Plan ahead: The Return of the Candy Bombers and 70 Year Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

You’ll barely have time to unpack from your visit to the D-Day 75th-anniversary commemorations before yet another momentous one-off event with a direct U.S. military connection turns your daily agenda on its head. To be sure you don’t miss a beat, mark your calendar now for the dates June 10-18.

70 years ago, the largest relief operation ever undertaken drew to a successful conclusion. The Allied airlift to West Berlin commenced in June 1948 and continued through September of 1949. The operation kept more than two million people alive by ensuring a constant flow of food and other crucial supplies into the western sector of the city after it was cut off from the outside world by a Soviet blockade. The undertaking was made up of more than 270,000 flights – almost 1,000 each day. Some 5,000 tons of aid was flown into the city on a daily basis by pilots making use of three air corridors at maximum capacity.

The heroes of this colossal relief operation were the pilots and crews of the aircraft used to deliver the goods. In reference to the dried fruit found among the foodstuffs they’d bring into the city, the Germans dubbed the planes and their pilots “Raisin Bombers.” The mission was referred to as Operation Plane Fare by the British, while to the Americans, it was known as Operation Vittles.

The planes initially doing the flying were the two-engine C-47 Skytrain transports, but due to inadequate cargo space, they were soon replaced by the four-engine C-54 Skymaster. Of all the aircraft that eventually came to be involved in the effort, a fair few still exist: these have found their way into the hands of foundations, clubs, museums and private individuals. It’s estimated that about 160 of these historical aircraft still fly today.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of the Berlin Airlift, a good number of these planes will be making their way back to Germany. They’ll be flying in from all over Europe, Russia, Australia and South Africa, adding to some 20 planes expected from the United States. Organizers note it’s unlikely that these surviving “Raisin Bombers” will ever again be reunited in a single space. Types of aircraft winging their way back include the Douglas DC-3/C-47, Douglas DC-4/C-54 and possibly a C-47.

The planes and their crews will take to the skies from German airfields with direct historical relevance to the operation. With some 40 aircraft in all expected to take part, a spine-tingling Berlin Airlift, with just one-minute intervals between take-offs, will be recreated. Cast your gaze up to catch sight of planes with names the likes of “Ready for Duty,” “D-Day Doll,” “That’s all Brother,” “The Duchess of Dakota,” ”Betsy's Biscuit Bomber,” “Miss Virginia,” “Spooky,” ”Drag ‘em Oot,” “The Spirit of Benovia,” “Liberty,” “Flabob Express,” “Virginia Anne,” “Placid Lassie” and “Luck of the Irish” high above you.

The planes will lift up and touch down at the Airbase Wiesbaden-Erbenheim (June 10-11), German Airbase Faßberg (located between Hamburg and Hannover; June 12-15), Jagel (a former R.A.F. airfield located between Hamburg and Flensburg, June 13 and June 15) and Berlin Schönhagen Airfield (June 15-17).

WWII veterans scheduled to attend include no less than the legendary Gail Halvorsen, the Candy Bomber himself. Entry to the airfields will be free and open to all. For more information or to donate to event organizer The Berlin Airlift Association,visit their website.

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