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Sqn Ldr Garrett and the Berlin Airlift

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CI Scott told us about the events that divided Berlin and Germany for nearly fifty years following the Second World War (Link).  We were lucky enough to be able to find someone who actually flew during the Airlift which supplied Germany during 1948-1949.  Sqn Ldr Garrett was a Dakota pilot and he came to tell us of his first hand experiences. (Ed.)

Sqn Ldr Garrett joined the RAF in 1941.  After training to fly, he was refused a commission despite coming in the top third of his flight school.  He was judged as having the wrong family background and had to settle for sergeant.  It was only some years later, after rising to WO rank that one of his COs finally forced through his commission.  By the end of his service he had flown over 16 types of aircraft and served as ExO to the Officer Training School at Cranwell.  During 1948 several incidents led to a major breakdown of relations between the Allies and Soviets.  A collision between a yak and a Viking was followed by West German elections, the beginning of the Marshall Plan and the introduction of the Deutschmark.  The Soviets finally closed the road links between West Germany and Berlin, forcing the people in West Berlin to reply on 2000 tons of food each day being flown in by air.  The airlift began in June 1948 and by December the number of flights gave rise to chaos.  On one occasion Sqn Ldr Garrett saw aircraft so tightly packed on the airfields that trucks couldn’t move round them.  The Airlift was a mix of air forces and civilian contractors.  To reduce the possibility for disaster, each airfield and organisation had specific routes, altitudes, and time windows that had to be stuck to.  The aircrew were operating on 3 min gaps between flights.  Their call signs included the cargo they were carrying, in order to make sure that the correct trucks met them.  In one shift of flights, an entire electricity generating plant was carried.  Radar was critical to avoiding collisions and kept a 100% record during the operation.  The Soviets used a number of tricks to try to disrupt the airlift.  This included deliberate near-misses and the use of searchlights to blind pilots.  On one occasion Soviet Tanks were brought in to block runways – they backed down when US Super-fortresses were bought to the UK with their atomic bombs.  At the height of the airlift, 1398 aircraft flew in one day.

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 May 2010 20:10