Gen Tunner saw a major problem with maintenance, the added German mechanics had been a huge boost, work was going along efficiently with the servicing of aircraft at “Oberpfaffehofen.”It had worked well as an expedient maintenance facility in the summer and early autumn. However, if the airlift were to go on into the winter, Oberpfaffenhofen was totally unsuited for its function. It had insufficient indoor areas in which to work on aircraft, and indoor work space in the winter was essential. Looking about Europe Tunner’s staff came upon the RAF base at Burtonwood, just north of Liverpool. A huge depot, it had a perimeter of over seventy miles and had, during the war housed 30,000, British and American airmen. Now it was nearly deserted and used only for “pickling” obsolete RAF planes. Most of the windows on the base were broken, the roofs sagged and leaked, and much of the equipment had been ruined through neglect. However Burtonwood offered enclosures where the water used to clean the planes would not freeze and where maintenance crews could work in relative comfort while they carried out the vital 200 hour inspections.
By the time the military governors met in Berlin for the second time since the Moscow talks, the base at Burtonwood had been reactivated. Twenty five hundred airmen, mostly from Griffis Air Force Base in Rome, NY, were on their way to Burtonwood to man it. Even this number of mechanics and technicians would not be enough to handle the maintenance demands of the two-hundred hour checks on airlift planes. Tunner was forced to detail mechanics from his own squadrons to fill out the compliment at Burtonwood. In return, he received a promise that the new maintenance depot would perform the required work at a rate of seven planes per day once it became fully operational.
Tunner provided the personnel and permitted the transfer of two hundred hour checks to Burtonwood, under USAFE. After a reasonable start, the rate of inspection dropped to two a day, and Tunner was faced with a shortage of 35 planes a week on operations in and out of Berlin.
Tunner was not alone in his concern about the maintenance performed at Burtonwood. Navy fliers operated under different maintenance arrangements from the Air Force and naval squadron mechanics were trained to perform two hundred hour checks. When VR-6 and VR-8 joined the airlift, they were directed that they could no longer do so. Navy R5D’s, like the Air Force C54's, would go to Burtonwood for maintenance work. When the first one returned, the sailors found that it had so many uncorrected defects that they issued a new order of their own. Any Navy plane sent to Burtonwood would be accompanied by the aircraft commander to oversee the work and ensure that it was done correctly.
Tunner knew that he could not accept a situation where the airlift would be short 35 planes each week because of slow maintenance work at Burtonwood. He did the only thing that he could. Until the problems at Burtonwood could be solved, he followed the example of the Navy practice and transferred the responsibility for the two hundred hour checks back to the squadrons.
Gen. Tunner was amazed at the swift response to a memo he had sent to the Secretary of the Air Force.
Orders came through immediately for USAFE to requisition better housing and begin construction of emergency barracks for airlift personnel. The maintenance depot at Burtonwood received a complete shake-up, along the lines that Tunner and his staff had been suggesting. It increased the number of inspections it was performing almost at once, although the Navy continued to send each planes commander to the depot to ensure that the inspections were performed correctly.
The problems at Burtonwood had been solved, and the maintenance base was now meeting its quotas for two hundred hour checks.
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