Saturday, June 28, 2008

"I'll not be bluffed!"

Sixty years ago General Clay uttered those words in response to the Soviet attempt to starve West Berlin into surrendering. For a city just three years since being brutally destroyed by Allied bombing and Soviet looting, this just might be the final straw. With the closing of the gates to the Western Zones; all food, coal, and other vital supplies were cut off to the citizens of West Berlin.

What flowed out of those words and Allied resolve became known as Operation Vittles. Due to it being overlooked by the Soviets, the air lanes to West Berlin remained open. The Soviets did not expect that the city could be supplied by air, after all the vaunted Luftwaffe could not keep the Sixth Army supplied at Stalingrad. When the Soviets realized the airlift might succeed, they set about harassing the flights with fighters and trying to lure transport planes off course with decoy signals.

The three corridors lead to the Western Occupied Zones; one for the UK, one for France, and one for the USA. Since the French did not have any airlift, their corridor became the return corridor while the UK and USA corridors would feed the planes carrying the supplies to West Berlin. In West Berlin there would be three airfields that would accept these planes: Tegel, Templehoff, and Gatow.

And what supplies these planes carried is still staggering. The formal blockade lasted from June 21, 1948 to May 12, 1949 when the Soviets gave up on their efforts to starve the city. The airlift lasted from June 26, 1948 to September 30, 1949. The highpoint of the airlift was called Easter Parade, from 1345 15 April until 1345 16 April a staggering 12,177.12 tons of supplies were delivered to Berlin. That one day saw the arrival of enough supplies to keep West Berlin lighted and fed for almost three days. Almost 2,325,508.8 tons of supplies were delivered during the whole airlift. This tremendous humanitarian effort did not come without a price: 39 British fliers, 31 American fliers, and 9 civilian fliers perished to bring these vital supplies to West Berlin.

Any post about Operation Vittles is not complete without talking about a regular guy named Gail Halverson. Lt. Halverson was one of the pilots rushed to Europe to fly Vittles missions into West Berlin. It was during a brief downtime at as his plane was unloaded that he spied a bunch of children gathered at the fence looking at the activity so he wandered over there to meet them. From a simple request for some candy, Lt. Halverson conceived an idea that would make him famous as Uncle Wiggly Wings or just the Candy Bomber. Getting with his crew and other crews, back at base they gathered up candy and made handkerchief parachutes. Next time Halverson flew in, to signal the children at the fence, he would rock his wings and they would drop the candy parachutes for the children to scoop up. Soon children in greater and greater numbers started to wait at the fence for the Candy Bomber. This so annoyed the Soviets they filed a protest against Lt. Halverson and his actions. Eventually the whole dropping candy for the kids became known as Operation Little Vittles. And earned Gail Halverson the undying affection of children in Berlin, East or West.

So I shall now take a vacation from blogging for the next two weeks. Depending upon Internet connection I might try to blog some, but work is taking me overseas to Germany so its all in the air if I will. Which makes this post even more appropriate. Maybe will try to visit Rhein-Main where the US airbridge started for Operation Vittles.


Mike's America said...

Have a safe trip. I envy you going to Germany when it is so hot and humid around here.

But you'll miss being in country on the 4th.

Anna said...

Well germany is not as hot but air conditioning is a foreign concept, so tis a bit warm.

Planning on taking the Rhine A'Flame tour. Late nigth cruise up the Rhine on the 5th where we will have castles and firewords. So won't miss fireworks. :)

Mike's America said...

You might have seen the news about the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Berlin at the site of the pre-war U.S. embassy.

They also had a tribute to the candy bombers.

Anna said...

Way cool. also heard the wax head of ol Adolph did not last long in Berlin.