Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

the berlin airlift...good vs evil using committment and candy bombers

Years before the Wall divided, and years after Hitler died, there was an event which united...not just the city of Berlin, but many cities, countries and people, with one goal. To fly. To help. To feed. 

2 million women, men and children were stranded., shut off from the rest of the world, for 10 whole months.

A portion of the still-standing wall at the East Side Gallery
This month marks 70 years since the beginning of the Berlin Airlift, when Russian military forces  blocked all land and rail transports into western Berlin. A very complicated and highly exhaustive coordinated response swiftly followed, with pilots from the British, French, American, Australian, and South African Air Forces began flying up to 1500 flights a day.

Templehof Airport

Food, medical supplies, mail, and almost most importantly, coal were flown daily in a round-the-clock series of flights from the Rhein-Main and Hamburg/Hannover regions of West Germany, landing every 90 seconds at 3 airports in the western sector of Berlin.

Photo: Boris Roessler/DPA
One incredibly poignant part of this story is that of Captain Gail Halverson who, as a personal statement against Stalin and the Russian regime, began throwing out parachutes of chocolate bars and candy as he flew over the neighbourhoods of west Berlin. As children and families and began to notice this pattern, Captain Halverson would wiggle his plane's wings as a signal of the sweet treats fallling from the sky. Soon his colleagues joined in and children would swarm in anticipation when seeing 'Uncle Wiggly Wings' flying low overhead. These planes were given the name of 'raisin bombers' (Rosinen Bomber).

Photo: Picture-Alliance/DPA

As the airlift began, the thinking was that it would at most last 4-6 weeks. But soon it became clear that Stalin was going to hold out, in the belief that the Berliners would never put up with the situation and soon force the Allieds out of west Berlin. The mayor of west Berlin, Ernst Reuter, gave a passionate plea to more than 350,000 Berliners gathered in a public standing against Russia, assuring the Allieds that the Berliners would put up with only 1800 calories a day, would walk everywhere (as there was very limited fuel), would put up with candlelight (as electricity had been cut off) as long as the Allieds would not abandon them. As winter loomed, the west Berliners put their heads down and continued to work and live, with limited food and light and heat. And it worked.

Airlift Memorial - Berlin

Over a million tons of coal, 730 000 tons of food, and 100 000 flights had been flown by Christmas, with a record-breaking 13 000 tons being dropped in a single day. Regardless of cost, the Allieds were committed to keeping up this incredible feat, which actually supplied western Berlin better than previously by land and rail, so that Russia finally caved in May of 1949. Stalin realized that he couldn't break the spirit of the people, either economically or politically with the support of a host of countries and individuals from the outside, and the blockade was lifted.

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