70 years after Operation Vittles

Yesterday, although few noticed, was the 70th anniversary of something that in time would lead eastern Europe to freedom. It marked the last flight of the US Air Force in Operation Vittles, the Berlin Airlift.

For almost a year the USAF and the Royal Air Force had supplied everything that the western sectors of Berlin had required to survive, from food to coal. The Soviets had cut off all land communication with the city, and while some thought we should simply run an armored force up the road, cooler (and perhaps wiser) head prevailed. The parallels to the Cuban Missile crisis are striking.

For the first time since World War II, American bombers were stationed in East Anglia, England, reoccupying some of the bases that had been used to attack Germany. This time they were B-29 Superfortresses capable of carrying atomic weapons to Moscow.

Caroline D’Agati at The Federalist has some thoughts, as well.

After its devastating defeat in the Second World War, Germany was on the precipice of doom. Its cities were in ruin, the people were demoralized, and its enemies were at the gates. The nation was divided into four sectors, controlled respectively by the victorious Allies: France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.  […]

By then, U.S. President Harry Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill [By the way, that is incorrect, Clement Atlee was the Prime Minister, although Sir Winston undoubtedly agreed. Neo] believed Stalin and the intellectual contagion of Communism presented a far greater threat than resurgent German fascism. The Western Allies knew that a stable, democratic German republic would be an essential barrier to halting the spread of Communism into Western Europe.

On the other hand, Stalin knew that poverty and chaos would only make the German people more open to Russia’s proxy or outright rule. An unstable world, still reeling from the agonies of two world wars, was up for grabs to whichever ideology offered people their best chance for stability and peace. By the spring of 1948, the stage for the first battle of the Cold War had been set. [….]

Hoping to get the Germany economy back on its feet, the Western Allies introduced a new currency—the Deutschmark—to the Western-controlled sectors of Germany and Berlin. Rightfully, Stalin saw this as a challenge to his power. In protest, on June 24, 1948, he launched a blockade on land, sea, and rail, denying all supplies to the still-devastated city of Berlin.

With the bombed-out capital still in ruins and a bitter winter approaching, Berliners needed food, clothing, and, above all, coal to heat homes and power rebounding German industry. Americans like Dionne, the British, and the French were going to make sure they got it. “Operation Vittles,” which later became known as the Berlin Airlift, was under way.

With Berlin 110 miles deep into the Soviet sector, the Airlift posed an enormous logistical challenge. The C-54 aircraft that Dionne worked on required constant maintenance due to the Airlift’s round-the-clock flights with heavy cargo.

“The heavy loads of landing after landing just seared the tires,” Dionne explained to the audience. We had to change the tires all the time.” It’s no wonder. At the peak of the Airlift, on April 16, 1949, 1,398 flights carrying more than 12,940 tons were flown to Berlin within just 24 hours. That’s an average of one flight every 62 seconds.

American Airlift pilot Col. Gail Halvorsen even took it upon himself to drop candy in little parachutes to the children of Berlin as a token of friendship and affection. Born into chaos, most children didn’t even know what candy was; many were so poor they didn’t have shoes. This gesture encouraged the people of Berlin that the Western Allies were sincere in their desire to re-build Germany as a free, self-sufficient republic.

Think about that for a while, nearly one flight a minute for eleven months, by the heaviest transport aircraft our countries possessed. And yes, the French provided airfields, seaports, logistical support, and air traffic control. It was an allied effort, and the commitment of the western allies saved Berlin and perhaps Germany as well.

The next test would be halfway around the world, in Korea, we weren’t as successful, but there too, we held the line.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

3 Responses to 70 years after Operation Vittles

  1. the unit says:

    Somehow how I remember it. The Berlin airlift going on, not the Vittle name.
    Perhaps memory is from radio news of the times with Martin Agronsky. But since I have a mental picture, it is likely from Movietone news at the local movie theater. We were just seven but safely dropped off by the supervising parent at the movie house on Saturday afternoon.
    I say safely. Once I was the last in line in our group to pay my dime admission to the double feature, cartoon, and news. The others had gone in. Lady in the ticket office rejected my dime because it had a nick and wouldn’t go in her coin thingy. And the parent who had brought us had driven off. I had to walk home 5 miles. Mom took me back, but right then my friends were coming out as movies were over. So we all went home and played outside ’til dark.
    Oh, and I remember what the ticket lady looked like, even to this day. RBG! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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