in an effort to build up a year’s supply of essential goods for West Berlin in the event of another Soviet blockade. Another blockade did not occur, but Cold War tensions over Berlin remained high, culminating in the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

With the gradual waning of Soviet power in the late 1980s, the Communist Party in East Germany began to lose its grip on power. Tens of thousands of East Germans began to flee the nation, and by late 1989 the Berlin Wall started to come down. Shortly thereafter, talks between East and West German officials, joined by officials from the United States, Great Britain, France, and the USSR, began to explore the possibility of reunification, which was achieved on October 3, 1990. Two months following reunification, all-German elections took place and Helmut Kohl became the first chancellor of the reunified Germany. Although this action came more than a year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, for many observers the reunification of Germany effectively marked the end of the Cold War.

12 May 1965

The Soviet spacecraft Luna 5 crashes on the Moon.

In May 1965, Luna 5 became the first Soviet probe in two years to head for the Moon. Following a May 10 midcourse correction, a problem developed in a flotation gyroscope in the I-100 guidance control unit. Control was lost so the spacecraft began spinning around its main axis.

Ground controllers regained control of the spacecraft, but at the time of the next maneuver the main retrorocket system failed due to a ground control error in calculating the setpoints. As a result, the spacecraft, though still headed for the Moon, was far off its intended landing site. Problems again cropped up with the I-100 unit so a retrorocket burn could not take place and Luna 5 impacted the lunar surface some 430 miles from the target point at about 19:10 UT on May 12, 1965, becoming the second Soviet probe to hit the Moon.

A Soviet announcement gave the impact point as the Sea of Clouds at roughly 31 degrees S, 8 degrees W. Although a later analysis gave a very different estimate of 8 degrees N, 23 degrees W..

Despite failing at its ultimate objective of a soft landing on the Moon’s surface, the spacecraft was a partial success because, unlike its predecessor Luna 4, it successfully performed a midcourse correction.

12 May 1932

The kidnapped infant son of Charles Lindbergh, Charles Jr., is found dead in Hopewell, New Jersey, 10 weeks after being abducted.

Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., 20-month-old son of the famous aviator and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was kidnapped about 9:00 p.m., on March 1, 1932, from the nursery on the second floor of the Lindbergh home near Hopewell, New Jersey. The child’s absence was discovered and reported to his parents, who were then at home, at approximately 10:00 p.m. by the child’s nurse, Betty Gow. A search of the premises was immediately made and a ransom note demanding $50,000 was found on the nursery window sill. After the Hopewell police were notified, the report was telephoned to the New Jersey State Police, who assumed charge of the investigation.

Son of Charles LindberghDuring the search at the kidnapping scene, traces of mud were found on the floor of the nursery. Footprints, impossible to measure, were found under the nursery window. Two sections of the ladder had been used in reaching the window, one of the two sections was split or broken where it joined the other, indicating that the ladder had broken during the ascent or descent. There were no blood stains in or about the nursery, nor were there any fingerprints.

Household and estate employees were questioned and investigated. Colonel Lindbergh asked friends to communicate with the kidnappers, and they made widespread appeals for the kidnappers to start negotiations. Various underworld characters were dealt with in attempts to contact the kidnappers, and numerous clues were advanced and exhausted.

A second ransom note was received by Colonel Lindbergh on March 6, 1932, (postmarked Brooklyn, New York, March 4), in which the ransom demand was increased to $70,000. A police conference was then called by the governor at Trenton, New Jersey, which was attended by prosecuting officials, police authorities, and government representatives. Various theories and policies of procedure were discussed. Private investigators also were employed by Colonel Lindbergh’s attorney, Colonel Henry Breckenridge.