Given recent events, it is worthwhile to remember that on this day in 1948, we began one of the greatest humanitarian efforts in world history. Yes, there were geopolitical underpinnings to it, but having studied and research this event, there is no denying the unbelievably immense outpouring of effort, sacrifice and heart in the Berlin Airlift.
This effort had repercussions we feel to this day. If West Berlin had succumbed, there would be no unified Germany today. The Soviet Union might well still exist.
But it’s the people who made the different. The US and British pilots, aircrews, maintenance and logistics people who poured everything they had into keeping people in West Berlin alive.
After the Soviets blockaded West Berlin by land, the only way in was by several narrow air corridors. The airlift started slowly but then became an amazing feat of systems engineering that also affects air travel today. Many practices were invented that we still use.
The iconic photo of the children watching the plane come in low resonates. There were the “candy bombers” who dropped candy to those children as they came in. But as those who’ve been to Berlin know, many of these flights were made in horrible weather.
By the end, the US Air Force had delivered 1,783,573 tons of supplies and the RAF 541,937. Most of it was coal—Berlin winters are brutal. Over a quarter million flights were made. At its peak a plane was landing every 30 seconds.
17 US and 8 British aircraft crashed. 40 British and 31 Americans gave their lives in this effort. There is no greater honor than to sacrifice one’s life for others. And they did this for former enemies.
I believe the airlift shows us what we are capable of and what we should strive to return to. A decency and compassion for others that seems to be lacking today.
WE ARE BETTER THAN WHAT WE ARE NOW.