THE BERLIN AIRLIFT ( A Brief History
In the early hours of June 24, 1948 by
order of Joseph Stalin Russia halted all traffic into and out of the Russian
sector of Berlin at Marienborn, which was the russian checkpoint located
nearly one hundred miles from the city of Berlin. Stalin also cut off all
electricity to the city of Berlin claiming "Technical Difficulties". General
Clay who was the Military Governor of Germany at the time contacted General
Curtis LeMay who was the Commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe
and asked him if they could start flying food supplies into Berlin. General
LeMay agreed and the airlift started on 24 June, 1948. At the beginning
of the airlift General LeMay had hoped to concentrate the men of the 60th
and the 61st Troop Carrier Group at Rhine Main AFB which had one 6,000
yard runway. Rhine Main had been used as a fighter station after the war
by the Air Force and was composed entirly of "Marston" steel matting.
At the beginning of the airlift there
were three supplying airfields: Rhein Main and Wiesbaden in the American
zone, and Weinstorf in the British zone. However, by the end of the Airlift
there would be nine airfields. All six would be located in the British
zone to cut down the length of time of flying supplies into Berlin. The
only route into Berlin was by means of three twenty mile wide corridors
across the Soviet zone of Berlin. Once the allied forces were over the
the city, western aircraft shared airspace with seven Soviet airfields.
At the start of the airlift the main aircraft
used was the C-47 and they first were to carry 80-tons of milk, flour and
medicine into the suffering city of Berlin. The American name for the Berlin
Airlift was first called " The LeMay Coal and Feed Delivery Service". The
british called it "Operation Plainfare". The primary goal of Russia was
to force the United states, Britian and France out of Berlin. As you can
see from the map at the top of the page, western Berlin was comperable
to an island surrounded by a sea of red which was the Russian occupied
On July 2nd, 1948 Britians' Lt. General
Brian K. Robertson demanded after confering with the U.S. and French leaders
that the russians lift the entire blockade. On July 14th Russia informed
the western powers that they no longer had any right to be in Berlin and
that the blockade was invoked to protect "The economy of the soviet zone".
The russians claimed that by setting up a west German government, issueing
seperate currency and through other alleged violations of "Big Four" agreements
on Germany and Berlin, the west had rendered "Null and Void its' Right"
to participate in the occupation of Berlin. Moscow asserted that West Berlin
"is in the center of the Soviet zone and is part of that zone".
The Western reaction to the allegations
made by the Soviet Union was responded to during the Anglo-American, French
meeting in London that began on July 15th. The Russians were told that
no "Threats, pressure or other actions" could squeez the United States
out of Berlin. Ex Major General William J. ( Wild Bill ) Donovan, Wartime
OSS Director, declared on July 17, 1948 "The place to make a stand against
Russia is right here in Berlin. This in not a Cold War. It is Hot as Hell...Their
motives are just what the Soviets have said - to stop the ERP - and what
they have not said - to drive us out of Europe. If the soviets want war
they can start it 500 miles to the west just as well as here."
On July 17-19th 1948, Sixty B-29 Bombers
landed at Scampton, Waddington and Marram England. Six RAF Vampire jet
fighters reached Montreal from England on July 16th. Sixteen F-80 Shooting
Stars reached Greenland on July 17th, bound for Germany just in case the
Russians thought of cutting the air link to Berlin. During that time, General
Clay was asked if the U.S. War Department had given him permission to start
the airlift. General Clay responded by saying "I did not ask permission".
So the Berlin Airlift was actually started without President Harry S. Truman's
Also in July of 1948 General William H.
Tunner arrived in Weisbaden to set up an Airlift Task Force which was independent
of the Headquaters USAF. By October of 1948 the Combined Airlift Task Force
had been born. Up until this time there had been a set target for the amount
of goods airlifted into Berlin, but provisions under the CALTF was written
a sentance the which allowed the airlifters to deliver the maximum tonnage
possible in the safest way possible.
Soon after the C-47's had started transporting
goods into Berlin the Air Force realized that the C-47 was not large enough
to haul the weight required to reach their goal of 4,500 tons a day. So
General Clay orderd 72 C-54's which was approximatly eight squadrons because
the C-54 could carry much more cargo thus making it possible to reach their
target goal. Along with the 72 C-54's 2,500 crew members were also brought
along. By September of 1948 the Airlift was transporting 5,583 tons of
supplies into Berlin.
In August of 1948 my father Sgt Chester J.
"Bud" Vaughn departed from Hickham Field in the Territory of Hawaii. NOTE:
Hawaii had not become a state at this time. for Germany. He was attached
to the 1st Air Trasport Squadron 531st Air Transport Group. Touching down
in Weisbadon Germany on the 12th of August and assigned to the 47th Troop
Carrier Squadron. On the 21st of August Sgt Vaughn and 3 squadrons of C-54's
were transferd from Weisboden to Fassberg to help fly coal to Berlin. By
the 26th of August the total tonnage delivered to Berlin by U.S. planes
had reached the 100,00 mark.
In October of 1948 General Clay asked the National
Security Council to grant him more DC-4 aircraft to increase the tonnage
of supplies. The members of the council chose to ignore his request but
then President Harry Truman asked Clay to "Step into his office" He also
asked Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall into his office and stated
to General Clay "I'm afraid your very unhappy, General, but don't be. You're
going to get your airplanes.
In November of 1948 the Russian Military authorities
threatend to to force down western aircraft if they flew outside the 20
mile wide corridors regardless of weather conditions. On December 6th a
C-54 taking off from Fassburg Germany crashed within walking distance of
the airfield and 3 airmen were killed. Undaunted by several deaths by this
time on the 20th of December 1948 "Operation Santa Clause" began to fly
gifts to the children of Berlin which totaled close to 10,000 children.
By December 31st of 1948 the 100,000th airlift
mission was flown since it's beginning on the 26th of June. By years end
nearly 750,000 tons of supplies had been airlifted into Berlin.
The week of March 12th, 1949 was a record breaker.
In just 7 days 45,683 tons of supplies were flown into Berlin. Then, in
May of 1949 Russia finally announces to end the blockade after 328 days.
The Airlift continued however, hoping to build a 200,00 ton supply reserve
in Berlin. Then in July of 1949 The U.S. and Brittian announce plans to
phase out the Berlin Airlift by October 31, 1949.
String Of Pearls