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The Berlin Airlift. What happened. Each allied power owned a zone of Berlin after World War II. In 1947-48 cooperation broke down and the three western governments set up a separate western government in their zone of Berlin.

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The Berlin Airlift

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what happened
What happened
  • Each allied power owned a zone of Berlin after World War II. In 1947-48 cooperation broke down and the three western governments set up a separate western government in their zone of Berlin.
  • After the west’s currency reforms, the Soviet Union blockades all roads in and out of the eastern zone, and later all of Berlin.
  • The first airlifts are small amounts for the west’s garrison forces.
  • It was General Clay’s idea for a massive airlift. Before, a ground invasion was being planned. One that would have certainly started World War III
  • General Tuner, who had Developed the Air Transport Command, was in charge of the combined allied Airlift effort.
  • It was determined that the city's daily food ration would be 646 tons of flour and wheat; 125 tons of cereal; 64 tons of fat; 109 tons of meat and fish; 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes; 180 tons of sugar; 11 tons of coffee; 19 tons of powdered milk; 5 tons of whole milk for children; 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking; 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables; 38 tons of salt; and 10 tons of cheese. Because the city’s power plant was on the soviet side, large amounts of coal also had to be airlifted in.
  • Initially, Gen. Clay determined that, with the limited number of airplanes available to him, he could haul about 300 tons of supplies a day, the British effort, was estimated to be capable of 750 tons a day. This still leaves 2,425-tons daily. Realizing that this kind of tonnage could not be achieved using C-47's, Gen. Clay and Gen. LeMay made requests for more C-54's, for they could carry over three times more cargo than C-47's. On June 27, an additional 52 Skymasters were ordered to Berlin.
black friday account taken from the berlin airlift historical foundation
Black Friday (account taken from the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation.)
  • Tunner assumed command of airlift operations on July 28, 1948. The airlift had been operating for just over a month. One of the first major changes he made came as a result of "Black Friday". On Friday, August 13, Tunner flew into Berlin to grant an award to Lt. Paul O. Lykins, and airlift pilot who had made the most flights into Berlin up until that time. Weather that day was awful, and conditions in Berlin were impossible. Clouds had lowered to the tops of buildings and heavy rain had disrupted radar. One C-54 had crashed and burned at the end of the runway a second landed behind him and blew its tires trying to stop to avoid hitting the burning C-54. A third ground looped on the auxiliary runway. Pure havoc was reigning supreme. Aircraft were beginning to stack up over Tempelhof and a huge number of airplanes were circling stacked from 3000 to 12000 feet in no visibility conditions. These conditions spur red Tunner to make a fateful decision. He called the tower. "Tunner here, send everyone back to their base and let me know when it's safe to come down". To avoid this stacking problem, a new policy was created. Any aircraft that missed its approach was to continue back to its station via the outgoing center corridor. This created a continuous loop of planes to and from Berlin. If a pilot missed his approach, he would immediately become a departure and head back to his base. The loaded aircraft would get a fresh crew and be sent back as a regular flight. In addition, all aircraft were required to fly by instrument rules to maintain the same speed, interval and altitude. This almost eliminated accidents and became the key to the success of the operation.
improving efficiency
Improving Efficiency
  • To avoid another Black Friday, three separate flight corridors were maintained, and any plane that missed its landing on the first approach had to return to west Germany before trying again.
Cross-sectional view of flight into Berlin as of Sep. 1948. This arrangement allowed for landing at the rate of one plane every 3 minutes. Later, two levels were used with spacing that allowed for landing at the same rate.
easter parade
Easter Parade
  • This new system of management made efforts like “Easter Parade” 1,398 sorties (one landing in Berlin every minute), 12,940 short tons.
lethal distractions
Lethal Distractions
  • As if the extremely strict flight patterns weren’t enough, there was also regular harassment from the Soviets. Yak fighters would buzz American planes, Spotlights would blind pilots at night, and radio channels were subject to heavy jamming.
berlin s sweet tooth
Berlin’s sweet tooth.
  • One American pilot to fly the USAF C-54 Skymaster during the Berlin Airlift was Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen of Provo, Utah. During the operation he became known as the "Candy Bomber" because he repeatedly dropped candy to German children from his aircraft on approach to the runways.
After several letters were received from East Berlin "Uncle Wiggly Wings" even made a few drops to school yards there, angering Soviet officials for the "attempted subversion of young minds." When asked about it Halvorsen commented "kids are kids everywhere.“
  • The worst the soviets accused him of was causing children to trample a cemetery on they’re way to pick up his parachute dropped candy.
planes that took part
Planes that took part
  • C-47 "Skytrain." 26 June 1948 -- the first day of the Berlin Airlift, 32 flights of C-47s carried 80 tons of supplies from Wiesbaden AFB to Tempelhof AFB. Some 102 C-47s were available in USAFE but none of the larger C-54s. 30 Sept 1948, the C-47s were phased out since they only carried 2 ½ tons compared to the 10 ton capacity of the C-54 "Skymaster."
c 54 skymasters
C-54 skymasters
  • C-54 "Skymaster." The workhorse of the Airlift pictured at Tempelhof.
  • Fairchild C-82 "Packet." On 16 September 1948, five C-82s were assigned to the Airlift for the purpose of carrying heavy and bulky cargo. The C-82 with its hangar-like compartment and clamshell rear loading doors was an ideal tool for the Airlift, but was not available in sufficient numbers to make a great contribution.
  • Flights Tons
the end of the airlift
The end of the Airlift
  • On May 12th, 1949, the Soviets ended their blockade of Berlin. To build up extra supplies, the airlift didn’t actually end until September 30th
  • 50th anniversary Berlin Airlift website

U.S. Airforce Museum

Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation