Berlin Airlift


Part 2


Virtual Operation Vittles


Part 1 covered the Berlin Airlift in general, in Part 2 we will cover the little things that made up the Airlift, the people, problems, solutions and several Virtual flights of actual flights.  In some cases we will go into more detail with behind the scenes workings and more detailed explanations.  Included will be some short tidbits about actual participants and maybe a little humor.


On March 30, 1948, Lt. Gen. Mikhail Dratvin sent identical messages to the American, British and French members of the Control Council:


“ All military transport along (the single line) rail line from Helmstadt to Berlin and on the (single) highway corridor linking the city with the west would be subject to inspection by Soviet guards.  All travelers, including Allied military personnel, will have to show individual identification papers; Soviet troops will inspect all freight trains.”


General Clay reacted quickly, protesting the Soviet order and cabling Chief of Staff General Bradley in Washington:


“Am instructing train commandants to resist by force any Soviet entry onto military trains if necessary.”


By the time he got an answer, the Frankfurt -am-Main Express train was en-route.  When it arrived at Marienborn it was stopped.  The train commander, a Colonel, refused to allow the Soviets on the train and it was shunted to a siding.  By 9:00 AM two more US trains and one British/French train were shunted to the siding.  With one exception they remained in the siding until 8:20 PM when they were allowed to proceed — back to where they had come from.  The lone exception was a train commanded by 2nd Lt. John Asbury.  He allowed the inspectors to board and after a short period he was allowed to proceed.  Lt Asbury was later tried by Court Martial for not following orders, charges were dismissed due to the ambiguity of the orders.


General Clay had decided that if he was not permitted force his way through, he would suspend the rail service and fly the supplies.   The 61st Troop Carrier Group, equipped with C-47's stationed at Rhien-Main Air Base was ordered to begin immediately flying in supplies for the American Garrison in Berlin.  Before the first supply laden C-47's took off with their 3 ton loads, Maj. Albert Schneider’s 53rd Squadron undertook a special mission.  The 53rd’s C-47's flew empty from their base to Berlin, where they circled the city several times.  Then they returned to Rhein-Main.  Their mission was to test the Soviet reaction.  This flight earned them the nickname of “Clay’s Pigeon’s.”


Before you fly the flights, you should download Scenery and Aircraft.


You are Maj. Al Schneider and in your C-47, lead FLT BAL 1" from EDDF -  Rhein-Main to EDDI - Templefof and return to Rhein- Main.  On this flight you do not land at Tempelhof but circle the field once and then return to Rhein-Main.  You must take extreme care that you do not fly outside the corridor. 


At the same time Gen. Clay ordered a military freight train bound for Berlin not to stop for inspection at the check-point .  When the Soviets allowed the train to pass unmolested, Clay ordered resumption of rail service.  In the three days that the trains had stopped, the twenty-five operational C-47's of the 61st had flown 125 tons of supplies to the city.


Tensions mounted again when on April 7th a regularly scheduled Vickers Viking of the British European Airways, carrying ten passengers and crew, was on its approach to Gatow airport when it was buzzed by a YAK3 from a nearby fighter field.  After the initial pass the YAK3 turned for another pass and collided with the civilian plane, killing all on board.


Clay met with the German leader, Ernst Reuter and his aide Willi Brandt and advised them of his airlift plan and the consequences the German people faced if it failed.  Reuter, without hesitation, answered:


“I can assure you, and do assure you that the Berliners will take it.

There can be no question of where the Berliners will stand.  They will stand up for their freedom and be glad t accept any help they are offered.”


Sir Brian Robertson called on Gen Clay, to advise him that the Royal Air Force was proceeding with its plan to start bringing in supplies to the city by air.  Without bothering to clear his actions with his superiors, Gen. Clay reached for the phone and called Gen Le May and asked:


“Have you any planes there that can haul coal?”

“Carry what?”


“We must have a bad connection.  It sounds as if you were asking if we had planes for carrying coal.”

Yes – that’s what I said  – Coal!”

“ General, the Air Force can deliver anything.  How much do you want us to haul?”

“All you can!”


Royal Air Force Squadron Leader A M Johnstone led his 9 Dakota’s of No. 30 Squadron off the field at Schleswigland, flew a farewell circuit of the field and headed for the German Isle of Sylt on the Baltic.  This had been a favorite gathering place while they were stationed in Germany.  They circled the town then headed across the North Sea to England.


Two hours later, No. 30 Squadron put down at RAF Oakington.  Johnstone’s plane hadn’t cleared the runway before his radio crackled:


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


Johnstone thought he was in the deep stuff for the flight over Isle of Sylt.

“How soon can you go back to Germany?  No. 30 has been re-assigned to an “Operation Carter-Paterson.”


On June 26, 1948, a collection of aging C-47's scraped together by HQ, USAF Europe, made thirty-four flights into Tempelhof, carrying a total of 80 tons of food and medicine.  The Blockade was only one day old and the weapon that would break it was being forged.


We stay in Berlin!


A similar airlift, quickly mounted by the RAF, dubbed “Operation Knicker” sustained the British garrison during this short period.  The British had by now, begun hauling up to 60 tons of food daily to Berlin.  “Operation Carter-Paterson” was becoming troublesome as Carter-Paterson was the name of the largest moving company in England and the Soviets were using it for Propaganda purposes, claiming the British would scuttle and run from the city.  The name was quickly changed to “Operation Plane Fare.”


In Washington, President Truman was being briefed on the situation and the probability that Berlin would have to be abandoned.  Truman interrupted quickly:


“There is no discussion on that point.  We stay in Berlin  – Period!”


That night General Le May received an urgent cable from the Air Force Chief of Staff which said:


“Approximately 39 C-54 Skymaster’s passenger and cargo carrying aircraft from the Alaskan, Caribbean, and Tactical Commands of the USAF have been ordered to the Frankfurt area of Germany at the request of the Theater Commander, Gen. Lucius Clay, for increased air facilities to supply Berlin.  The airplanes will begin leaving their bases within 24 hours, singly or otherwise as they become operationally ready for the mission.”


Until the C-54's arrived however, the airlift depended on the good old C-47 and it’s 3 ton load per flight to supply Berlin.  Most of the available C-47's in Europe were battle worn, some still had the invasion strips of Normandy, others the dusty rose color from the African Campaign.

Pilots were in short supply, if your file indicated that you had a set of wings on your chest and a few hours of multi-engine time you were ordered into the air.  Desk or staff assignments meant nothing. In a few instances some even found that after flying 8 hours they still had their desk job waiting.  Even Gen. Le May flew several flights.


The following actual accounting of a C-47 crew will be your first flight with you being 2nd Lt Robert Wilcox.

Flight BAL 2".  ETOU - Wiesbaden AAF to EDDI Tempelhof to ETOU – Wiesbaden AAF.


Among the first men sucked into the vortex of the fledgling airlift was 2nd Lt Robert Wilcox, a liaison pilot with headquarters of the Fifth Supply Wing at Erding Air Force Depot in central Germany.  Wilcox was given a set of orders that pulled him out of his desk job and placed  him on Forty-five day temporary duty assignment to fly in the airlift.  His commanding officer, a major, erupted in anger and said he would have the orders cancelled in ten minutes, but this didn’t work.  Wilcox cancelled his own plans for a leave in Switzerland and flew off to Wiesbaden. 



On his first flight into Berlin in a C-47, he carried 6,000 lbs of canned crushed pineapple; on his second flight , his load was three tons of flour.  Wilcox and his fellow pilot, “Nick ,” Nicholson, got back to Wiesbaden at 10:00 PM.  At the end of their debriefing, the operations officer told them that their first flight the next day was scheduled for 2:15 in the morning.  They had a scant three hours to get some sleep.


For you to fly these two round trips as they were flown, you should fly one during daylight and one in the dark of evening.


Teletypes were clattering out orders in the headquarters buildings of the air force units around the world In Anchorage, Alaska, the wingtips and tails of the C-54's of the 54th Troop Carrier Squadron were painted a bright orange-red so that if one went down in the Arctic it would be easier to spot from the air.  The officers and men of the flight crews were issued snowshoes as emergency gear.  At 6:00 PM, they were called together by their commanding officer, Lt. Col. James Sammons, who said to them “Gentlemen this is what we have been waiting for.”


One of the pilots muttered, “Maybe you have, but we haven’t.”  Nearly half of the men had wives and families who would be left behind in Alaska.  By 9:30 the next morning, the 54th was on its way to Europe.  Not knowing what to do with them they had packed their snowshoes along with the rest of the gear.


The 20th Troop Carrier Squadron left from the Panama Canal Zone on equally short notice, and the 19th Troop Carrier Squadron flew out of Hickam Field in Hawaii the next day.  The men of the 19th left no wives or families behind.  They flew over their relatives halfway between Hawaii and California.  Their dependents were on an army transport ship sailing to join them at what they believed would be their new base.  By the time the ship docked, the husbands and fathers they expected to meet were already half a world away.


Here you have a choice, you can be a member of either of two squadrons.  You will fly from Anchorage or the Canal Zone to Wiesbaden AFB.


 For those who selected the 54th , your route will be: FLT BAL 3"  - PAED Elmendorf AAF,  Anchorage to KTCM Mc Chord AFB, Seattle; KTCM - Mc Chord  to KCEF  Westover ARB;   KCEF  Westover ARB  to CYJT Stephenville; CYJT Stephenville to LPLA  Lajes AB;   LPLA Lajes AB to ETOU Wiesbaden AFB.


For those who selected the 20th , your route will be: FLT BAL 4" MPHO Howard AFB - Panama Canal Zone to KMCF   Mac Dill AFB, Tampa; KMCF  Mac Dill to KCEF Westover ARB; KCEF Westover ARB  to CYJT  Stephenville to LPLA Lajes AB; LPLA Lajes AB  to ETOU Wiesbaden AFB.


The stop in Westover is at the Westover Air Force Base ( then - now Air Reserve Base and Westover Municipal), the aircraft supply base, where you will be loaded with aircraft parts and supplies.


“FLT BAL 5 is described in the section on the Navy’s involvement.


On the flight lines, air crews began to makeshift signs and scrawled in chalk on the sides of their planes, “Le May Coal and Feed Company–Round the clock service–Delivery guaranteed.” The operation began in the best tradition of seat- of- the- pants flying.  The confusion that Lt Wilcox and his co-pilot Nicholson, encountered and the hours they put in are typical of the early days of the airlift.  Told that the first flight of their second day on the job would be a bare three hours after they landed, they grabbed one hour of sleep and dutifully reported to operation at 2:15 AM, only to be informed that something was wrong with their plane and that they should report back at 12:30.  That flight did not go far, as the left engine began to misfire badly soon after takeoff, and they were forced to return to base.


They were then told that their first flight on the next morning would be at 1:15 AM.  Just after midnight, the time of that flight was changed to 6:15 AM.  Wilcox confided to his diary that evening.  “It’s getting so that we’re living on such a confused schedule that we can hardly tell what day it is,”


In the middle of the night, the headquarters orderly informed Wilcox and Nicholson that all takeoffs had been postponed until 7:00AM due to the weather.  When the pilot’s checked with Operations, they discovered that their flight wasn’t due off until 2:30 in the afternoon.  Just before going to lunch, however, they checked again because of the continuing confusion, to learn that their takeoff time had been moved up to 12:30 PM, and no one had bothered to inform them.  Skipping lunch, they dashed down to the flight line–and sat in their plane until 4:15 PM, when it was finally loaded and they were cleared for takeoff.  The following day the two pilot’s hung around on the field until 5:40 PM before they got off, but an apparently pleasant surprise was waiting for them when they landed.


As Wilcox and Nicholson came dragging into Operations just before midnight, they noticed that a coffee and donut shop had been setup.  Wilcox thought that someone was finally giving some thought to taking care of the troops, but when he asked for a donut, he got a shock.  The girl behind the counter sweetly informed him that they were for sale.  It was a concession stand.  Wilcox was disgusted..


You, Wilcox and crew, are listed to fly FLT BAL 6" - C-47 - 315928 from ETOU – Wiesbaden to EGOB-Burtonwood for it’s 200 hour inspection.  Upon arrival at Burtonwood you will pick up a C-47 that has completed it’s 200 hour and return to EDDF-Rhein-Main.  Upon arrival at Rhein-Main transportation back to Wiesbaden will be at Operations.


The primary organizer of the Army’s supply operation was Brig. Gen Williston Palmer. As soon as he learned that the modest early effort to supply the military garrisons in the city was to be expanded to feed the entire population of the Western sectors, Palmer ordered the Army QM Corps depot at Giessen to move 300tons of assorted foodstuffs to Rhein-Main so that the food shipments could begin immediately.  Then he contacted Gen Le May, who said his intention was to begin sending air freight into Berlin at Max capacity, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.


“We’ll be on a full wartime footing” Le May growled.


When the city’s requirements were transmitted to the HQ of the Office of the Chief of Transportation, European Command, Frankfurt.  Army specialists matched the req. against the supplies in the Port of Bremen and other locations.   The goods were then shipped by rail to Frankfurt.  There where no warehouses at the sidings.  Shipments were stacked under tarps or loaded into one of 284 10 ton trailers, which were the size of a C-54 load.   Enlisted men drove the trailers to the airbase directly to a waiting C-54, where it was immediately loaded on the aircraft.  The actual loading was done by gangs of displaced persons.


The airlift continued transferring in pilots from all around the world.  Gail Halversen, a lanky, balding 1st Lt from Bear River Valley, Utah, had recently been reassigned from a C-54 Squadron to one that flew the new C-74, but his plane was out of service for maintenance.  A flight he was scheduled to make from his base at Brookley Air Force Base in Alabama to Ramey Field in Puerto Rico had been cancelled, and Halversen decided to sit on an emergency briefing that the Group Commander, Col. George Cassidy, called on July 10.


Cassidy informed his men that four of their C-54's and twelve flight crews would be moving to Germany almost immediately.  Halversen, a bachelor, was not assigned to the mission, but his good friend Pete Sowa was, and Pete wasn’t at the briefing.  He was flying a mission to Panama and wasn’t even aware that orders had come down that would separate him from his young wife and newborn twins.  After a quick call to Pete’s wife, Halversen asked his commanding officer if he could switch assignments with Sowa.


“It’s alright with me, but you’ll have to take the replacement issue up with Sowa’s commander.”  Halversen’s boss said, “I’ll transfer you if he’ll agree to the switch.”


James Haun, the Lt.Col. In command of Sowa’s squadron had no problem with the transfer.  Halversen and several other pilots were stowing gear in one of the C-54's when Sowa returned from his Panama mission and asked what was going on.


Halversen and his group arrived at Rhein-Main airfield on July11 and were greeted by a harried looking young Lt. whose first words were, “Welcome to Rhein-Main.  Who will be the first crew to Berlin?”.  Within an hour and fifteen minutes, Captain John Kelly and his crew were in the air, their C-54 loaded with coal.  The remainder of the crews from Brookley found billets in an abandoned barn in Zeppelinheim, just across the now-deserted Autobahn.  Halversen flew Co-pilot with Capt. John Pickering on a flight to Berlin at 1:00PM, the following day, carrying 138 sacks of flour, which was real close to the C-54's limit.


At Tempelof, Halversen and crew hurried off to the snack bar in the sprawling terminal building while their plane was being un-loaded.  When they returned, they found the plane empty and an operations officer looking for them so that they could be sent back to Rhein-Main.


Most of the pilots saw little more of the city they were supplying than Tempelhof airport.  Gail Halverson was an exception.  He delighted in taking home movies with his old spring wound , 8 mm. Revere Camera ( I had one) and was determined to get some pictures of Berlin.  Hopping a flight into Tempelhof during his off-duty time, he began by filming the operations, with special attention to the planes coming in low over the barbed wire fence at the end of the runway.  Then he noticed the area behind the fence was crowded with children watching the planes. He made his way over to them.


They talked for twenty minutes in a mixture of Halverson’s limited German and with several children translating in their schoolbook English.  As Halverson turned to join the sergeant who was waiting with the jeep to give him a tour of the city, he realized that there was something odd about the childeren.  Everywhere he had been in the world before children had considered Americans as fair game, begging for candy or gum, and the GI’s were willing participants, reaching into their pockets and coming up with candy for the kids.  Not one of the kids he had talked with through the barbed wire had asked for anything.  He only found a couple of sticks of gum in his pocket which he quickly shared.  He then promised to drop candy on his next flight, but only if they promised to share it equally.


The children agreed. Then one of the kids who was interpreting, asked how would they know which plane was his.


“When I get overhead, I’ll wiggle the wings of my plane back and forth,” he answered.


At Rhein-Main. Lt. Halversen had talked the other members of his crew into joining him in his plan to drop candy and gum to the kids.  Capt. Pickering and Sgt. Elkins contributed their candy ration to the plan, even though they had doubts about the success of the operation.  Pickering said, “You’re going to get in a big mess of trouble.”


When they approached Berlin on their second flight of the day, Halverson and crew could see the children waiting.  Halverson wiggled the wings and Elkins shoved three packages out the flare chute at the Flight Engineers station of the plane.  Attached to each package was a small parachute, made from a handkerchief, which Halverson hoped would break the fall.  When they took off for the return flight he could see the children again.  They were waving the handkerchiefs at each plane as they couldn’t tell which one was Halverson’s.


Candy and gum were available to Halverson when Gen. Tunner set up a mobile canteen. .Halverson, Pickering and Elkins pooled their rations and continued to drop their parachutes to the now growing crowd of kids.    On a flight soon after their third drop and just before Tunners

new rules went into effect, Halverson’s crew was forced to rely on instruments to get in to Tempelhof, as a dense fog bank had shrouded Central Europe.  No flights were taking off, so Halverson, walked over to Base Ops to see how long a delay they could expect.


In the corner of the room was a large table, stacked high with what looked like mail.  Curious, Halverson looked at it and was startled to find the stacks were letters addressed to Oncle Wackelflugel (Uncle Wiggly Wings) and Der Schokoladen Flieger (The Chocolate Flier). Tempelhof Central Airport.


Shaken by all the attention that their unorthodox and  totally unauthorized acts of charity were getting, Halverson hurried back to tell his crew members, “There’s a whole post office full of mail in there for us.”  The three fliers decided, then and there, to stop their parachute drops before the Air Force disciplined them.


Overhead, with the weather having cleared, the airlift droned on.


The resolve of Halverson’s not to risk court martial, lasted only two weeks.  They had noticed the crowd’s of kid’s were getting larger every day.  Elkins asked  the others, “What are you doing with your rations these days?”    All three of them had been saving them, so they determined that they would make one last candy drop.  It took six parachutes to handle the pooled candies.


The day after the drop their plane was met on one of its returns to Rhein-Main by an officer in a jeep.  The squadron Commander Colonel James Jaun wanted to see Pickering and Halverson immediately.


“Halverson, what in the world have you been doing? “ the Colonel began


“ Flying like mad, sir” was the best Halverson could come up with.


“I’m not stupid, what else have you been doing?”


Halverson owned up to the candy drops.


“Didn’t they teach you in the ROTC at Utah State to keep your boss informed?”  Haun whipped a copy of the local newspaper Frankfurter Zeitung from under his desk and invited Halverson to look at it.


“You almost hit a reporter on the head with a candy bar in Berlin yesterday.  He’s spread the story all over Europe.  The General called me with congratulations and I didn’t know anything about it.  General Tunner wants to see you and there is an international press conference set up for you in Frankfurt.  Fit them into your schedule.  And, Lieutenant, keep flying, keep dropping, and keep me informed.”  On their next trip into Berlin, Halvorsen and his crew picked up the mail that had been piling up in base ops, knowing they were not in line for a reprimand after all.


Ok, you are Lt Gail Halversen, you and your crew will fly FLT BAL 7" EDDF Rhein-Main to EDDI Tempelfof   with a load of Flour, then return to EDDF with a load of empty duffel bags.  Don’t forget the candy drop and the wiggle.


The new procedures that Tunner’s team of Bettinger and Forman had for the operation of the airlft were as un-complicated as they could possibly have been written.  There were three times as many planes at Rhein-main, than at Wiesbaden.  So Rhein-Main was the American Control Center.  Planes from Rhein-Main were dispatched at regular intervals, and the planes from Wiesbaden were fitted in with the steady stream.


Each pilot was given the numbers of the three planes immediately ahead of him and of the two that would take off after him, and the pilot carefully noted and reported the exact time when he took off.  The moment the pilot entered the corridor, he was required to broadcast the identification number of his plane, and the precise time, so that the planes ahead and behind could check the intervals between it and themselves and make the necessary adjustments.  In this way, the stream of aircraft was operating on a steady, rhythmical cadence of an airplane every three minutes.  Had all the planes had the ten ton capacity of the C-54's at the time Tunner’s new rules been adopted, Berlin’s minimum daily requirement could theoretically been met.  There are 1,440 minutes in each day, allowing  time for 480 flights at three-minute intervals.  An all C-54 airlift with sufficient aircraft could theoretically carry 4,800 tons a day into Tempelhof alone.


The pilots flying into Tempelhof were given orders that they would land if the ceiling was over four-hundred feet and the visibility was one mile; if it was less, the mission was aborted and they would return to their base.  Tunner let it be known that he would court-martial and reduce to co-pilot anyone who broke the rule.


This brings us to our flight.  FLT BAL 8" EDDF Rhein-Main to LPLA Lajes AB; LPLA Lajes AB to CYJT Stephenville :   CYJT Stephenville to KCEF Westover ARB; KCEF Westover ARB to KISP   Long Island/Islip and the Lockheed Aircraft Service , Inc for 1,000hr inspection. 


FLT BAL 9    EDHL Lubeck (now knows as Blankensee) to Berlin Gatow and return. This flight will be flown with an RAF Dakota.


FLT BAL 10   ETNW Wunstorf to Berlin Gatow and return.  This flight will be flown with a BOAC Avro York.


FLT BAL 11   ETHS Fassberg to Berlin Gatow and return.  This flight will be flown with an USAF C-54.


FLT BAL 12   ETHC Celle Army to Berlin Gatow and return.  This flight will be flown with a C-47.


FLT BAL 13  Hamburg to Berlin’s Lake Halvasee.   This flight will be flown with a Short Sundeland flying boat.  The flying boats were used to haul salt to Berlin, as they were the only planes that were protected from the corrosion.


A suggestion I make is that, you fly all 13 of the flights, this is supposed to be fun, so have at it.


This has been a long session and now that you have completed FLT BAL 13, you are finished!


If anyone has further questions on the Berlin Airlift, contact me and I will endeavor to answer.  I have a ton of material, this has only been a scratch of the surface.


Sr. Captain Bill Odell   


“Notice to Airman Page”


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