May 2002 Wolf Stories

 

"There wasn't one pilot who thought it wasn't going to work.  Maybe there were some higher up in command who thought we weren't going to cut it, but the pilots thought what they were doing was going to succeed," said Joe Laufer, a Berlin airlift pilot, when I interviewed him for I Always Wanted to Fly.  And I believe Joe summarized the feelings of all the men I ever met who participated in the Berlin airlift - pilots, maintenance men, supply, airpolice, you name the skill they brought to the table - they all believed in what they were doing.  But that didn't necessarily mean that everyone fully understood the powerful impact they would have on postwar history - that insight only came later.  Making the Berlin airlift work not only saved Berlin, but helped create the Germany of today - at the very least, the Berlin airlift provided the conditions for the Federal Republic to emerge and succeed.

 
First Lieutenant Leonard Sweet was one of the many pilots who manned the cockpits of the durable C-54.  "The pressure to keep flying was unbelievable," Leonard recalled, "but I guess it was necessary to accomplish what had to be done.  On one flight I lost an engine.  It stopped dead and I had to feather the propeller to keep it from windmilling and continue the rest of the flight on three engines.  The C-54 was a great airplane and flew well on three engines with a full load.  I landed at Tempelhof and naturally assumed I would have to stay there until the engine was fixed.  While the aircraft was being unloaded, the operations officer drove up in a jeep and asked, 'Do you want to stay here or fly back to Wiesbaden?'  He didn't wait for an answer but quickly added, 'If you stay, it will probably take several days to get the parts flown in.'  I looked at the copilot and flight engineer, and we agreed we didn't want to stay at Tempelhof.  They cleared us to take off on three engines, over the five-story apartment houses, over the cemetery."
 
"Most of our loads to Berlin were made up of milk or other foods, but sometimes we had unusual cargo.  On one trip I had a load of wine for the French garrison.  When it was unloaded, a French officer checked the load.  He became disturbed when he discovered one of the cases had been opened and three bottles of wine were missing.  He didn't want to leave the plane until he found the missing bottles.  I told him I had no idea where they were and that he would either have to leave the plane or ride back to Wiesbaden with us.  He finally did get off the plane, but as I taxied to the runway, I could still see him waving his arms and shouting at me.  When we arrived back at Wiesbaden, to our amazement we found three bottles of French wine under my seat."  Copyright, from I Always Wanted to Fly: America's Cold War Airmen by Wolfgang W. E. Samuel, pp 25-26.