Wednesday, June 25, 2008

60 Years Ago--Berlin Airlift Kept Berlin Free

Sixty years ago tomorrow (June 22, 1948), allied transport aircraft began one of the most amazing aerial battles in history. The battle didn't involve bullets or bombs, but food and all the other necessities of a city of millions, West Berlin.

The blockade started on 22 June 1948, when the Soviets shut off ground access from the west to the occupation zones in Berlin. It triggered a vast airlift to supply the estimated 4,500 tons needed daily to maintain the West Berlin industry and population of 2 million. Two-thirds of the planes involved were American, one-third were British. The main American aircraft were C‐47 transport planes and four‐engined American C‐54s. The British used mainly Yorks and Hermes aircraft. The majority of the aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift were manned by World War II–qualified aircrews.

U.S. operations began former U.S. Eighth Air Force General Curtis LeMay. LeMay was succeeded by Major General William N. Tunner, who had commanded the American airlift over “the Hump” between India and China in World War II. To keep the planes and supplies moving, loading was cut to 1 hour 25 minutes, while unloading in Berlin took a mere 49 minutes.

Soviet fighters harassed the cargo planes, but did not shoot. Most hazardous was the weather; this was overcome by ground‐controlled approaches handled by radar operators who reduced landing gaps to three minutes rain or shine. With a round-trip distance of 274–565 miles, depending upon the base and corridor used, planes did not have to refuel in Berlin.

By September 1948, the American effort was handled by 319 C‐54 Skymasters—225 in service and the rest undergoing maintenance or repair. The British No. 46 Group operated a more mixed force, including Sunderland flying boats, from eight airfields and one water base.

By 12 May 1949, when the Soviets lifted the blockade, 1,783,000 tons had been flown with a loss of thirty‐one U.S. lives in twelve fatal accidents. Flights totaling 250,000 continued on into October to build up stocks for the coming winter. The airlift proved the West would maintain its position in Berlin even at the risk of war. The airlift was a public relations victory for the peaceful use of airpower, heightening the reputation of the U.S. Military Airlift Command and of Generals LeMay and Tunner.

These facts were condensed from an excellent article written by Charles D. Bright, Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Air Force, 1992
The Candy Bomber

My favorite story of the Berlin Airlift involves a Utah man named Gail Halversen, better-known as the 'Candy Bomber'. Other names given to him by German children were: Uncle Wiggly Wings, The Schokoladen Flieger, Uncle Wackelfluger
and Raisin Bomber. Here is his tale:

Between the years of 1948 and 1949 Berlin Airlift pilot Lt. Gail Halvorsen was so struck with the friendliness and excitement of the Berlin children that he wanted to do something special for them and to spread a little cheer to their beleaguered times in Berlin during the blockade. Lt. Halvorsen decided to start his own operation and named it "Operation Little Vittles".

He bought out nearly all the candy available where he was based and out of strips of cloth created miniature parachutes and attached the candy to them. At the beginning, Lt. Halvorson's buddies gave up their rations of candy and gum and also their handkerchiefs to help the cause. The American Confectioners Association asked Lt. Halvorsen how much candy and gum he could use. They sent tons of candy and gum to Westover AFB for processing. 22 schools in Chicopee Massachusetts converted an old fire station into a Little Vittles headquarters. They made parachutes, tied on candy or gum and sent the finished product to Lt. Halvorsen at Rhine Main AFB. When the supplies came on line at Rhine Main all of Lt. Halverson's squadron and others helped drop the candy and gum. They then air dropped the candy over the city of Berlin (including East Berlin until the Russians told them to stop ) to the eagerly waiting children. By January of 1949 Lt. Halvorsen had air dropped more than 250,000 parachutes loaded with candy on the city of Berlin bringing a little joy to the nearly 100,000 children of Berlin during the Russian blockade.

Col. Gail Halverson, "The Candy Bomber" from World War 2, drops candy for children from Noah Webster Academy on Friday, May 9, 2008. Halverson dropped similar tiny parachutes to the children of West-Berlin in 1948 during the Berlin Air Lift and now travels the world reenacting his original candy bombings. Adriana Tout learns how to tie candy to a handkerchief parachute from Retired Col. Gail Halvorsen March 22, 2008 during an open house at Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen, Puerto Rico. Colonel Halvorsen, also known as the Berlin Candy Bomber, flew C-54 Skymasters during the Berlin Airlift and parachuted candy to children from his airplane. Adriana, 8, is a Ramey School third grader. This was Colonel Halvorsen's first return to what was once Ramey Air Force Base since 1949, when he flew C-54 missions from Puerto Rico to South America. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Ben Gonzales)

Order the book by Col. Halvorsen. I have it and it's great reading.

How to Order
The book can be obtained from Gail S. Halvorsen,19 E Southfield Road, Spanish Fork Utah 84660 ( 1 many--mid December each year) and 1525 Dove Way, Amado, AZ 85645 (mid December--30 April) , for $20.00 The first edition, published in 1990, was sold out and it was just republished in September 1997 with a new chapter of 28 pages and photos. Indicate in your reply that you are responding to this page and a donation of one dollar will be made by the author, on the sale of each book, to each of the following organizations: Berlin Airlift Veterans Association, the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation and the Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. This offer is limited to the first 1400 books.

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