Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
The Berlin Airlift
Berlin Airlift Map

Introduction | Airlift Begins | Escalation | Airlift Ends

After the first weeks of the airlift, the Allied effort to successfully supply Berlin was falling short. Air Force Major General William Tunner arrived to assist General Clay, who was not himself an airman. Tunner has overseen World War II's only successful large scale airlift of thousands of tons of supplies from India to China. Due to his strategic changes, the airlift effort escalated dramatically in scale, culminating in a 24 hour "Easter Parade" in April, 1949 that brought in almost 13,000 tons of supplies.

Three Air Corridors Wunstorf Finkenwerder Fassberg Lake Havel Lubeck Celle Rhein-Main Wiesbaden Tempelhof Gatow Tegel

A weather officer at Oberpfaffenhofen Air Force Depot briefs the crew of a B-17 before its six-hour patrol of the corridors. 1. Three Air Corridors
To increase efficiency and safety, Tunner modified the air corridors, making the northern and southern routes eastbound-only, and the central air corridor westbound-only.

British general Bernard L. Montgomery stands next to a transport plane, Type 'York' at the British airbase Wunstorf, near Hanover, Germany, August 28, 1948. The plane is loaded with sacks of coal for Berlin. 2. Wunstorf
After expanding the small British airfield, larger York planes were able to fly out.

Sunderland flying boats on Lake Havel, before the advent of ice-flows. 3. Finkenwerder
In December 1949, the Allies ceased operating Sunderlands from Finkenwerder because their landing destination in Berlin froze over.

A British Army enlisted man directs the parking of a coal truck as German laborers prepare to load a shipment of coal aboard a C-54 at Fassberg. 4. Fassberg
In late July 1948, the British began expanding this airfield, originally built in 1936 as a German Luftwaffe bombing school. After flying out Dakotas for a number of weeks, the British handed it over to the U.S. Airforce to fly C-54s.

Havel Lake, once the scene of hurried airlift operations, offers enjoyment and beauty to West Berliners. 5. Lake Havel
The Allies stopped flying Sunderlands into Lake Havel in December 1949 due to the advent of ice-flows on the lake.

A radio operator, engineer and pilot confer, aboard a C-54. 6. Lübeck
In August 1948, the British moved their air operations from Fassberg to this base, originally built in 1935 for the German Luftwaffe. Only two miles from the border, pilots took great care to avoid Soviet territory in their approaches and departures.

Celle Airfield, near Hamburg, Germany. April 18, 1945. 7. Celle
The British converted this former German training base into an airbase for American C-54 transports. The Allies began flying out of the base on December 15, 1948.

Douglas R5D-3, January 1951. 8. Rhein-Main
In October 1948, the U.S. Navy assigned two squadrons of R5Ds -- variants of the C-54 transports -- from Pacific bases to Rhein-Main to assist in the escalation of the Airlift.

C-54s at Wiesbaden stand out against a background of snow. 2 March 1949. 9. Wiesbaden
A number of deadly crashes occurred as the frequency and intensity of the airlift increased, many due to adverse weather conditions. The USAF 18th Weather Squadron, based out of Wiesbaden, was responsible for providing around the clock weather forecasting support for the airlift.

Berliners at Tempelhof watching in-coming plane. 10. Tempelhof
On an off day in Berlin, Air Force Lieutenant Gail Halvorsen noticed a group of small children crowded at a fence by Tempelhof airport. He gave them some sticks of gum and promised to bring them some more candy. Halvorsen began dropping small parachutes of sweets from his plane to the growing throngs of children gathered at Tempelhof; the operation became known as "Little Vittles."

A giant C-74 unloading at Gatow Airfield becomes an attraction for sightseers. 11. Gatow
In February 1949, the one millionth ton of supplies arrived at Gatow.

The first C-54 to arrive at Tegel Airfield lands during a light rain, 5 November 1948. 12. Tegel
In the summer of 1948, Allies begin working on a new airport in the French sector. Forty percent of the civilian work force that built the airport were German women. In November 1948, after the destruction of a Soviet radio tower blocking flight access, Tegel opened as new landing spot for the airlift.

back to top page created on 01.19.2007

The Berlin Airlift American Experience