Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Candy Bombers - a book report

The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America’s Finest Hour
By Andrei Cherny

This is truly a beautiful story. I knew something about it from reading the life story of General Lemay who was in charge of the Air Force in Europe at the beginning. I was a young GI serving in Japan while it occurred. I guess we were preoccupied with our own sphere of concern to understand what was happening in Germany. This fine book filled in the gaps for me and I will guess would for you as well. This would be particularly true for those too young to have been around at that time. I highly recommend reading by anyone interested in history and in particular American history.
It begins with the joyous meeting of Russian and American soldiers at the Elbe River. This is where our forces were ordered by General Eisenhower to stop. He saw no good reason to lose more lives fighting for Berlin since the war was essentially won. The book reports that the Russians lost 350,000 men taking Berlin. That is a larger number than the West lost in the European war to date. That was a wise decision.
The Russians were brutal in their revenge; looting, raping and killing citizens of the city. The partition of Germany into four zones; Russian, English, French and American also included the city of Berlin. Each country shared in administering. As the years advanced from 1945 to 1948 animosity built between Russia and the Allies. Russia lowered the Iron Curtain over the countries to the west of Russia and was on a mission to make all Europe Communist States. They refused to co-operate on issues large or small. During these years hatred of Germans was shared by all parties. The hardships they were suffering were what were owed to them after the devastation they had brought to Europe.
In March 1948 President Truman asked the Congress for prompt passage of the Marshall Plan to save Europe. This was not acceptable to Premier Stalin. Berlin was located deep in the Russian Zone. It was supplied by narrow corridors for planes, trains and trucks. On April 1, 1948 all routes into the city were blocked except air. Air became the only way to supply the Allied Forces and the two and one quarter million citizens. An airlift was immediately started. No one had any faith it would be able to sustain a population that large. All of Truman’s advisors recommended pulling out our troops and giving the city to Russia. Truman held firm. He said “We will not leave Berlin”. The Chief of Staffs refused to send additional aircraft. They were overruled by Truman.
The Airlift was haphazard at best until General William Tunner arrived. Under his leadership it became a well oiled machine with planes landing every three minutes night and day. One of the pilots was Hal Halvorsen. On one of his trips he wandered over to where German children were standing watching the planes coming in. He reached in his pocket and broke two pieces of gum and handed it thru the fence. He immediately got the idea of dropping candy with handkerchiefs as parachutes. He was able to communicate his intention. He told them to watch a plane that wiggled its wings. He did that and continued whenever he could get rations.
To make a long story short, let me just say that this small act of kindness mushroomed into a complete change between the citizens and our forces. They endured hardships thru that winter but held out in their resolve to be free. On May 1, 1949 the Russians opened the corridors and normalcy returned. American citizens were absorbed in the drama. It is suggested that President Truman was elected for a large part because of “Operation Candy Bombers”.
I found this book at the Tucson Public Library.

Jack B. Walters
September 22, 2010

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