Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 17:56 UK

Germany remembers Berlin airlift

Gail Halvorsen, former US airlift pilot, 26/06/08
Ex-US pilot Gail Halvorsen returned to Germany for the ceremony

Germany has been commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Berlin airlift, when the Western allies kept the city supplied despite a Soviet blockade.

Veterans of the airlift, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, attended ceremonies in Berlin and Frankfurt.

The American and British-led airlift lasted for more than a year, and involved planes delivering everything from coal to sweets.

It was one of the biggest humanitarian air relief missions in history.

"I find the courage with which this operation was carried out truly admirable," said German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung.

A small group of veteran airmen visited the Allied Museum and Tempelhof airport, which served as the hub of the Berlin airlift, to pay tribute to the pilots who lost their lives during the operation.

We were operating with our former enemies for one common goal: freedom
Gail Halvorsen
Former US airlift pilot

The veterans also met schoolchildren in Berlin, as part of the day of remembrance.

Helmut Trotnow, director of Berlin's Allied Museum, said the airlift was proved to be a crucial victory for the West in the Cold War.

"There was no light at the end of the tunnel, but the airlift brought this light," he said.

"If it hadn't been for the success of the airlift, history would have looked very different. It really is a turning point."

In June 1948, when the Soviets cut off access to West Berlin, to try to force the city into submission, allied aircraft launched a dramatic rescue mission from the skies.

A visitor walks past a picture in a Berlin museum marking the 1948 Berlin airlift
Berlin's German History Museum is showing contemporary photos

At the height of the airlift, one allied plane landed at Tempelhof every 90 seconds, delivering food, coal and other supplies to the residents of West Berlin.

Even bags of chocolates and raisins were dropped from parachutes into the arms of children. The aircraft were later dubbed the "candy bombers".

Over 15 months, more than two million tons of supplies were delivered.

Veterans said it helped build bridges between Germany and the US, which had been wartime enemies a generation earlier.

"It changed my life entirely," said retired pilot Gail Halvorsen, who lives in Utah in the US.

"We were operating with our former enemies for one common goal: freedom."

In the end, in May 1949, the Soviets called off the blockade, but the relief flights continued for another few months.

Berlin Airflift veterans honoured
25 Jun 08 |  Shropshire


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