Road Repairs Change World Relationships
On a summer day in 1948 the Soviet Union announced that they would “make road repairs” on the highways between West Germany and Berlin. The world would soon discover that those “repairs” were meant to be permanent and that the western section of that city of two million would no longer be supplied with food, medicine, fuel or coal — the primary method of heating homes and businesses. The Soviets believed the Allies (United States, Britain and France) would be forced to withdraw from the western half of the city and leave the Soviets as the only power in East Germany. They miscalculated! Led by the United States, an airlift into the city was begun using our meager force of twin-engine C-47s and four-engine C-54 Skymasters. (A C-54 Skymaster is on display on the circle in front of the Travis AFB Exchange).
Few believed such a small armada of airlift aircraft could keep the city alive. Rationing of every commodity used by the city was instituted. The civilian population survived on meager amounts of food and coal. As time passed the aircrews were able to develop an unending stream of aircraft into the city despite winter conditions and dangerous approaches through the apartment houses at Templehof Airport. At one time there was an aircraft landing in Berlin every 30 seconds. Offloading was accomplished primarily by an army of German civilian men. This provided employment for families in desperate need of life’s basic necessities. Additionally, some Berliners aided in repairing and maintaining the airplanes.
There was a cost! Though over 278,000 sorties were flown, lives were lost: 25 aircraft crashed with 17 American and eight British crewmen killed. As each day passed the world saw the suffering caused by the policies of the Soviet Union. Geopolitical relations changed dramatically. The Soviet Union, once our ally during World War II, had now become our enemy, while our former foe during that war, Germany, now became our friend. This should not have become a surprise to anyone in those days!
In the spring of 1946 Winston Churchill delivered a speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri that has gone down in history as the “Iron Curtain Speech.” In no uncertain terms he let the world know that the Soviet Union had drawn a line between the Communist Soviet Union and the Western democracies. It was the prophetic message that introduced us to the Cold War.
An aftermath of the extraordinary airlift that saved Berlin was America’s commitment to build the greatest airlift force in the world. A perfect example of that commitment sits at our back door: Travis Air Force Base … home of one of the USAF’s largest airlift and tanker force consisting of the C-5, the C-17 and the KC-10 tanker.