JULY 2002 WOLF STORIES

 

 

 

The Berlin Airlift certainly is indelibly inscribed in the minds of those of you who flew the corridors - a unique experience never to be repeated in history and with implications for our future few if any of us realized at the time.  On a day to day basis it was just a lot of hard work.  Here is the experience of one flyer - Colonel Robert S. Hamill, better known as Moe to his friends, who got his taste of war in 1943/44 in North Africa and Italy flying a B-25.  "I got a letter, 'Welcome to the air force,' it read, 'We need you for the Berlin Airlift.'  That's how I got back in.  I went to Montana for C-54 training.  They checked us out, and then they sent us over to Germany.  I ended up in the 29th Squadron at Fassberg.  My first flight was on April 13, 1949, my last on August 24, 1949.  I flew 205 misions in seventeen weeks.  I flew more than what my records show.  On Tunner's Easter Parade I flew five missions which are not recorded in my records, but I know I flew them.  I flew whenever I could.  Most of the flying was boring, boring, boring, with the exception of one mission.  We landed at the French base of Tegel.  We carried coal, and the British carried fuel.  We'd sit there waiting to take off and watched the Brits land.  The fuel baffles weren't too good on the Brit airplanes.  When they'd land, the fuel went one way, and they bounced.  The fuel went the other way, and they bounced again.  Of course we were supposed to observe radio silence, but every Yank out there said, 'One, two, three-' The Brits called back, 'OK, Yanks, shut up.'  Every once in a while they'd have an accident landing.    (See picture in I Always Wanted to Fly of crashed fuel tanker)  One mission I remember well was when Tegel was closed because one of the British fuel tankers had crashed.  They diverted us to Tempelhof.  On this mission I flew through my first really big thunderstorm.  I remember going from two thousand to eight thousand feet and back down again.  We put on the lights in the cockpit, and the copilot worked the throttles.  All I could do was keep the airplane level.  First it was solid black in the cockpit, then with the lightning around us it would turn brighter than daylight.  By the time I got to my GCA run into Tempelhof, I probably lost ten pounds.  Well, we were coming out of the clouds on final approach.  I had never been to Tempelhof before.  We were breaking out of the overcast.  I looked to my left and saw that I was right in between these apartment houses.  The windows were lit up.  I became really frightened, because I just knew I was going to crash.  I added power.  I was ready to pull up and go back.  Then I saw the runway.  I had already added power.  I was trying to get the power off.  I landed so fast.  I recall yelling for the copilot to help me with the brakes - we didn't have reverse props in those days.  I used up the entire runway.  It was that approach in between those apartment houses that frightened me to death.  That thunderstorm made me forget everything.  Fassberg was a good base.  We never missed a mission, and I never aborted.  Everything I remember was 'Mach schnell.  Mach schnell.'  I would get out there with the German crews and help them unload the coal from their trucks.  That's how I got my exercise.  Then we'd go down to the wagon and get a coffee and a donut.  All I did was fly and sleep.  Three days off, ten days flying.  Some days off I flew for guys who wanted time off to play poker."  Well, that was the life.  Just think of it, today, two C-17s shuttling back and forth could do it all by themselves.  But they surely wouldn't have as much fun as you all did.  Excerpted from I Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen by Colonel Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, pp 52-53 (copyright)