September 07, 2011

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, …

of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  ~John F. Kennedy

On June 24, 1948, when the Soviet Union established a blockade of the surface routes into the city of Berlin in occupied Germany, the U.S. and Great Britain resorted to an airlift to supply the blockaded city with necessities, Lt. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), appointed General Smith temporary commander of the "Berlin Airlift Task Force."
On June 28, President Truman made a statement that abandoning Berlin was out of the question.  He then ordered US B-29 Superfortresses to be stationed at British airfields to show the Soviets that the Western powers were not taking this lightly.  We will not abandon these people!
The traditional story is well known to those familiar with the airlift. The name ‘Operation Vittels’ has always been attributed to the first commander of the operation, Brig. Gen. Joseph Smith.  Foreshadowing the great operation that was to come, Smith dubbed the mission "Operation Vittles", because he said "We're haulin' grub." 
A 1923 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Joe Smith was a plainspoken, down-to-earth airman who had begun military service in the cavalry, then traded his horse for an airplane, transferring to the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1928. He had been one of the pilots who flew the airmail in 1934 when the Air Corps had briefly undertaken that task, and later he found his niche in strategic bombardment.
During World War II, Smith had served in important staff and planning positions. He was a senior air member of the Joint War Plans Committee under the Joint Chiefs of Staff and chief of staff of XXth Bomber Command conducting Boeing B-29 Superfortress operations in the China-Burma-India Theater. He ended the war as deputy chief of staff of Eighth Air Force.
General Smith served in that position until July 28, when the permanent airlift commander, Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, arrived from the United States.  
A native of New Jersey and son of an immigrant father, General Tunner was awarded an appointment to West Point upon his graduation from Roselle High School. He was one of 77 cadets in his West Point graduating class who chose flying as his military career. He joined an Air Force which had literally no transport aircraft and no airlift strategy, planning or capacity.
During his career which spanned two wars, he created the Ferrying Command which flew new aircraft to our allies in Europe and the Middle East, and developed the Air Transport Command in its famous Hump operation over the Himalayas to China.
For 13 months, the aircrafts under his planning and direction supplied an isolated Berlin- a city under siege- with every product necessary to keep the city and its more than 2 million inhabitants alive.

”Seen him somewhere before” drawings courtesy of USAF

Coal, heating oil, medicines, food and necessary supplies were airlifted into Berlin in an endless stream of transport aircraft operating at 2 minute intervals day and night in every kind of weather. 
Some 277,000 flights were made, and by spring, 1949, an average of 8,000 tons was being flown in daily. More than 2 million tons of goods—of which coal accounted for about two thirds—were delivered.
Berlin Airlift 46 Sqn


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post–well done.

The Air Force Association said...

Three years ago, AFA joined the Air Force and the Berlin Air Show in celebrating the 60th anniversary of the event.

Thanks for the post

Charles said...

Thank you nice post, again ;-)

“When the going gets tough, quitters quit.”

An English compatriot said...

"O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, go away"
Let us not forget all veterans of the Berlin Airlift. The 60th anniversary of the end of the highly successful Berlin Airlift was on Tuesday 12th May 2009. Those involved in this endeavour should have been honoured with a medal LONG AGO, to commemorate their service, along with thier colleagues in America, France and elsewhere.

William S. said...

Good thoughts here. My Dad was a pilot in the airlift.

Alan said...

Ms. Edna, an excellent tribute to and analysis of the airmen who flew the Berlin Airlift.

frenchtoast said...

Thanks, loved the post.
I have a great book on the history of the Airlift by Andrei Cherny, "The Candy Bombers" I will send it to you. ;-) xoxo.