June 24, 1948 -- Berlin Airlift begind delivering supplies
On this day in 1948, U.S. and British pilots begin delivering food and supplies by airplane to Berlin after the city is isolated by a Soviet Union blockade.
The Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948 – May 12, 1949) was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War. During the multinational occupation of post–World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway, road and canal access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied control. Their aim was to force the western powers to allow the Soviet zone to start supplying Berlin with food and fuel, thereby giving the Soviets practical control over the entire city.
In response, the Western Allies organized the Berlin Airlift to carry supplies to the people in West Berlin. The recently independent United States Air Force and the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force flew over 200,000 flights in one year, providing up to 4700 tons of daily necessities such as fuel and food to the Berliners. Alongside US and British personnel, the airlift involved aircrews from the Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal New Zealand Air Force, and South African Air Force.
By the spring of 1949, the effort was clearly succeeding and, by April, the airlift was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. The success of the Berlin Airlift brought embarrassment to the Soviets who had refused to believe it could make a difference. The blockade was lifted in May 1949 and resulted in the creation of two separate German states. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) split up Berlin. In remembrance of the airlift, three airports in the former western zones of the city served as the primary gateways to Germany for another fifty years.
"Operation Little Vittles"
Gail Halvorsen, one of the many Airlift pilots, decided to use his off time to fly into Berlin and make movies with his hand-held camera. He arrived at Tempelhof on July 17 on one of the C-54s and walked over to a crowd of children who had gathered at the end of the runway to watch the aircraft. He introduced himself and they started to ask him questions about the aircraft and their flights. As a goodwill gesture, he handed out his only two sticks of Wrigley's Doublemint Gum, and promised that, if they did not fight over them, the next time he returned he would drop off more. The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over, and he replied, "I'll wiggle my wings."
The next day, on his approach to Berlin, he rocked the aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day after that the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon there was a stack of mail in Base Ops addressed to "Uncle Wiggly Wings", "The Chocolate Uncle" and "The Chocolate Flier". His commanding officer was upset when the story appeared in the news, but when Tunner heard about it he approved of the gesture and immediately expanded it into "Operation Little Vittles". Other pilots participated, and when news reached the US, children all over the country sent in their own candy to help out. Soon, the major manufacturers joined in. In the end, over three tons of candy were dropped on Berlin, and the "operation" became a major propaganda success. The candy-dropping aircraft were christened "raisin bombers" by the German children.