Berlin Templehof and Air Cargo

On the 31st October  2008 Berlin Templehof airport has ceased to function as an airport. It touched me to learn about this event. In my university studies, I had started off my end of study dissertation by quoting the event that happened in 1948 in that very airport which has been called the Berlin Airlift.

On 20 June 1948 Soviet authorities, claiming technical difficulties, halted all traffic by land and by water into or out of the western-controlled section of Berlin. The only remaining access routes into the city were three 25-mile-wide air corridors across the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. Faced with the choice of abandoning the city or attempting to supply its inhabitants with the necessities of life by air, the Western Powers chose the latter course, and for the next eleven months sustained the city’s two-and-a-half million residents in one of the greatest feats in aviation history.

Operation Vittles, as the airlift was unofficially named, began on 26 June when USAF Douglas C-47 “Skytrains” carried 80 tons of food into Tempelhof, far less than the estimated 4,500 tons of food, coal and other essential supplies needed daily to maintain a minimum level of existence. But this force was soon augmented by United States Navy and Royal Air Force cargo aircraft, as well as British European Airways (BEA) and some of Britain‘s fledgling wholly privately owned, independent airlines.[ The latter included the late Sir Freddie Laker‘s Air Charter, Eagle Aviation and Skyways. On 15 October 1948, to promote increased safety and cooperation between the separate US and British airlift efforts, the Allies created a unified command – the Combined Airlift Task Force under Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, USAF, was established at Tempelhof. To facilitate the command and control, as well as the unloading of aircraft, the USAF 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron was temporarily assigned to Tempelhof.

In addition to the airlift operations, American engineers constructed a new 6,000-ft runway at Tempelhof between July and September 1948 and another between September and October 1948 to accommodate the expanding requirements of the airlift. The last airlift transport touched down at Tempelhof on 30 September 1949.

Historians, who write on the advent of modern Air Cargo, attribute this Berlin Airlift as the start of the industry. Prior to this operation, the hold of aircraft was mainly used commercially to carry postal mail. Aircraft were not conceived to cart goods in such quantity.

As a large part of my life career (25 years) was in the field of Air Cargo, I feel very sensitive and attached to the subject. In Mauritius, I lived and worked through the era of Boeing 707 all cargo aircraft with 30-35 tonnes lift capacity, DC 8 aircraft 41 tonnes lift capacity to Boeing 747 with 110 tonnes lift capacity. Today, all cargo aircraft are no more in operation to Mauritius on a regular basis.


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