Tuesday, June 26, 2018

On This Day: 70 Years Ago the Berlin Airlift Began

Or as the Germans called it: Die Luftbrücke (air bridge).

On June 5 we noted the first U.S. plane to cross the French coast (the British gliders were an hour earlier) on D-Day, a C-47, had been re-built and flown for the first time in years:

 That’s All, Brother

These were the planes initially pressed into service to supply a city of two million souls. See June 24's "Seventy Years Ago Today The Soviets Blockaded West Berlin and Began Their Attempt to Starve the City Into Submission" if interested

On June 26, 1948, 32 C-47s lifted off for Berlin hauling 80 tons of cargo, including milk, flour, and medicine.
This was a pitiful fraction of the absolute minimum 5000 tons per day required; the little planes, although fine for delivering 28 parachutists, could only haul 3 tons (3.5 if overloaded) of cargo.

Here's the story as we put it together in 2008:

Ag Stocks and The Berlin Airlift (AG; MOS; MON; POT)

We're coming up on the 60th anniversary of the Soviet blockade that June.

During the summer the two million people that the Brits and Americans were trying to feed could get by with two tons of coal per day (over the course of the airlift 80% of the weight hauled was coal) but as the blockade went on, it was apparent that the Sov's. intended to starve the city and it became imperative that an efficient method of delivering coal be found.

During winter the absolute minimum requirement was 3100 tons of coal per day. The little C-47's could haul around three tons per flight. The first week of the airlift, deliveries averaged 90 tons per day. The second week, 1000 tons/day.

It was decided to experiment with a low-speed, low-level drop of coal onto an empty field, the idea being that if it worked, B-29 Superfortress' with a 105 mph stall speed and 22-25 ton capacity would solve the problem.

On the appointed day the senior commanders went to the field, the plane came over, low and slow, dropped the coal, packed 100 pounds to a bag, the bags landed, exploded open, the coal was pulverized and a great black cloud of coal dust covered everyone watching.

One of the Generals, I forget if it was LeMay, Tunner or Smith, said "Doesn't work" and that was that.

When I saw the ag stocks open this morning I thought
"Doesn't work".

The logistics geniuses figured out what needed to be done, took 300 of the 400 10-ton capacity C-54's in the U.S. fleet, developed flight rules so efficient that the Germans called it "die Luftbrücke" (Air Bridge) and on Easter Sunday 1949 in a move to crush the Soviet's spirit, they decided to show off with the "Easter Parade".

In the 1440 minutes of that day, they flew 1398 flights into Berlin delivering 12,940 tons of coal.
The Soviets gave up the blockade the next month, two million people didn't starve or be forced to live under Moscow masters and thousands of kids remembered the candy bars the pilots would tie to handkerchief parachutes and drop as they came into Tempelhof.

39 British and 31 American airmen were killed in crashes during the airlift:

Berlin Airlift Monument in Berlin-Tempelhof with inscription
"Sie gaben ihr Leben für die Freiheit Berlins im Dienste der Luftbrücke 1948/49"
"They lost their lives for the freedom of Berlin in service for the Berlin Airlift 1948/49"

The Sov's were stopped. Unfortunately, 65 years after the blockade began we had to post:

How Hipsters Ruined Berlin 
Sacking Berlin 
How hipsters, expats, yummies, and smartphones ruined a city

It’s easy to talk about lost Golden Ages in Berlin. Everyone has their own romanticized era: louche Weimar Berlin before the Nazis, Iggy and Bowie’s seventies Berlin before the Wall fell, or maybe the squatter’s Berlin of the good old nineties. So when people start complaining that something has changed in the city, it’s tempting to dismiss it as insider one-upmanship, the old game of “I was here when.” And yet something has felt different in recent years....