December 4, 2016

1948. Pilots Continue the Berlin Airlift as Elections Near

The Airlift Continues Ahead of the West Berlin Elections
US Air Force pilots stand in front of military transport planes while training for the Berlin airlift (Photo by J. R. Eyerman for Life magazine)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

November 18, 1948

One of the things that worry the American and British pilots flying the airlift over the Russian blockade is the fantastic lack of accidents. They don't talk about it much, but in the night and day flying up and down the corridors, these airmen have been expecting more casualties than have occurred. A really remarkable safety record is being set, but to the superstitious flyer, it also serves to increase the tension that, maybe on this flight, he will get it.

Last night, it was a British Dakota that got it, crashing on a flight from Berlin to Lübeck. The bi-motored C-47 plunged into the ground just a few miles from its home base just inside the Russian zone. Two men are reported to have been killed; two others are in a Soviet military hospital. British doctors and ambulances are standing by waiting for permission to bring the dead and injured out.

The Russian military government in Eastern Berlin today announced a drastic—and perhaps final—step in what appears to be a complete political split of this city.

Marshal Sokolovsky has ordered that new identification cards for Berliners will be issued beginning December 1st—identification cards requiring registration and listing in the Russian sector of the city.

It is hard for Americans to understand the importance of this move—we who are free to move throughout a continent with no more identification than perhaps a driver's license. But to the European, the propusk—or the carte d'identité—is an important part of his personal baggage, and the form it takes has much to do with his personal safety.

It is significant that these new identity cards will be issued only five days before the elections in the Western sectors of the city. The Communists have warned that these elections, set for December 5th, will mean a complete split of Berlin—implying that all traffic between the Eastern and Western sectors will be stopped. With the additional weapon of the identity card—and the failure to have one carries a penalty of a 10,000 marks fine or nine months in jail—it would appear that the final squeeze in the Berlin Blockade is on.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

November 24, 1948

The weather over Berlin dawned clear and cold this morning, the coldest day of winter thus far. And as we expected, the Russian air safety authorities posted warnings of widespread maneuvers over the city and in the vicinity of the air corridors.

No incidents thus far, but the fact that it almost invariably takes a sunny day to get these Soviet warnings already has our pilots talking about the "fair weather" air force in the East.

The British have chartered a number of private companies to fly the airlift and supplement the Royal Air Force deliveries over the blockade. A number of lesser-known planes fly alongside our C-54s into Gatow Airport—a situation which has produced an amusing story.

One of these British planes is called the "Wayfarer." The other day a British pilot was bringing his ship in and calling Gatow tower saying, "Wayfarer coming in for a landing."

An American pilot also preparing to land misunderstood the British accent and broke in with his radio to exclaim, "Is the Mayflower here too? You British really have thrown everything into this show."

The airlift is taking advantage of this good flying weather, and we may have a new record underway today. The day before yesterday, 5,711 tons of fuel and supplies were delivered, and today certainly is noisier than it has been in a long time.

General Clay appointed a special military tribunal to try twenty persons arrested on charges of participating in a Czechoslovak spy ring in the American and British zones of Germany. Names and the whereabouts of the suspects are being kept secret while the investigation continues. More arrests are expected.

The Communist Party in the Eastern sector of the city has denounced the December 5th elections and refused to participate in them, but the KPD certainly is doing more campaigning than the Socialists and right-wing parties who are entering candidates.

Now the Communists are attacking one Socialist candidate, charging that the only reason this man is running for office is because he drinks. He hopes to get American whiskey over the airlift, the Communists charge.

If this were really true, Western Berlin would find itself with more candidates than voters.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

November 26, 1948

The Anglo-American airlift really gave the people of Berlin a Thanksgiving Day present yesterday. A total of 6,116 tons of food, fuel, and supplies were delivered in 716 flights. This is the second highest tonnage flown in over the blockade since the special Air Force Day effort last September.

The airlift crews literally took their turkey on the wing in the Thanksgiving Day operation. Mobile canteens provided a wing or a drumstick for all who wanted them between flights. All told, the flyers and ground crews at the three major airports in Berlin ate up almost half a ton of Turkey.

With the disputed Berlin elections only ten days off, the Communist propaganda from the Eastern section of the city are now talking about "X-Day." X-Day is supposed to be the time when the Eastern and Western sectors of the city will finally be divided—transportation stopped and intersectional traffic controlled. How much of this is truth and how much is propaganda, no one knows exactly. But in the British sector, special police guards have been placed at three important canal locks that still carry barge traffic through the city. Emergency arrangements are also being made to care for the one million Germans who daily use the elevated and subway trains between the East and West.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.