70th Anniversary Berlin Airlift – US Army Garrison Wiesbaden - June 10th, 2019
2019 marked the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy, which resulted in the announcement of a large scale commemoration in and around Caen with the presence of a large amount (50 were announced) of Douglas C-47 Dakotas. Unfortunately this coincided with my annual trip to the Temps des Hélices Airshow at La Ferté-Alais. Initially I was a bit gutted about this, but when I discovered that on the Monday after La Ferté the flying armada would fly to Wiesbaden to take part in another commemoration, the 70th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, the decision was quickly made to make the drive from Paris to Wiesbaden to take part in this event.
The Berlin Airlift was organized between June 26th, 1948 and September 30th, 1949 to deliver supplies to the people of West Berlin. Two days earlier, on June 24th, the Soviet Union had blocked the Allied access to West Berlin by rail, road and canals in an attempt to turn back the Allied decision to introduce the German Mark currency in the western part of the City. In a response the Allies organized an airlift to deliver the people of West Berlin with the required supplies. The Berlin airlift was a joint operation by the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the South African Air Force. In total they flew more than 200.000 sorties with the aim to deliver 3475 tons of goods per day. In the Spring of 1949 more than double of that volume was delivered, with a peak of 12941 tons on one day. The blockade was lifted by the Soviets on May 12th, 1949 but the Allies continued the flights until the end of September.
The commemoration itself was in three phases. The first phase was the event at Wiesbaden, followed by a second event at Fassberg, concluded by a flight over Berlin. During the meeting at La Ferté I already picked the first rumours that the airshow in Caen was a bit of a disaster, bad weather and an even worse organization meant that not many visitors were able to make descent pictures, so I was getting a bit worried that Wiesbaden would be similar. When I arrived in my hotel in Wiesbaden (certainly not so overpriced like in the Normandy area) the owners assured me that the organization was going to be ‘German precision’. My nearest car park was at the local IKEA and shuttle busses brought us without a problem to the main gate, where there was a quick security check. When I arrived on the platform there was some disappointment, a small number of Dakotas were on the platform, but without any fences (typical American), so that the visitors could see the aircraft up close, not really helping photography. Over the day a total of 19 different Dakota-variants (the terrible organization at Caen had meant that a number of European participants had decided to return home instead of continuing to Germany) could be seen at Wiesbaden.
It would take too long to talk about each aircraft individually, but I do want to highlight three of them. The first one was a C47 ‘Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber’, this aircraft is the last former Belgian Air Force C-47 which is still airworthy at this moment. After its wartime service it was delivered to the ‘new’ Belgian Air Force, but after a few years moved on to France and later Israel, from where it was acquired by a group of enthusiasts in the United States. The second one is a very rare Douglas C-41. This is in fact the very first DC-3 ordered by the United States Army Air Corps and was delivered in October 1938 for the use by General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold as his VIP transport…., later more than 10000 C-47’s were built for use by several Air Forces. The last one is a Lisunov Li-2T (HA-LIX), this type was built in the Soviet Union under license, and in the period 1939-1950 4937 examples rolled of the production line.
Present at Wiesbaden were :
N47E Douglas C-47A-60-DL ‘Miss Virginia’ (ex 43-30665)
N47SJ Douglas C-47B-5-DK ‘Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber’ (ex 43-48608, K-11 Belgian Air Force, 348608/F-RAMB & F-RAOO Armée de l'Air, 016/4X-FNN Israeli Defense Force)
N47TB Douglas C-47A-15-DK ‘That’s All Brother’ (ex 42-92847/3X-W)
N62CC Douglas C-47A-60-DL ‘Virginia Ann’ (ex 43-30647/X5-J)
N103NA Douglas C-47A-30-DL ‘Flabob Express’ (ex 42-23669, FD879 Royal Air Force)
N150D Douglas C-47-DL ‘Airborne – Rendez-vous with Destiny’ (ex 41-18401)
N341A Douglas C-41A
N431HM Douglas C-47A-45-DL ‘Swissair’ (ex 42-24133)
N877MG Douglas C-47B-1-DL ‘Pan American Airways System’
N943DJ Douglas DC-3-S1C3G ‘Civil Air Transport’ (marked N8336C, ex 42-47371 (C53-DO))
N24320 Douglas C-47A-90-DL ‘Miss Montana’ (ex 43-15731)
N25641 Douglas C-47-DL ‘Legend Airways’ (ex 42-32833)
N45366 Douglas C-53D-DO ‘D-Day Doll’ (ex 42-68830/CU-R)
N74589 Douglas C-47A-40-DL ‘Placid Lassie’ (ex 42-24064/ID-N)
F-AZOX Douglas C-47B Dakota Mk.4 ‘Chalair’
HA-LIX Lisunov Li-2T ‘Malev – Karman Todor’
OH-LCH Douglas C-53C-DO ‘Finnish Airlines’ (ex DO-11 Ilmavoimat)
SE-CFP Douglas C-47A-60-DL ‘SAS – Fridtjof Viking’ (ex 43-30732, Fv79006 Flygvapnet)
Gail Halvorsen, one of the many U.S. Air Force Pilots, arrived at Tempelhof on July 17th, 1948 on one of the Douglas C-54s and walked over to a group of children who were watching the aircraft at the end of the runway. As a gesture of goodwill, he gave his only two sticks of Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum to the children. The children quickly divided up the pieces as best they could, even sharing around the packing paper for others to smell. He was so impressed by their gratitude and that they didn't fight over them, that he promised the next time he returned he would drop some more. Before he left them, a child asked him how they would know it was him flying over. He replied, "I'll wiggle my wings."
The next day during his approach, he wiggled the wings of his aircraft and dropped some chocolate bars attached to a handkerchief parachute to the children waiting below. Every day, the number of children increased and he made several more drops. Soon, there was a package of mail to Base Operations addressed to "Uncle Wiggly Wings," "The Chocolate Uncle" and "The Chocolate Flier." Initially his CO was not happy when the story appeared in the news, but when Major General Tunner, who commanded the whole operation, heard about it, he approved of the gesture. Pilots from all participating nations joined in and when news reached the United States, children all over the country sent in candy to help out. Later major candy manufacturers joined in and in the end, over 23 tons of candy were dropped on Berlin and the "operation" became a major propaganda success. German children baptized the candy-dropping aircraft “Rosinenbomber” (Raisin Bombers)
On June 10th, 2019 Gail Halvorsen (98) was present again at Wiesbaden to witness a new fly-by of the “Rosinenbombers” who again dropped candy for the children…
Apart from the 19 Douglas Dakota variants also a small number of other aircraft could be seen at Wiesbaden. During the afternoon a formation of four North American Harvards arrived together with one of the Dakotas and they joined the static display. More modern were a handful of aircraft currently operated by the US Army from Wiesbaden AAF, a Beech C-12U-3 Super King Air and a Cessna UC-35A1 Citation V.
After I had made my last pictures of the day (the number of visitors had dropped seriously after the candy drop) I had my last burger and decided to catch the next shuttle bus back to the parking. Overall it was a very enjoyable day, unfortunately the weather did not cooperate completely, especially during the flying part, and the formation take-off and fly-by’s of the Dakotas still remain an impressive sight and I wonder if we will ever see this amount of Dakotas gathered together again in Europe.
Text & Photography : Laurent Heyligen