JUNE 2002 WOLF STORIES

 

 

As you Berlin Airlift veterans know all too well - there are as many stories about this first battle of the Cold War as there are one-time participants.  First Lieutenant Marshall Balfe was one of you and his story is told in I Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen.  Here is an excerpt from pp 27-29:  "In 1948 I asked to be recalled to active duty.  I missed being around airplanes.  I reported to Great Falls, Montana, on December 24, 1948, for C-54 training.  We didn't do any training until January 1, 1949.  After two months of training, I joined the Berlin Airlift at Rhein-Main and flew from there to Tempelhof Airport in Berlin until September 1949.  My cargo was coal, except for one load - ten tons of chocolate bars.  The inside of the plane looked like a coal mine.  The coal was moved in barracks bags, ten tons, 120 pounds per bag.  The bags were stacked on the floor the length of the airplane and tied down with rope.  There was a narrow lane along the left side of the plane so we could get to the cockpit.  Coal dust lay on the seats and covered our flight suits.  We flew night and day, on holidays and weekends.  The planes never stopped flying except for maintenance.  After twelve hours on duty, we were relieved to get some rest.  Normally, if all went well, we could make two round-trips in a twelve-hour period....  My flights were mostly routine.  Once in a while I would have to feather a propeller because of engine trouble, but that was not too serious.  Nearly everyone experienced that more than once.  When there was a serious problem, though, it usually happened unannounced and with catastrophic speed.  One of our C-54s flared out at the end of the Tempelhof runway to land; at that instant a section of wing outboard of the engines broke off upward.  The plane turned upside down, landing on its top, and skidded down the runway to a stop.  The three crew members were seen to exit the plane at high speed.  I recall one of our C-54 pilots who upon landing thought he had damaged the landing gear.  He never stopped rolling and took off again to return to Frankfurt.  The procedure at the time was one approach, land.  Missed approach, go back to where you came from.  He got rid of his load of coal on the way to lighten the aircraft.  The flight engineer and copilot, a small fellow, went back and removed the escape hatch over the wing.  The hatch was about three feet square.  The two men picked up the sacks of coal and threw them out the hatch one at a time.  They threw the whole ten tons of coal out over eastern Germany.  The copilot suffered a strained back.  When the plane landed, it was discovered the landing gear was fine....  It was our custom during landing to place a Coke bottle upside down on the glare shield over the instrument panel.  If the Coke bottle fell over on touchdown, the pilot making the landing had to buy lunch for the other two crew members at the mobile snack truck.  The number of times the bottle fell over was surprisingly small....  Flying the airlift was a job I was assigned to do, and I did my best to do it right.  As for the German people, I felt they were victims of Hitler and his gang and suffered a lot during the war.  I liked Germany."
(copyright)  My thanks go to all you intrepid veterans for sticking it out and bringing home the bacon!