The Berlin Airlift.

The Berlin Airlift.

John Grehan
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As The celebratory cheers of VE Day had barely died in the throats of a war weary population, Europe was being carved up by the Victors with a view to ensuring that never again would Germany threaten the peace being imposed upon it. However those in power were far from oblivious as to how the world and its balance of power had altered beyond recognition.

At the head of his huge battle hardened and recently victorious army Stalin set about creating a buffer of Russian dominated client states around Russia. After it’s unconditional surrender Germany was carved up into Allied Zones of occupation, however the American and British policy of allowing the Russians to take Berlin left this city isolated within the new communist East Germany. The British, US and French (I know!) zones within the city surrounded and supplied by road, rail, and air corridors through Soviet territory.

In 1949 as his Iron Curtain descended between East and West Stalin decided to both flex his muscles and test the West’s resolve. His Forces closed the land corridors. 2,100,000 West Berliners suddenly faced starvation in a matter of weeks. The American Commander, General Lucius D Clay, ordered the supplies to be delivered by air while he planned a well armed and protected convoy to thrust through to the city. A plan that his appalled junior staff managed to head off before it could be implemented.

John Grehan's, book part of the Images Of Aviation series, details the rather more measured plan put forward by Air Commodore Rex Waite of The Royal Air Force. So began the most ambitious air supply operation in aviation history. The figures are simply staggering 266,600 flights delivered 2,233,000 tonnes of food, fuel and supplies. At the height of the maximum effort there was a take of and landing every four seconds.

From German civilian labourers loading and unloading aircraft for little more than a hot meal, to Army Service Corp Units buying, storing, and preparing supplies. British and American civil airlines all made a supreme effort which eventually faced down Stalin and preserved the uneasy peace.

It is difficult to see how organisations that had not so recently tuned to perfection in war could have carried out such an intense and coordinated response. Sadly it is hardly surprising that the airlift was not without its tragedies such as the crash of C-54-G-DO Skymaster at Templehof on 13th August 1948 killing all four crew.

The book is packed full of fascinating photographs detailing the huge variety of aircraft involved in the airlift, each accompanied by detailed explanations and text. The book is a fitting tribute to the aircrew who lost their lives in this incredible operation.

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