Two years ago as we were heading home from Florida we stopped outside of Augusta, GA. Looking for things to see in the area, we found the Army Signal Corps Museum at Fort Gordon. It turned out to be a fascinating visit. Did you know that the US Weather Service was formed from the Signal Corps? We learned that there are many such museums across the country for The Army, Navy and Air Force. We saw a sign on our way to Delaware Seashore State Park for the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB and planned a visit. Steve will explain the history of this branch of the Air Force in the video below. The museum is accessible without going onto the base and there is no entrance fee..
We parked and started wandering through two buildings displaying restored engines. One was a C-5 engine. To give some scale Steve (6′) stood next to the engine. Later this year the museum will be obtaining a C-5 for display. Most of the restoration work and guide service is done by 120+ volunteers. (Chari) When I was in the Air Force and stationed at Altus AFB, OK the C-5 was the newest transport plane. The base was a pilot training base for the C-5. I had an opportunity to tour the plane and sit in the pilot’s seat. No, they didn’t let me fly it!
We weren’t sure which way to go next or if we could just walk out to the planes unescorted. A man riding a bicycle stopped and asked what planes we wanted to see. “What ever we can see” we answered. “I don’t get out of the office much but let me show you my favorite then you can tour on your own”. He never did say who he was but we had the feeling he was the museum director. He returned with keys to the C-124A and took us inside. He explained that the plane had been found in terrible shape and had taken hundreds of hours to restore. He spoke of the history of the plane and how just getting supply trucks up the very steep ramp with no side rails was a feat in itself.
From there we wandered around the display area while 40s swing music played over the loud speaker. All of the planes are well marked and have a plaque giving a brief history of their use and time in service. Rather than talk about this in written format, we’ve put together a video similar in style to the tour of Norfolk Harbor. Enjoy!
Then inside is an extensive collection of memorabilia related to early military aviation including the development of roundels that Steve talked about in the Udvar-Hazy post. While Steve was exploring some exhibits, I watched a video on the use of gliders in WWII and D-Day. I didn’t have time to see the whole film but what I did see was very interesting. There are several simulators where you can try “flying” or landing a plane. A long hallway leading to the museum store is lined with photos and short biographies of Congressional Medal of Honor winners from all branches. Did you know there are over 3,400 Medal of Honor recipients?
(Steve) I thought this might be a good place for another “history lesson”. Chari began this post by saying MATS, the Military Air Transport Service, was a combined Command of the Air Force and the Navy. It came into being under the newly created Department of Defense on June 1, 1948. Less than a month later, the first major crisis of the Cold War erupted, and MATS faced a huge test. As you are about to read, it performed magnificently.
I received most of my information for what follows on-line and copied directly in some instances from Wikipedia. To read about this more fully, please see:
Operation Vittles The Berlin Airlift
At the end of the Second World War, the Allies (England, France, The United States, and the Soviet Union) partitioned Germany into four sectors. The city of Berlin, lying wholly within the Soviet sector, was also divided into four sections, each governed by military authorities from Allied forces.
I won’t go into the entire history of the Cold War, but for now, suffice it to say that tensions were rising between the Soviets and the Western powers.
In June of 1948, the Soviet Union, in an attempt to gain complete control of Berlin, closed all land routes; road, rail and canal; through their sector of Germany to the city. This would mean all supplies; food, fuel, everything required by the population of a city, would be delivered through Russian sources, and ensuring their complete control. To force the Allies to cede control, the Russians stopped supplying the non-Soviet sectors of Berlin. The people of West Berlin had at this time a 36-day supply of food and 45-day supply of coal.
Military forces in the western sectors of Berlin numbered only 8,973 Americans, 7,606 British and 6,100 French. Soviet military forces in the Soviet sector that surrounded Berlin totaled one and a half million. The “Cold War” was facing its first real crisis.
General Lucius D. Clay, in charge of the US Occupation Zone in Germany, summed up the reasons for not retreating in a cable to Washington, D.C., on June 13, 1948: “There is no practicability in maintaining our position in Berlin and it must not be evaluated on that basis…. We are convinced that our remaining in Berlin is essential to our prestige in Germany and in Europe. Whether for good or bad, it has become a symbol of the American intent.” General Clay felt that the Soviets were bluffing about Berlin since they would not want to be viewed as starting World War III. He believed that Stalin did not want a war and that Soviet actions were aimed at exerting military and political pressure on the West to obtain concessions, relying on the West’s prudence and unwillingness to provoke a war. Commander of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) General Curtis LeMay reportedly favored an aggressive response to the blockade, in which his B-29s with fighter escort would approach Soviet air bases while ground troops attempted to reach Berlin. Clay vetoed the plan.
Although the ground routes had never been negotiated, the same was not true of the air. On 30 November 1945, it had been agreed in writing that there would be three twenty-mile-wide air corridors providing free access to Berlin. Additionally, unlike a force of tanks and trucks, the Soviets could not claim that cargo aircraft were some sort of military threat. In the face of unarmed aircraft refusing to turn around, the only way to enforce the blockade would have been to shoot them down. An airlift would force the Soviet Union into the position of either shooting down unarmed humanitarian aircraft, breaking their own agreements, or backing down.
Enforcing this would require an airlift that really worked. If the supplies could not be flown in fast enough, Soviet help would eventually be needed to prevent starvation. Clay was told to take advice from LeMay to see if an airlift was possible. LeMay, initially taken aback by the inquiry, which was “Can you haul coal?”, replied “We can haul anything.”
British Air Commodore Reginald Waite had previously calculated the resources required to support the entire city. They would need to supply seventeen hundred calories per person per day, giving a grand total of 646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive. Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.
Lucius Clay launched “Operation Vittles” on June 25, 1948. The next day thirty-two C-47s lifted off for Berlin hauling 80 tons of cargo, including milk, flour, and medicine. The first British aircraft flew on June 28. At that time, the airlift was expected to last three weeks. By July first, the system was beginning to get underway, but quantities of food were extremely limited and didn’t come close to supplying the amounts required to sustain the city. Rhein-Main Air Base became exclusively a C-54 hub, while Wiesbaden retained a mix of C-54s and C-47s. Aircraft flew northeast through the American air corridor into Tempelhof Airport, then returned due west flying out on through the British air corridor. After reaching the British Zone, they turned south to return to their bases. The British ran a similar system, flying southeast from several airports in the Hamburg area through their second corridor into RAF Gatow in the British Sector, and then also returning out on the center corridor, turning for home or landing at Hanover. On July 6 the British Yorks and Dakotas were joined by Short Sunderland Flying Boats. Their corrosion-resistant hulls suited them to the particular task of delivering baking and other salt into the city.
Accommodating the large number of flights to Berlin required maintenance schedules and fixed cargo loading times. Smith and his staff developed a complex timetable for flights called the “block system”: three eight-hour shifts of a C-54 section to Berlin followed by a C-47 section. Aircraft were scheduled to take off every four minutes, flying 1000 feet higher than the flight in front. This pattern began at 5,000 feet and was repeated five times. This system of stacked inbound serials was later called “the ladder.”
By the second week, 1000 tons were being delivered daily. For an operation expected to last only a few weeks, this was considered sufficient. But the Soviets ridiculed the project. Referring to “the futile attempts of the Americans to save face and to maintain their untenable position in Berlin.”
At a meeting with General Clay in late July, the National Security Council recognized that a long-term program would be necessary. Deputy commander for operations of the newly formed MATS, Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner took command of the operation. Tunner had considerable airlift experience, successfully reorganizing the wartime Hump Airbridge between India and China, doubling the tonnage and hours flown.
Eight squadrons of C-54s—72 aircraft were deployed to Wiesbaden and Rhein-Main to reinforce the 54 already in operation, the first by July 30 and the remainder by mid-August, and two-thirds of all C-54 aircrew worldwide began transferring to Germany.
On August 13, bad weather caused an accident, involving three C-54s. No one was killed, but the airport was closed and all stacked aircraft awaiting landing were sent home. As a result several new rules were adopted, including instrument flight rules to be in effect at all times, regardless of weather. Also, each aircraft would have one chance to land. If it missed, it would return home rather than attempt another landing. There was an immediate decrease in delays and accidents. Tunner saw that it took just as long to unload a three and a half ton C-47 as a ten ton C-54. One of the reasons for this was the sloping cargo floor of the C-47s, which made truck loading difficult. The C-54’s cargo deck was level, so that a truck could back up to it and offload cargo quickly. Tunner decided to replace all C-47s in the Airlift with C-54s or larger aircraft. He saw that ground crews taking refreshment breaks were taking up valuable time going to and from snack bars and forbade them from leaving their work areas. Jeeps were set up as mobile snack bars. Unloading of aircraft began as soon as engines were shut down, and the turn-around time before take-off back to Rhein-Main or Wiesbaden was reduced to thirty minutes. The “ladder” was altered from a plane taking off once every four minutes to once every three, with the vertical separation reduced to 500 feet rather than 1000, maximizing use of available aircraft. Aircraft maintenance schedule were instituted at 25-hour, 200-hour, and 1000-hour intervals, further maximizing efforts.
Crews of local Berliners, working for increased rations, replaced military crews for runway repairs and unloading aircraft, and with experience, became extremely efficient. The times for unloading continued to fall, with a record being set by the unloading of an entire 10-ton shipment of coal from a C-54 in ten minutes, later beaten when a twelve-man crew unloaded the same quantity in five minutes and 45 seconds.
By the end of August, after only one month, the Airlift was succeeding; daily operations flew more than 1,500 flights a day and delivered more than 4,500 tons of cargo, enough to keep West Berlin supplied. All of the C-47s were withdrawn by the end of September, and eventually 225 C-54s (40% of US Air Force and US Navy Skymasters worldwide) were devoted to the lift. Supplies improved to 5,000 tons a day.
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 17 July 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 chewing 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 “Rosinenbomber” (raisin bomber) by the German children.
As winter approached, it became clear that while the amount of food being delivered would remain unchanged, coal supplies would have to be dramatically increased to heat the city, by approximately 6000 tons per day. Aircraft were available but runways in Berlin were already overtaxed. Another 6,000 foot long asphalt runway was constructed at Tempelhof. The French, meanwhile, unable to do more than supply their own troops in Berlin, agreed that they would build a new airport in their sector, on the shores of Lake Tegel. There was an obstacle in the approach to the Tegel airfield, however. A Soviet-controlled radio tower caused problems by its proximity to the airfield. Pleas to remove it went unheard, so on November 20, French General Jean Ganeval made the decision simply to blow it up. The mission was carried out on December 16, much to the delight of Berliners, and provoking complaints from the Soviets. When his Soviet counterpart, General Alexej Kotikow, asked him angrily on the phone how he could have done this, Ganeval is said to have answered him laconically, “With dynamite, my dear colleague.”
Winter weather created another problem. One of the longest-lasting fogs ever experienced blanketed the entire European continent for weeks. All too often, aircraft would make the entire flight and then be unable to land in Berlin. On November 20, 42 aircraft departed for Berlin, but only one landed there. At one point, the city had only a week’s supply of coal left.
The weather improved, however. More than 171,000 tons were delivered in January 1949, 152,000 tons in February, and 196,223 tons in March.
By April 1949 airlift operations were running smoothly and Tunner wanted to break the monotony. He liked the idea of a big event that would give everyone a morale boost. He decided that on Easter Sunday the airlift would break all records. To do this, maximum efficiency was needed. To simplify handling, the only cargo would be coal, and stockpiles were built up for the effort. Maintenance schedules were altered so that the maximum number of aircraft would be available.
From noon on 15 April to noon on 16 April 1949, crews worked around the clock. When it was over, 12,941 tons of coal had been delivered in 1,383 flights, without a single accident. A welcome side effect of the effort was that operations in general were boosted, and tonnage increased from 6,729 tons to 8,893 tons per day thereafter. In total, the airlift delivered 234,476 tons in April.
On 21 April the tonnage of supplies flown into the city exceeded that previously brought by rail.
The Soviets were humiliated by the success of the airlift, and the “Easter Parade” was the last straw. Serious negotiations began, and on May 4, it was announced that the blockade would be lifted eight days later. On the 12th a British Convoy drove through the Soviet sector of Germany to Berlin.
The blockade was over. The airlift continued, however, until a comfortable surplus of three-months supplies was in Berlin, enough to provide plenty of time for operations to begin again if required. They were not. “Operation Vittles”, the Berlin Airlift was officially closed on September 30, 1949.
In total the USA delivered 1,783,573 tons and the RAF 541,937 tons, totaling 2,326,406 tons, nearly two-thirds of which was coal, on 278,228 flights to Berlin.
The RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) delivered 7,968 tons of freight and 6,964 passengers during 2,062 sorties. The C-47s and C-54s together flew over 92 million miles in the process, almost the distance from Earth to the Sun. At the height of the Airlift, one plane reached West Berlin every thirty seconds.
Pilots came from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.
A total of 101 fatalities were recorded as a result of the operation, including 40 Brits and 31 Americans, mostly due to crashes. Seventeen American and eight British aircraft crashed during the operation.
The cost of the Airlift was shared between the USA, UK, and Germany. Estimated costs range from approximately $224,000,000 to over $500,000,000 (equivalent to approximately $2.16 billion to $4.82 billion today).
The “Cold War” would continue however, for decades to come.
It was mid afternoon by the time we finished at the MAC Museum. We tried to see the Victrola museum but it was closed that day as was an old church and museum we’d passed on the way up. The town of Lewes (pronounced like Louis) which proudly calls itself the First Town in the First State has great kayaking possibilities and lots of history. We checked out Cape Henlopen State Park and found our trailer would work well in those campsites. So now we have a place to stay “When we come back…”