October 31, 2008

"Schaut auf diese Stadt"

(The sound starts only at 1:22 with the crucial sentence of Ernst Reuter's speech and stops at 1:49.)

At the end of WWII, a defeated Germany was divided amongst the victorious United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France. Like the rest of the country, the capital Berlin, sitting right in the middle of the Soviet-controlled Eastern half, was also divided into four parts.

By 1948, it became apparent that the Western Powers' and the Soviet Union's plans to rebuild Germany couldn't be reconciled. Early in 1948, tensions between the former Allies climaxed. On April 9, 1948, Stalin ordered all American Military personnel maintaining communications equipment out of the Eastern Zone (Soviet controlled Berlin), trains were halted on June 1and June10 and on June 21, a US Military Supply Train was stopped and its passage to Berlin blocked. On the 22nd, the Soviets placed armed guards aboard, attached a Soviet engine and hauled it back to the West. In a final move on June 24, 1948, all land and water access to West Berlin was cut off. There were to be no more supplies from the West.

Diplomacy failed, ground invasions were planned, and World War III was looming. US Military Commander Lucius Clay had developed a plan by which an armed convoy through Soviet Controlled Germany would break the blockade.

British Commander Sir Brian Robertson offered an alternative: air supply. Supplying the occupation forces of 2,2679 was not the problem, but more than 2 million berlin citizens was another matter. The only aircraft the Americans had available for the task were 5 year old Douglas C-47 Skytrains, which would only hold 3.5 tons each. It was decided that it was worth a try. Earlier in April, US Forces airlifted in supplies to replace the ones being delayed by the Soviets. This was what became known as the "Little Lift". At that time, Berlin had two airports, Tempelhof, which was Berlin's main airport and located in the American Sector, and Gatow, in the British Sector. Supplies could be airlifted in by C-47 and there was nothing the Soviet Union could do about because, in 1945 it had been agreed, in writing, that there would be three 20-mile wide air corridors providing access to the city. These were unarguable. The Spirit of Freedom website, which is dedicated to the Berlin Airlift tells:
When the blockade began, the Soviets rejoiced, because they believed the Western powers had only one option, to leave Berlin. But they underestimated the West airlift supplies. Gen. Clay called upon General Curtis E. LeMay, commander of USAFE and asked him if he could haul supplies to Berlin. LeMay responded, "We can haul anything". Two days later Gen. LeMay called upon Brig. Gen. Joseph Smith, Commander of the Wiesbaden Military Post, and appointed him Task Force Commander of an airlift operation estimated to last a few weeks. The only US aircraft initially available were 102 C-47's and 2 C-54 Skymasters. On June 26, the first C-47's landed at Tempelhof Airfield, foreshadowing the great operation that was to come. Smith dubbed the mission "Operation Vittles", because he said "We're haulin' grub." The British called their part "Operation Plane Fare".

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. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over 2 million people alive. That's not including other necessities, like coal and fuel. In fact, the largest quantity of anything required was coal. It wasn't needed to heat homes as much as it was necessary for industry. In addition, there was limited electricity, because the city's power plant was located in the Soviet sector, so that was cut off, too. It was determined that in total supplies, 3,475 tons would be needed daily. A C-47 can haul 3.5 tons. In order to supply the people of Berliners, C-47's would have to make 1000 flights each day. Impossible.

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 leaves a 2,425-ton deficit 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.

On June 28, President Truman made a statement that abandoning Berlin was out of the question. He then ordered US B-29 Superfortresses to be stationed at British airfields to show the Soviets that the Western powers were not taking this lightly. We would not abandon these people!

By July 1, C-54's were slowly taking over airlift flights, and they were operating 24 hours a day. Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfort was made exclusive C-54 base, and Wiesbaden was a mix of C-54's and C-47's. To accommodate these two different aircraft, General smith established a block system, giving the bigger, faster C-54's priority. They were also given radio codes to identify each type and the direction it was going. C-47's going East to Berlin were called "Easy", returning C-47's traveling West, were called "Willie". C-54's had the names 'Big Easy' and "Big Willie". Aircraft were also given a spacing of three minutes apart.

The size of the operation had to be increased in order to sufficiently supply this city and keep these people going. It needed to be commanded by someone who had expertise in air transport. That man came in the form of Maj. General William H. Tunner. He was revered as "The transportation expert to end all transportation experts" by LeMay. Tunner had previously established the Ferrying Command in WWII, and successfully organized and commanded the "Hump" operation into China near the end of the war. His reputation was not falsely earned. Tunner hated to see airplanes parked on the ramp not being utilized. This was a waste to him. He longed for efficiency and was about to set the standard for all that followed

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.

Another essential decision was to standardize aircraft, parts, and procedures. It was decided to base these around the C-54. One of the reasons was that it took just as long to unload a 3-1/2 ton C-47 as it did to unload a 10-ton C-54. One of the reasons for this was the slanted floor made truck loading difficult, whereas the C-54 was level and a truck could back up to it and cargo could be unloaded fast. In addition, no pilot was to be away from his aircraft. General Tunner had seen many aircraft sitting idle, loaded and waiting for their crews to return from inside the terminal. He thought this to be a great waste of resources, therefore the order was sent that no pilot should be away from his aircraft from the time it landed until the time it took off from Berlin. Weather and up to date information was brought out to the aircraft while they were being unloaded, so the crews didn't need to go inside the terminal. In addition, several trucks were outfitted as mobile snack bars and staffed by some of the prettiest Berlin girls. This enabled the crews to get coffee, a snack or other goods without having to leave the airplane. This reduced the average turn around time from landing to departing to about 25 minutes.
On September 9, 1948, Mayor Ernst Reuter, who, as an ex-Communist, knew about what he was talking, made his legendary speech in front of what had remained from the Reichstag:
Ihr Völker der Welt, ihr Völker in Amerika, in England, in Frankreich, in Italien! Schaut auf diese Stadt und erkennt, daß ihr diese Stadt und dieses Volk nicht preisgeben dürft und nicht preisgeben könnt! Es gibt nur eine Möglichkeit für uns alle: gemeinsam so lange zusammenzustehen, bis dieser Kampf gewonnen, bis dieser Kampf endlich durch den Sieg über die Feinde, durch den Sieg über die Macht der Finsternis besiegelt ist.

People of the world, people of America, of England, of France, of Italy! Look at this city and see that you can not, that you must not, abandon this city and this people! There is only one possibility for us all: to stand together until this battle is won, until this battle is finally over by defeating the enemy, by defeating the power of darkness.

On May 12, 1949, the Soviets finally gave in and the blockade was over.
It was decided to continue supplying Berlin by air in addition to the land routes in order to build up a sufficient supply of goods. The Airlift officially ended on Sept. 30, 1949, fifteen months after its meager beginnings in June of '48. In total, the US delivered 1,783,572.7 tons, while 541,936.9 tons were delivered by the British totaling 2.3 Million tons from 277, 569 total flights to Berlin. C-47's and C-54's alone traveled over 92 million miles in order to do so. These were astounding figures, considering that in the beginning it seemed impossible to even try. Nevertheless, even the greatest operation is not without risk. A total of 101 fatalities were recorded as a result of the operation, including 31 Americans, mostly due to crashes.
At 00:00 hours today, Tempelhof airport was closed. There may have been sufficient businesslike reasons for the decision, although more than 60% of the citizens of Berlin, including many Tempelhof residents, opposed it. What WILL remain, though, is that, thus, one more memorial of the Second German Dictatorship was safely removed from the collective memory, today, October 31, 2008, at 00:00 hours, 60 years, a month and 21 days after Ernst Reuter beseeched the people of the Free World not to let Berlin down.


krizohr1 said...

Thank you for the interesting history of the airlift. I was stationed in Berlin when I was in the army from 1972 to 1974. I came to love the people in Berlin, had several interesting conversations with people who had escaped from East Germany, and spent much time in the 2/3 of West Berlin that was not city (especially the Gruenewald). It was also one of the few places in Europe where the citizens really liked the Americans, thanks to the airlift.

The_Editrix said...

Thank you for your interesting comment. I am not amazed that the people of Berlin are not quite as vile America haters as the rest of the Germans. I seem to remember somebody saying or writing that the generation who was just old enough to appreciate the kindness of the American GIs in '45 are less vile as well. However, that is something I can not confirm from my own experience.