The Berlin Airlift

 

Part 1

When  WWII ended the four major powers met in Potsdam to map out four control zones. Each had its zone of responsibility.  Further Berlin, which was within the Soviet area of responsibility, was also divided into four zones, the United States, Great Britain, France and Soviet Russia.

 

 

The division of Berlin into four sectors had been agreed upon but never signed by the Soviets.  Marshal Georgi K Zhukov, The Soviet Commander in Germany, had verbally promised General Clay the  use of major highways and rail line into Berlin.  The only guaranteed means of access to Berlin was by air.  The Soviet Union had granted each of the Allies a twenty mile wide corridor leading from their respective zones.

 

 

On Monday, 31 March 1948, three U.S. Military trains were detained by the Soviets. General Clay ordered all such trains to be stopped and all personnel airlifted.  A check of aircraft available revealed only 25 of 36 C-47's were operable, plus a DC4 belonging to American Overseas Airline that provided scheduled service from Rhein-Main to Berlin.

 

Operation Little Lift

 

Before midnight 2 April 1948, Operation Little lift was started.  The C-47's from the 60th and 61st Troop Carrier Groups  flew 300 tons of supplies  with the RAF doing the same for the military garrisons  in Berlin.  It lasted about ten days.  The pilots were asked for volunteers, without exception they all volunteered apparently unconcerned about possible YAK 3 fighter interference.   Due to a flight of empty C-47's to check the Russian intentions, this small operation earned the nickname of “Clays Pigeons”.

 

Midnight on 23 June the Soviets began to cut electric power and at 6 AM, they halted all civilian road, rail and barge traffic.  Some military traffic, for essential needs only, was able to continue. One military train was allowed at night.  The Blockade had started, Berlin was isolated.

 

The Airlift Begins

 

      

 

C-47’s at Rhein-Main                                          C-54 on final for Tempelhoff                                              C-54’s at Rhein-Main

 

“Let the battle commence”

 

General Clay called Lt General Le May and asked “ can you transport coal by air?” Le May asked “ how much do you want to haul?”  All you can!”.  The Berlin Airlift had started.  At first it was referred to as “Le May’s Coal and Feed Company - Round the clock Service guaranteed”.  The operation started with the 61st Troop Carrier Group, consisting of the 14th, 15th 17th and 53rd Troop Carrier Squadrons  stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base with only 25 C-47’s operational.  The official startup with C-47's  was 26 June 1948, although it was not able to fulfil the huge requirements of Berlin over a long period.

 

The unofficial name for the airlift was given by Brigadier General Smith, the initial commander, “Operation Vittles” “since we’re hauling grub”.

 

General’s Clay, Le May and Smith were combat commanders but an airlift specialist was required to make the Berlin Airlift a success.  Lt General William Tunner,famed for his operation of the “HUMP in WWII” was sent to take over the command of the operations.

 

The 60th and 61st Troop Carrier Groups were ordered to fly the maximum number of missions to Berlin.  This required three flight crews and ground crews per aircraft. By 30 June 1948, 102 C-47's were assigned to the airlift, with each capable of hauling an average of only 3 tons.  The Airlift Task Force determined the daily requirement to support Berlin to be 4,500 ton’s per day.  The C-47's, with their small load capacity, could not fulfil this requirement. Calculations assured that the C-47's could not fulfill the requirements.  A search went out for the only suitable aircraft at the time that could fit the bill, the C-54. The larger C-54's were ordered in from everywhere the USAF and US Navy was stationed. They started to appear in July 1948 and by January 1, 1949 there were 200 USAF and 24 Navy C-54's operating in the Airlift.  The C-47' were phased out completely 1 October 1949.  Shortly thereafter 240 C-54's were operating in the US Airlift with 100 more in the maintenance pipeline.  On the British side, 40 C-47's , 35 Avro Yorks, and 26 Handley Page Hastings were in operation.

 

With the arrival of Gen. Tunner, MATS (the Military Air Transport Service), which provided air transport around the world, supplied USAFE with the aircraft and personnel required for the airlift.  On 23 July, 682 officers , 1818 airmen and 20 civilians were transferred to Germany as part of the Airlift.

 

Aircraft were drawn from all possible sources within the US Forces

 

C-54's were drawn from every location that the USAF was stationed:

45  from Alaskan Air Command, Troop Carrier Command between 28 June - 11 July

9 from MATS Continental Division between 10 - 13 July

72 from MATS

Atlantic Division, 2 Squadrons

Pacific Division, 4 Squadrons

Continental Division, 2 Squadrons between 23 July - 16 Aug

36 from FEAF (Far East Air Force) between 10 Sept - 10 Oct

24 from MATS 2 Naval Squadrons between 27 Oct - 11 Nov

10 from MATS AWS Pacific Division between 9 Nov - 16 Dec

20 from MATS, AMS, TAC Continental Air Command between 12 Nov 48 - 12 Jan 49       

24 from MATS, AACS between 17 Nov 48 - 10 Jan 49

Total aircraft   240 between 28 June 48 to 12 Jan 49

 

 


US NAVY

 

 

The Navy came a long way to participate in the Airlift.   The Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) had two squadrons based in the Pacific.  VR6 was  serving the western Pacific as far as China and Japan with VR8 deployed in the west central islands.  Orders were received on 27 October 1948 and 20 R5D’s left on 1 November 1948 from Honolulu’s John Rogers Field. These were augmented at Moffet Field to bring the two squadrons to full strength of 24. At Jacksonville, FL. They were fitted with radar but unfortunately it was learned later that the radar equipment was not compatible with that in Germany.

 

The Navy played a vital role in the Airlift with these two squadrons.  VR6 was attached to the 513th Troop Carrier Group and VR8 was attached to the 61st Troop Carrier Group.  The Air Force had 250 men in any given squadron while the Navy had 400.  

 

In their eight months in Germany, VR6 and VR8 flew 45,900 hours carrying 130,000 tons of cargo to Berlin.

 

For more on the Navy’s role, click here.

 

 

The Airlift Route Pattern

 

The Potsdam Agreement called for three routes or corridors to Berlin over the Soviet Control Area of Germany.  These corridors, one each from each the US sector, British and French sectors.  Each corridor was 20 miles wide and during the Airlift pilots had to take extreme care not to stray from them.   During the Airlift, the northern corridor was flown by the British in both directions with the eastbound flights staying to the southern half and westbound flights staying to the north half.  The center corridor was strictly for the westbound traffic, while the southern Corridor was for eastbound traffic.

 

 

The British used medium-frequency (M/F) radio beacons and Eureka radar beacons for navigation.  The southern corridor used Radio Range Beacons that had been in use by the US Air Force since the ‘30's.

 

The busiest airfields were equipped with the Ground Controlled Approach (GCA) developed by the US Air  Force This displayed on a radar screen, the height, bearing and distance of all aircraft within 40 miles. The ground controller could then direct all aircraft by radio exactly how to approach and land.    Without GCA the Berlin Airlift would never have maintained the intense schedule necessary to meet the mission.

 

The Soviets tried all means to harass the pilots, the most frequent incidents were such as: buzzing, close flying, searchlights and radio interference.  (A complete list of these incidents are in the statistics section).

 


The airspace quickly became a crowded series of aerial highways.  The density of traffic movements, up to 20 per hour or more, required strict adherence to approach and landing procedures.  This demanded more landing area and a third airport was added, Tegel, in the French Zone.  The British transferred their operations at Fassberg and Celle to Lubeck relinquishing those fields to the USAF for the ever increasing number of C-54's.

 

The congestion in the Allied sector compounded this problem.   Due to the tight restrictions the Standard Operating Procedures had such instructions as “All missed approaches will follow departure procedures” meaning the aircraft could not go round again but had to return to base.

 

Ground Radar Support

 

 A Short Story By Edward Carchia

I was on duty at the 602nd TCS, Det A, a small radar unit remotely located on the Czech border near  Hof, Germany when the first C-47 of the Airlift passed onto our watch. In a moment, our priority changed from "the other" to "our own".  Approximately a year later, I helped guide the last of a seemingly endless stream of dots to its destination in the Northeast.

 

One memorable rainy night remains a half century later. One of the fragile specks of light veered  sharply toward a line on the screen marking the edge of the air corridor. The aberration was not unnoticed by the pack of Migs that periodically swarmed out of Leipzig. The images converged before we could scramble our own fighter planes to the scene. The words "Mayday... Mayday" were recited through our loudspeaker more, it seemed, in disappointment than anxiety. Then the dot disappeared from the scope.

 

The next day  we went out to the crash site by  jeep. Parachutes reassuringly draped a rainsoaked field nearby.  The crew had survived.

 

Maintenance

 

General Tunner stressed good maintenance, to the point that 64% of all aircraft were always operational.  Aircraft required a great deal of maintenance, caused primarily by vibration and short life span of parts.  6% of all aircraft were grounded because of work in shops, 10% through scheduled maintenance, 9% through major maintenance which was performed in Oberffaffenhofen, near Munich or Burtonwood, England, with another 11% grounded because of unscheduled maintenance.

 

Aircraft required on-line maintenance after every 25 hours of flight.  After 200 hours, a major inspection was performed at Oberffaffenhofen ( Oberhuffin’ Puffin).  Later these inspections were shifted to Burtonwood due to the harsh winters in Bavaria.    Click here for more information on Burtonwood.

 

After 1,000 hours of flight time, every aircraft was given a comprehensive overhaul in the United States, either at Texas Engineering & Mfg,. Co. in Dallas; Aircraft Engineering & Maintenance Co., a division of Trans-Ocean Airlines Inc. , in Oakland; or Lockheed Aircraft Service Corp., in Sayville, NY.  The Navy routed their R5D to VR44 Squadron at Moffet Naval Air Station near San Francisco, while occasionally sending the aircraft to Lockheed Aircraft Service Corp. Burbank.   The Pratt & Whitney R-2000-9 and R2000-11 engines for the C-54's were overhauled at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas, then flown to Westover Air Force Base, Mass. then on to Germany. All C-54's returning to Germany were routed through Westover AFB and loaded with Aircraft spare parts and supplies, this subsequently created a shortage of parts in the CONUS.

 

Good mechanics were in short supply, ant-frat laws prevented hiring well qualified former Luftwaffe mechanics. Gen Tunner had this changed and former Luftwaffe Major General Von Robden was asked to assist in locating mechanics and translating manuals to German.  Fear of sabotage from our former enemy were short lived.  It wasn’t long before the German mechanics outnumbered the Americans.  There were a total of 27 incidents thought to be sabotage but only 4 were proven.

 

Scheduled and Non-scheduled help

 


 The suddeness of the blockade had found the Armed Forces not immediately prepared to meet the demand.  A call to arms of the commercial airlines was put out.  American Overseas Airline was already there.  Pan American made five flights and  TWA.  Made seven.  The non-scheduled carriers that assisted were: Seaboard and Western Airlines who made106 flights, Transocean Air Lines made 50 flights  and Alaska Airlines which made 87 flights. ( a bit of trivia: Alaska Airlines is the only airline, US or otherwise,   participating in the airlift that is still operating under the same name.)

 

                                                                               

 

Great Britain

 

We must remember that the British had just finished their struggle with WWII, they had been in it much longer than the US.  In fact they were still on strict rationing not much above what the Germans were going through.  They had to quickly close the military bases that occupied so much of the farmland and business structure of a small, geographically speaking, nation.   The armed forces were reduced rapidly to provide the much needed work force to get the country back on its feet.  There was no chance or time to develop new aircraft and equipment.  Companies purchased the excess military aircraft and converted them to Airliners.  This is the position of Great Britain when the Berlin Airlift was started.  

 

 

C.A.L.T.F.

Composite Airlift Task Force

 

It was officially created on 15 October 1948. British Air Commander J. W. F. Merer was assigned as deputy, although his effort was primarily with R. A. F. Group No. 46 in Luneburg.  Because of the huge numbers aircraft being operated by the RAF and the USAF it was imperative that there be a combined headquarters.

 

The RAF’s “Operation Plane Fare”  began at Wunstorf, while the civilian carriers initially operated from Buckeburg to Gatow. Due to the large numbers of USAF aircraft arriving daily, additional ramp space was needed.  The aircraft at Wunstorf moved to Fassberg and a month later they moved again, this time to Lubeck.  At the same time the civilian carriers moved to Wunstorf.

 

A Royal Australian Air Force squadron, with twelve complete crews arrived in October.  South Africa sent ten crews of No3. Squadron, Royal South African Air Force in September under the command of Maj. D.M. van der Kaay.  This contingent was in support of No 24 Commonwealth Squadron.  The R.S.A.A.F. Flew 2,500 sorties and carried 8,333 tons.  The Royal New Zealand Air Force arrived with three complete crews, which comprised a pilot, navigator and wireless operator, flew R.A.F. Dakotas continuously until the end of the airlift.

 

Some aircraft, such as the Hastings could not be used in a 20 knot cross wind, while the USAF C-54 could operate in a 35 knot crosswind.  The Lancastrians and Halifax/Haltons carried all of the liquid fuel.  The hulls of the RAF Sunderlands were already anodized against salt water, and where therefore ideal for carrying the corrosive salt.  Later when Lake Havel froze over several Halifaxes were also anodized to resist corrosion

 

The British aircraft were aided by medium-freqency radio beacons and Eureka radar beacons for navigational guidance.   The most frequently used beacon was at Frohnau, at the northern approach to Berlin.

 

The British operated two air bases in Berlin:

 

GATOW 

RAF Station Gatow was under the command of Group Captain B. Yarde. The US military started to use Gatow in August to help relieve the congestion at Tempelhof.  About half of the tonnage of all Airlift freight into Berlin was handled through Gatow – twice as much as Tempelhof.

 

TEGEL

The landing space demands for the airlift required another air base.  Tegel in the French sector, was a former Airship training base during WW I and as an anti-aircraft training base during WW II. The first RAF plane to land at Tegel was KN446, piloted by A.M.Johnstone on 18 October 1948.  He discovered upon landing that the base was not quite ready to handle his load and returned his laden aircraft to Lubeck  Tegel was disliked by pilots.  It had neither G.C.A nor BABS and the control tower was inoperative.  As time passed conditions improved.  The French handled all cargo operations while the USAF handled flight operations.

 

In the British Occupied Zone, they operated from 5 fields;

 

Wunstorf

RAF Wunstorf, located near Hanover, 150 miles west of Berlin.

Units at Wunstorf included: Nos 40, 51, 99, 206 and 242 Squadrons: which operated a total of 39 Yorks, and three civilian air carriers; Skyways, BSAA and Airflight.

 

Hamburg (Fuhlsbuttel)

All civilian aircraft moved from Lubeck to Fuhlsbuttel on 5 October. Flight refueling, along with Bond Air Services, Eagle Aviation, and World Air Freight, were the primary users and the Halton (Halifax bomger, converted as a freighter) was the aircraft used the most.  In 1949, 12,433 Airlift flights originated from Fuhlsbuttel.

 

Lubeck

RAF Station Lubeck began with Dakotas on 27 August 1948.  The RAF flew 68,000 undernourished children or ill elderly to Lubeck for treatment.  The base was only 2 miles from the Soviet zone.  Units stationed at Lubeck were: No. 1 Dominion, RAAF/RNZAF. Squadron; No. 2 Dominion, SAAF. Squadron; RAF. 18,46 and 53 Squadrons, operating a total of 42 Dakotas

 

Schleswigland

RAF Schleswigland.  RAF 47 and 297 Squadrons maintained and operated 23 Hastings at Schleswigland along with four civilian carriers, Lancashire Aircraft Corp., Westminster Airways, British American Air Services and Scottish Airlines who operated 11 Halton Tankers.  Schleswigland has underground fuel storage tanks capable of storing 160,000 gals., in addition it had a very good loading area which could handle 16 aircraft at a time and was only a short distance to the rail yard which could handle three trains.  On 6 September 1949, Flt. Lt. D.J. Harper flew the final Operation Plane Fare mission from Schleswigland.  RAF Hastings accounted for 49,981 tons.

 

Finkenwerder

This was an open stretch on the Elbe river, to the west of Hamburg.  RAF Sunderlands and Aquila Airways Hythe flying boats departed from here to Lake Havel in Berlin.  They were used to carry salt because of their anodized hulls.  When Lake Havel froze they were replaced by Handley Page Halifax/Haltons, which were also specially anodized.

 

When the Soviets first started the blockade, Gen. Clay proposed to ram an armored convoy down the autobahn.  The British Military Governor, Sir Brian Robertson, found the suggestion both foolhardy and appalling.  “If you do that, it’ll be war - it’s as simple as that.”

 


Robertson floated an alternative suggestion that had been developed by Air Commodore Reginald Waite, the Royal Air Force staff expert at the Control Council.  Waite believed that Berlin could be supplied by air, an idea that Clay had already considered and dismissed.

 

At the time Robertson made his suggestion, the RAF had only six Dakotas flying courier runs from Wunstorf to Berlin.  Its single transport unit on the continent, No 39 Squadron, equipped with another nine Dakotas, was in the process of packing to return to England.  Commanded by Squadron Leader A.M. Johnstone, No 30 Squadron had been flying from an old field in Schleswigland.

 

Royal Air Force Squadron Leader A.M. Johnstone led the nine Dakotas of No 30 Squadron off the field of Schleswigland, flew a circuit of the installation, and set course for the German Isle of Sylt on the Baltic, During their stay on the continent, the officers and men discovered the resort was a popular gathering place for attractive young women, and “training flights” to the spa had been routine.  They made two passes over the resort then pointed their aircraft toward England.

 

Two hours later, No 30 Squadron landed at RAF Oakington.  Johnstone’s aircraft had hardly cleared the runway when his radio crackled.

 

“Squadron Leader Johnstone will report at once to the Station Commander.”

 

Worried that he had violated some obscure air traffic regulation with the passes over Isle of Sylt, Johnstone presented himself to the Station Commander’s offeice.

 

“How soon can you get back to Germany?” the commander asked.

 

Number 30 Squadron had been reassigned to an operation given the code name “Carter-Paterson.”

 

On July 26th, a collection of aging C-47's scraped together by Headquarters USAF Europe, made thirty-four flights into Tempelhof, carrying a total of 80 tons of food and medicine.

 

Dakotas began to accumulate at the base at Wunstorf, and it became heavily congested.  In addition to No 30 Squadron, the planes of Squadrons 46,53,77, and 268 crowded onto the field, and a further Squadron of four engine York aircraft were due in a week Equipped with only two runways and a perimeter track, there were no hard stands for parking or unloading aircraft.  The this meager facility, with accommodations for 700 men now jammed with 1,600, the RAF was ordered to fly 161 Dakota sorties per day carrying a total of 400 tons, plus the regular 6 trips per day on scheduled Dakota service into the city.  The day after the order arrived it bagan to rain, and the aircraft and trucks churned the unpaved areas into a sea of mud.

 


It rained for eighteen hours straight, and twenty-six Dakotas were out of commission with electrical problems.  The mud was a foot deep, and the only way the pilots of the larger, heavier Yorks that had recently arrived could get their planes out of the mud was to rev all four engines at half speed and churn their way to the runway.  When they hit the hard surface, they had to cut their throttles immediately and apply their brakes fully.  If they did not, the plane shot across the pavement and mired in the mud on the other side.

 

When the rain finally stopped, the mud dried into hard ridges and troughs, and the Station Commander had to call in bulldozers to flatten them.  That reduced the surface to a fine powdery dust, and evert time someone started and engine on one of the aircraft, the flightline would disappear from view.  In addition to the problems it created with the engines, the dust settled on the windshields of the airplanes.  As the planes climbed through the clouds, the dust on the windshields turned back to mud again.  When the pilots turned on the wipers so they could see, the fine particles scratched the plexi-glass.  On night flights, the scratches acted as prisms, turning the flare paths and landing lights of their airfields into a blinding rainbow.  Many of the pilots refused to carry out night flights until the windshields were replaced.

 

The land-based British planes were not the only ones with difficulties, for the RAF Coastal Command had thrown the ten Sunderland flying boats of Nos. 201 and 230 Squadron into the effort.  From their base at Lough Erne, Northern Ireland, they flew to Finkenwerder, on the Elbe River near Hamburg.  There, they operated from the old Blohm and Voss shipyard.  Refueling was accomplished by hand pumping from fifty-five gal drums on barges into the huge flying boats.

 

Squadron Leader Tony Payne, commander of No. 230, flew the first load down the Hamburg corridor from Finkenwerder.  He was amazed at the number of Soviet planes he encountered en-route.  Yaks, Migs, and small planes from which an observer snapped photo’s of the giant flying boat rose from every field along the route. 

 

The British effort, “Plane Fare” was also beginning to shape up.  Because of the bad weather and resulting maintenance problems, the original goal of 160 Dakota sorties a day was never reached until the larger York aircraft came on the scene, The RAF did manage however to raise its deliveries to Berlin from 474 tons to 995.

 

The British had begun by operating their Dakotas at intervals of six minutes during the day and fifteen at night before the arrival of the Yorks, as that was as fast as the servicing and loading parties could achieve.  When the faster Yorks arrived, the RAF came up with the same problems that the Americans had and they solved them in a similar manner.  They dispatched the planes in blocks so that one arrived in Berlin every four minutes, the same rate the Americans achieved.  The base at Wunstorf was , however, becoming too crowded for the growing operation, so the RAF began the rehabilitation of Fassburg in anticipation of transferring the Dakotas there.

 

By August 12th, the British civilian aircraft, the RAF, and the USAF were able to make a total of 707 flights into Berlin.  The 4,742 tons they carried exceeded the minimum daily requirements of the city for the first time.

 


The over crowding of Wunstorf with RAF Dakotas and Yorks and the growing number of the Civilian companies aircraft became unworkable.  All of the Dakotas, military and civilian, transferred to Fassberrg.  The British didn’t get to use it for long as the USAF required it for their C-54's.  The British operation moved to yet another field, Lubeck.

 

The first flight that Tom Marks, a civilian pilot for Flight Refueling, made in a Lancaster Tanker, was a confused one but no different than a lot of others.  The instructions given him by his company was that he would fly to Gatow, and someone would unload his plane.  Then he would fly it out to wherever they had dispatched the flight before him.  His instructions further were that on the next day he would trade his plane with the other and fly back to England.

 

Marks knew nothing of the corridors and diplomacy and simply flew the straightest course to Berlin.  Luckily he was unmolested by the Soviets fighters.  He asked if any one had seen another of his companies planes.  He was told one had been there and after unloading his fuel had left for Wunstorf.  As soon as his plane was drained , Marks followed, again taking the quickest route, and again unmolested.  No one at RAF Wunstorf even knew civilians were flying fuel into Berlin.  They suggested he try another airport, Buckeburg, Marks did.  The other plane was there, but he couldn’t find the crew, finally he located them in the officer’s mess.

 

The next morning, Marks, found that Wunstorf knew nothing of a plane going back to England, and the Air Ministry wanted two Lancasters to ferry fuel to Berlin, so Marks spent the next weeks flying two sorties a day into Berlin.  Marks hadn’t even brought a change of clothes with him and for the rest of his stay he wore the same clothes every day.

 

The final RAF flight from the base at Lubeck was the Dakota KN652.  It landed at Gatow at 7:22 PM on September 23.  One of the ground crew at Lubeck had chalked on the nose, “Positively the last load from Lubeck, 73,705 tons - Psalm 21, Verse 11.”  To those who bothered to look it up,  the biblical reference seemed appropriate. “For they intended great evil against us; they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.”

 

 

France

 

Tegel,  the airfield in the French zone, was turned over to the RAF for aircraft use, with the French Air Force handling all cargo and the civilian work force and the USAF handling all flying operations.  If you recall WWII, at the end of the war, the French had no air force and no aircraft other than a few squadrons of fighters in England.  They also where involved in Africa and Southeast Asia. Remember Viet Nam?      

 

Displaced Persons

 

Three thousand displaced persons worked in the airlift.  Most of these were Jewish people who had been taken from their homes and forced to work for the Germans during the war.  At this time they were waiting to immigrate to other countries such as the new nation of Israel or the United States.  

 

The Airlift Is Over

 

February 1949  US and Soviet delegates began negotiations to end the blockade.  The Soviets had realized finally that they had failed and furtherance of the blockade was pointless.   On May 4 1949, the four powers issued a joint communique announcing that the blockade would end one minute after midnight on 12 May.  The first movement to Berlin was a 10 truck British convoy from Helmstadt to Berlin.  At 0630 the first train from West Germany arrived in Berlin.

 

The final “Operations Vittles “ flight left Rhein-Main 30 September 1949.  The aircraft was painted: “Last Vittles Flight, 1,783,572.7 tons to Berlin.”   The final RAF airlift flight was on 5 September 1949 .

 


Summary

 

The blockade began on 24 June 1948.   The first Airlift flight was by a RAF C-47 Dakota on 25 June.  The next day USAF delivered 80 tons to begin Operation Vittles, the British operation was named Operation Plainfare.

 

Within a month the combined fleets were hauling up to 1,000 tons per day.  With the arrival of the much larger C-54's the daily tonnage increased to more than 5,000 tons per day.

 

The movements increased at a steady pace reaching its greatest effort on Easter Sunday, 16 April 1949 when a record of 1.398 flights in a single day, about one flight per minute for 24 hours was reached.  A total of 12,849 tons of goods.

 

The US carried the major portion of the tonnage, mostly coal, flour and dehydrated potatoes, along with other foods.  The British carried the liquid fuel - oil and gasoline, kerosene, and diesel- plus salt and fish.

 

The effort required lots of people, about 75,00 total.  Of this total, 45,000 German cargo loaders and workers, 12,000 USAF personnel, 8,000 RAF, 3,000 displaced persons, 800 US Naval personnel, 2,000 US Army Airlift Support personnel.

 

Click here for the story of one flight told from the arrival of the sacks of flour on a train, until the flour was delivered to the bakery in Berlin.

 

                                                                      Tonnages

 

Commodity                                         US                               British

Coal                                                     1,421,730                    164,800

Food                                                    296,303                       241,713

Military supplies                                                                          18,239

Liquid Fuel                                             65,400                         98,282

Miscellaneous                                                                 25,202

Totals                                                  1,783,573                    542,236

2,325,809

 

                                                 US Armed Forces Aircraft Support

 

61st Troop Carrier Group

14th, 15th, 17th and 53rd Troop Carrier Squadrons

Alaskan Air Command

Troop Carrier Command

MATS

Continental Division

Atlantic Division

Pacific Division

US Navy

AWS Pacific Division

AMS


AACS

 

FEAF  

 

Casualties

 

There were three C-47 crashes that resulted in six casualties, eight C-54 crashes resulting in twenty-three casualties and one R5D crash that resulted in one casualty.

 

There were five crashes involving the RAF with twenty- five casualties.  And five crashes involving British Civil Contractor’s resulting in eighteen casualties.

 

In Memory

 

Our buddies who gave their lives in the Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949

 

United States

 

1st Lt. George B. Smith                                              1st Lt. Leland V Williams

Karl v. Hagen (Dept of Army)                                    1st Lt. Charles H. King

1st Lt. Robert W. Stuber                                              Maj. Edwin C. Diltz

Capt. William R. Howard                                            Capt. Joel M DeVolentine

1st Lt. William T. Lucas                                               Capt. James A. Vaughan

1st Lt. Eugene Erickson                                               Sgt. Richard Winter

Capt. Billy E. Phelps                                                   1st Lt. Willis F. Hargis

T  Sgt. Lloyd C. Wells                                                 AMM3 Harry R. Crites Jr.

1st Lt. Lowell A Wheaton Jr.                                       1st Lt. Richard M Wurgel

Capt William A. Rathgeher                                         Sgt. Bernard J. Watkins

Cpl.  Norbert H. Thies                                                Pvt. Ronald E. Stone

1st Lt. Ralph H. Boyd                                                   1st Lt. Craig B. Ladd

T Sgt. Charles L. Putnam                                           1st Lt. Robert P. Weaver

1st Lt. Royce C. Stephens                                            2nd Lt. Donald J. Leemon

1st Lt. Robert C von Leuhrte                                       T Sgt. Herbert F. Heinig

 

Great Britain

 

Flt Lt. H.W. Thomson                                                 Flt Lt. G. Kell

Nav. ll L.E.H. Gilbert                                                 Sig ll S. M.L. Towersey

Eng. ll E. W. Watson                                                   S3 P.A. Lough (passenger)

Flt Lt. J. G. Wilkins                                                    E. Grout

Flt Lt. M. J. Quinn                                                      Nav. K.A. Reeves

Sig. A. Penny                                                               Flt Off. I. R. Donaldson

Sgt. J. Toal                                                                  Nav l W.G. Page

Sig. ll A.  Dunshire                                                      Eng.ll R. R. Gibbs

 

British Civil Contract Crews

 

Capt. Cyril Taylor                                                       Capt. Reg. M. W. Heath

Capt. William Cusack                                     Nav. Off Michael E. Casey

Nav Off. Alan J. Burton                                              Rad. Off. D. W. Robertson

Flt. Eng. Kenneth Seaborne                                       Capt. Clement W. Utting

Capt. Cecil Golding                                                    1st Off. Henry L. Newmann

Rad. Off. Peter j. Edwards                                         Capt Robert J. Freight

Nav. James P. L. Sharp                                              Flt Eng. Henry Patterson

Capt. Wm. R. D. Lewis                                                Nav. Off. Ed. E. Carroll

Eng. Off. John Anderson                                            Rad. Off. Kenneth G. Wood

God Bless’

 

 

 

 

                                                               US Military Units

 

Wiesbaden

60th Troop Carrier Group

10th, 11th, 12th, 333rd Troop Carrier Squadron

317th Troop Carrier Group

22nd, 39th, 40th, 41st Troop Carrier Squadron (later moved to Celle).

7120th Air Base Group

7196th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron

1420th Air Transport Group (Provisional)

1422nd Air Transport Group

1st and 3rd Air Transport Squadrons

 

Rhein-Main

61st Troop Carrier Group

14th, 15th, 17th, 53rd Troop Carrier Squadrons

VR8 Naval Transport Squadron

513th Troop Carrier Group

330th, 331st, 332nd, Troop Carrier Squadrons

VR-6 Naval Transport Squadron

1422nd Air Transport Group

8th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 21st, 22nd, 1250th, 1251st Squadrons

1255th and 1267nd Air Transport Squadrons

19th Troop Carrier Squadron (Hickam Field, Honolulu).

20th Troop Carrier Squadron (Panama)

 

Fassberg

1420th Air Transport Group

1256the, 1263rd, 1268th, 1773rd Air Transport Squadrons

54th Troop Carrier Squadron (Anchorage Alaska)

313th Air Transport Group

11th, 29th, 47th, 48th Troop Carrier Squadrons

513th Air Transport Group


513th Supply Squadron

513th Maintenance Squadron

7496th Air Wing

7497th Supply Squadron

7498th Base Service Group

 

Celle

7480th Air Force Wing

317th Troop Carrier Wing (Moved from Wiesbaden, on December 16, 19480.

 

Tempelhof

7350th Air Base Group

 

Gatow

Gatow Detachment, 7350th Air Base Group

 

Tegel

Tegel Detachment, 7350th Air Base Group

 

                                                              Soviet Harrassment

 

Incidents                                                                     Total

 

Buzzing                                                                         77       

Close Flying                                                                 96

Flak                                                                             54

Air to Air Fire                                                               14

Flares                                                                           59

Radio Interference                                                        82

Searchlights                                                                103

Air-Ground Fire                                                           42

Ground Fire                                                                  55

Ground Explosions                                                       39

Rockets                                                                          4

Balloons                                                                       11

Chemical Laying                                                           54

Bombing                                                                       36

Unidentified Objects                                                       7

                        __________________                                                ____

Total                                                                          733

 

                                                                Lessons Learned

 


The Berlin Airlift was costly, $137,177,427.00, but we learned a lot, the C-54 saved a considerable amount of money, operational cost divided by the tonnage than the C-47.  If the C-74 had been available that cost would have been halved. 

 

It was a valuable training tool for air transport, that would be proved less than a year later (KOREA!) When our airlift would be tested again,  

The round-the-clock movement of food, supplies and troops by air.      

The invaluable bad weather, instrument flying on a hourly basis

Supply and Maintenance problems on a major scale.

Air Traffic Control.

Long range (distance) aircraft maintenance and overhaul and operational techniques.

Medical transport over long distances that would save thousands of lives.

New aircraft, the C-74, C-82 and the C-97 were given a great test under actual conditions. The C-82's design proved invaluable in the delivery of the PSP right to the job and in a simple unloading condition.

 

Mixed in with all the statistics is the fact that over 1/4 million passengers were flown.

 

One day, a record 1,398 flights carrying 12,940 tons were made by the USAF and RAF combined.   Just think - that was 600 cars of coal on an average of one round trip for each of the 1,440 minutes in the 24 hour period..  Did this make the Soviets realize the Allies  were there to stay?

 

General Lucius DuBignon Clay

 

 

General Clay retired from the Army on May 26, 1949.  Two later presidents would need his help.  General Eisenhower, Clay is one of the primary people to convince him to run for President and President Kennedy who appointed General Clay to be personnel representative to Berlin when the Soviets erected the wall.  He was a primary force in raising the ransom funds to obtain the release of prisoners form the Bay of Pigs.

 

General Clay, a graduate of West Point and former member of The Corp of Engineers, died one week before his eighty first birthday, on April 16, 1978.  He is buried at West Point and at the foot of his grave is a small marble marker inscribed.

 

Wir danken den Bewahrer unserer Freiheit

 

We thank the defender of our freedom

(From the citizens of Berlin).

 

Click here for Part II